How to Find Your Dream Home

Ready to start searching listings and hitting open houses? Save yourself some time by first identifying exactly what you need and want in a home using our checklist.

How to find your dream home

Download your dream home checklist here

You’ve been pre-approved and know what you can afford, so it’s time to start home shopping. But the hunt for your dream home will stall rapidly if you don’t know what that “dream” looks like.

It’s easy to talk in generalities about wanting a “big” house or an “older” home. But in order to better target your real estate search, you must think specifically about your dream dwelling. Will your “big” house be 2,400 square feet or 5,000? When you say “older” home, do you mean one built pre-1900, or pre-1980?

Before you visit another open house, sit down and make a list of your needs and wants — and yes, those are two different things. You may want a pool, but you probably could live without it. (Plus, it’s worth considering that having a pool could raise your home insurance costs.)

Understand that your requirements list will likely change as you learn more about your housing options. Proximity to the beach may start as a priority, for example, but once you see the size of ocean-front homes you can get in your price range, you may decide a short drive to the water is bearable. Unless you have an unlimited budget, it’s likely you’ll need to make compromises along the way.

Use the tips and questions below to help you pinpoint what you like and don’t like about your current home, so you can find more comfort and pleasure in your dream home. Then, make time to rank specific home features as “Must Have,” “Like to Have” or “Don’t Care” using this printable checklist.

Know your finances

Getting your finances in order before searching for your dream home can make all the difference in a competitive market. Determining your budget and how much financial wiggle room you have can help put your must-haves more clearly into view. Ask yourself:  

  1. Are you pre-approved for a mortgage?
  2. What’s your price range?
  3. How much do you have saved for a down payment? What about future repairs?
  4. Are you willing to do extra renovations or do you want a turnkey property?

Consider your current lifestyle and plan for the future

You may have a picture-perfect home in mind, or you may not know where to even start when it comes to imagining your future place to live. It may help to first consider your basic needs and non-negotiables in a home. Begin by considering where you live now — what are your favorite things about your home, and what do you need to change? Think about whether:

  1. You need space for a future nursery or a home office
  2. You need any special features for your pets like a fenced-in yard
  3. You need wheelchair access or limited stairs
  4. You need a space for a car or is street parking sufficient
  5. Walkability is important to you
  6. You plan on changing jobs in the next 1-2 years

Pick your preferred home style and type

Once you have the basics figured out, it can help lay the groundwork for determining what features you want in a house. Consider the different types of houses on the market in the neighborhoods where you want to buy, and remember you can use keywords when searching for homes on Zillow to help narrow down your options. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How many stories do you want?
  2. Do you want to live in a townhouse, condo or single-family house?
  3. Could you live in a historic home?
  4. How many bedrooms?
  5. How many bathrooms?
  6. Want a guest room?
  7. What type of flooring do you like?
  8. What architectural styles do you like best?
  9. What’s your favorite room, and what makes spending time there enjoyable?
  10. If you have an outdoor space, do you enjoy spending time there?
  11. Do you enjoy taking care of a yard… or feel burdened by it (be honest!)?

Choose a location

You can change your paint colors to refresh the feel of your home, or add an extension to increase your square footage, but you can’t alter where your home is located. When finding your dream home, it’s easy to get caught up in its features, but you should also consider your surroundings:

  1. Do you prefer urban, suburban or rural?
  2. What city do you want to live in?
  3. Do you want easy access to highways or public transportation?
  4. How important is the view?
  5. Can you sleep easily with traffic noise?
  6. Do you want to be involved in community activities?
  7. Are there parks within walking or biking distance?
  8. Do the property taxes and/or HOA fees fit your budget?

Get to know the neighborhood

Think you’ve found the perfect home in the perfect area? Before buying, it’s still always a good idea to explore the neighborhood and ask yourself the following: 

  1. Are you happy with your neighborhood?
  2. Are there enough activities going on around you — or too many?
  3. Are you happy with your commute?
  4. Do you have to travel far for basics such as groceries or a doctor’s appointment?

Document your visit

When it’s time to take your home tour, check the features against the checklist you made. Do you need to re-evaluate any of your must-haves?

Get a feel for the home and consider anything you may have left off of your list. Remember, paint can be replaced and staged furniture will change, but there are aspects that can’t change so easily:

  1. Is there enough space or too much space?
  2. Where could you use more space?
  3. How would you describe the layout?
  4. Do you like the fixtures and finishes?
  5. Are you happy with the windows (enough natural light, well-placed, too sunny)?
  6. Does the home have curb appeal?
  7. Does the home have adequate parking?

Once you know what you’re looking for in a home, you’ll be ready to find the right agent to partner with for your search. Identifying your priorities will help you find the perfect property. Happy house hunting!

Download your dream home checklist here

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