Chapter 1: How Do I Know What I Want?You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well you just might find you get what you need. —
The difference between being a wannabe and a successful home buyer may boil down to nothing more than knowing the difference between what you want in a home and what you can’t live without.
It sounds simple, but that difference requires an ability to recognize what’s really important to you and compromise on the rest. Unfortunately, our ability to compromise is often lost between two spouses or partners who forget that they can’t afford to satisfy their every whim.
SHOULD I MAKE A WISH LIST?
WHAT ABOUT A REALITY CHECK?
First, let’s talk about what exactly constitutes a wish list. A wish list is nothing more than a list of everything you’ve ever dreamed of having in your house: granite or slate kitchen countertops (or perhaps inlaid, stained concrete), a wood-burning fireplace, three-car garage, four-person whirlpool, the best school district in your state, a five-minute walk to work, four bedrooms, a master suite with his and her closets, and vaulted ceilings. You get the picture.
The best real estate agents and brokers will ask their first-time buyers to create a wish list detailing everything they’d love to have in a home, including:
1.Location. Think about where you like to shop, where your children will attend school, where you work, where you worship, and where your friends and family live.
2.Size. Think about the number of bedrooms you want, the size garden, the extra room you may need for expansion or family flexibility, where you’ll do the laundry, what kind of storage space you need, and if you need a home office.
3.Amenities. Think about the garage, kitchen and bathroom appliances, swimming pool, fireplace, air-conditioning, electrical wiring, furnace, and hardwood floors.
4.Condition. Do you want a home in move-in condition? Or are you willing to put in some “sweat equity,” to borrow a This Old House
phrase, to build in value?
At first glance, many of these items may seem to be in conflict with each other: You want to be close to a transportation network so it’s easy to get around, and yet you want a quiet and peaceful neighborhood. You might want to walk to work, but when you come home, you want your home to be silent and secure. You want a wide variety of shopping, and yet you also need to be close enough to your health club to use it on a regular basis. You want to take advantage of the city, and yet live in the suburbs.
But that’s what a wish list is all about. If you’re honest about what you want, the inconsistencies and conflicts will come out. Most first-time buyers are confused by all their choices. First-time buyers take on that “kid in a candy store” mentality: Many have difficulty choosing between different styles of homes. One broker says she always has a few first-time buyers each year who need to see at least one of everything in the area: a California ranch, an old Victorian, an in-town condo, and several new subdivisions. It takes a tremendous amount of time, which is wasted if the buyer decides ultimately to go with a loft.
Some agents and brokers also use a tool to help their clients define their needs as well as their wants. They call this a reality check.
Joanne, a real estate sales associate in New Jersey, says she asks her first-time buyers very specific questions about what they need to survive in their first home. “I just know their pocketbook will not allow them to have everything they want. I tell them they’ll begin to get what they want with their second home. Not the first.”
Here are some of the questions Joanne might ask:
•How many bedrooms do you need?
•How many children do you have or are you planning to have while you live in this home?
•Is a garage absolutely necessary?
•Why do you need a home with a basement or an attic?
•Do you use public transportation on a daily basis?
•How close to work do you need to be?
•Does driving on a major expressway or in traffic make you crazy?
•Do you want to care for a garden or would you prefer a maintenance-free home?
By asking specific questions about your daily lifestyle, Joanne and other brokers can center in on the best location, home size, and amenities for your budget. They can read between the lines on your wish list.
Wish lists and reality checks have another use. By prioritizing the items on these lists, a good real estate agent can tell which items you might be willing to trade off. For example, if the first wish on your list is to have a four-bedroom, two-bath house, and the 38th item is a wood-burning fireplace, then the broker knows you’d probably prefer a four-bedroom, two-bath house without a fireplace to a three-bedroom, two-bath home with a fireplace.
The bottom line is this: Unless you win the lottery or are independently wealthy, you’re probably going to have to make some trade-offs when buying your first home.
And sometimes you’re going to make a mistake.
Excerpted from 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask by Ilyce R. Glink. Copyright © 2005 by Ilyce R. Glink. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.