Homebuying wish list lets buyers see the big picture

Experienced agent can help you see beyond staging tricks

"I’ll know it when I see it." "This doesn’t feel like home to me." "Someday the right one will come along; I’ll keep looking until it does." "It’s going to be my home; it has to feel special."

These comments are typical of buyers who’ve looked for a while but haven’t committed to buying. The objections sound sensible. Yet, they could be excuses not to buy.

Homebuying is not for everyone. It’s a major commitment and is often the most expensive purchase most people will make in their lifetime. It’s understandable that some buyers approach the home search with reservations.

You’ll save a lot of time and energy if you can determine if homebuying is for you before you start looking. Then for the best result, approach the house hunt methodically and with the understanding that it will take time.

The first step is to make a list of all the features you need and want in a home. Think about your current home, and others that you’ve lived in. Consider what you liked and disliked about them.

The next step is to prioritize the list distinguishing what you must have and what you’d like to have. You’re unlikely to find all of the items on your list in one home.

HOUSE HUNTING: It will help to prioritize your list if you look at some homes for sale in your price range and in the areas where you’d like to live. Visiting Sunday open houses or looking at listings online can help you to familiarize yourself with the local inventory if you haven’t already selected a local real estate agent.

You may find that some of the items you’d like to have in your home don’t exist in your target area. For example, let’s say you want to live in a neighborhood of charming older homes that are close to shops and transportation. You also want a two-car attached garage. Smaller homes built in the 1920s or earlier usually don’t have two-car garages.

This is where compromise comes into play. If the older, conveniently located neighborhood is high on your wish list, you will need to be willing to settle for a one-car garage, or perhaps no garage. If the two-car garage is a must, you may need to consider homes that were built more recently, and are not as conveniently located.

As you’re looking at homes for sale, try to see beyond the seller’s décor and the staging. A well-staged home can mask floor plan defects. It can be misleading in terms of what you need in a home. For instance, a first-time buyer made the mistake of buying a home that was staged so well that she didn’t realize that there was no formal dining room and no eating area in the kitchen.

On the other hand, you may be tempted to turn down a home that’s staged to appeal to the widest audience but appears not to suit your needs. Let’s say a home has three bedrooms but no home office. If you need only two bedrooms, you could use the third bedroom as an office, even though it’s not represented that way.

The best way to see a home you’re really interested in is with your agent. Many buyers aren’t good at visualizing a home any other way than how it’s shown. An experienced agent should be able to show you how you can adapt a home to your needs.

It’s often hard to make a good assessment of a home you’re serious about at a Sunday open house. Have your agent take you back for a second or third look.

THE CLOSING: Bring your wish list and discuss the pros and cons before you make a final decision.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."

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