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Balancing needs, wants and happiness in your home search

When you picture your dream home, what comes to mind? Maybe it has a sparkling pool, a spiral staircase or an outdoor fireplace. Now take a step back. Do you really need that fireplace or pool, or do you just want it? How often would you really use it? Is it safe for your young children? When planning for your next home, think about what you really need for yourself, your family and your lifestyle.


Considering your needs vs. wants should be a very early step in your house-hunting process. Prioritizing these features will streamline your search and save you time and frustration. To start breaking down your must-haves and would-like-to-haves, it’s going to involve a bit of homework (but trust us, it’s fun). Begin by writing out a list. Categorize your needs on one side and your wants on the other. Or, use this handy checklist that REIN has created to get started.

The criteria will simply be defined as:

Needs = “If my home doesn’t have this, then it’s a deal breaker.”

Wants = “I would like to have this, but I’d consider buying a home without it.”

If you’re stuck on what you need, a good place to start is by thinking about your current home. What do you love about it and what do you wish you could change? Here are more tips to keep in mind while working on your list:

Budget vs. reality

It’s easy to fall in love with a home when you don’t think about a budget or realistic mindset. When writing down your wants vs. needs, don’t forget about budget vs. reality. If you decided that you need a pool in your next home, make sure you’re okay with spending the extra money on its maintenance and cleaning. Since new amenities and remodels increase a seller’s asking price, you’ll need to prioritize where you want to spend your money.

Sure, everyone fantasizes of having a large, updated kitchen, but do you enjoy cooking and need the counter space? If not, it may rank lower on your list. Ranking what you really want will help you sort through all the many amenities available. Establish your essentials, and reference it throughout your home search to keep you from making any impulsive decisions. If you plan on doing any renovations after you move in, factor those costs in as well, so you stay within your budget.

Location outweighs amenities

While you can always renovate, repaint and remove features of your home, location is one thing that’s here to stay. Think about the neighborhood, commute times, schools and any other factors that relate to your lifestyle when choosing a location. Other set-in-stone factors to consider in your initial home search include the style of your home (colonial, cottage, Victorian, etc.), square footage, property taxes and typically the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

Focus on the location to start, and then think about future renovation projects. Don’t let aesthetics be a deal breaker for you, since these things can be fixed. It’s easier to replace an outdated bathroom sink than it is to knock down a wall with plumbing behind it.

Factor in the future

The average American homeowner lives in his or her home for over ten years.* So, not only should you consider what you need and want now, but think about the years ahead. Factor in both short-term and long-term goals. Are you planning to have more children? Are you hoping to start a home business that will require a large office?

On the other hand, if this is your first home, your short-term goals may be different. Be realistic about your hopes and desires, too. A thriving lawn might seem like a requirement for your dream home, but will you have the time and funds to maintain it in the upcoming years?

Compromising is key

Most importantly, be flexible with your wants and needs. Too long of a “needs” list and you might be limiting yourself from your next great home. Everyone’s needs aren’t the same either. Focus on what truly makes you happy, even if it’s not a necessity by traditional standards. If entertaining company on a large deck makes you happy, maybe it belongs on your “needs” side of the list. Factoring in your quality of life is important. If you find yourself saying, “I need it because it brings me joy,” then it deserves a spot on your list. By balancing your needs, wants and happiness, you’ll have a peace of mind while house hunting, and you’ll be one step closer to finding your realistic dream home.

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