8 Must-Haves That Are Limiting Your Home Search

Don't let your detailed preferences rule out options too early in the house hunting process.

U.S. News & World Report

8 Must-Haves That Are Limiting Your Home Search

A young couple searching for a new home.

Allow for some wiggle room on your must-have list to be sure you have a variety of options.(Getty Images)

As a first-time homebuyer, you may find the home search process isn’t everything you hoped and dreamed. It’s not as simple as finding three houses and picking the best one, as HGTV’s “House Hunters” may lead you to believe.

Are you finding your searches leave you with very few options? Are you frustrated with the lack of listings coming on the market? Armed with a better understanding of how your local multiple list service works, as well as taking a hard look at your “must-have” list, you may find there are more options out there than you thought. Here are eight things you should consider to expand your home search.

Location, location, location. While location is often referred to as the most important aspect of real estate, an overly specific search area may be more detrimental than helpful.

Many people choose a central location, such as their work or a school, and set a specific radius based on commute time. While this makes sense, be conservative and add 20 percent to your initial mileage. You may be able to change your route or timing to make up for the additional distance. Or, you could find the dream home you’ve been searching for that makes the extra drive worth coming home to.

As with all topics discussed throughout this post, here’s a strategy if you’re really hung up on a certain search parameter – create multiple searches. If there is a specific neighborhood in which you would love to live, create a search just for that area, then develop another for a larger radius to leave no stone unturned.

Home size. Using square footage as one of your key parameters can often leave you dazed and confused. Home size is usually broken down by living area and basement area. Living area is defined as anything above grade, or above ground. Conversely, the basement is anything below grade.

Unfortunately, not all home search apps clearly specify whether they are using just living area or total square footage (both living and basement area combined). For the real breakdown, you’ll need to refer to the tax record.

While condos are fairly simple to figure out, the most confusion will often arise in single-family and town houses. For example, many recently built town houses have you enter in the basement, then go up a flight of stairs to the main level with the kitchen and living area, then proceed to the third floor where the bedrooms are located.

Though all three floors are above grade, only the two top levels may be calculated as living area, and the lower level will be basement, or it could all be measured as living area. It can be a guessing game based on who updates the tax record. Always carefully examine the tax record when figuring total square footage.

Town house type. In the market for a town house? If so, be aware there are many different types and selecting just one in your real estate agent’s MLS search could seriously narrow your results.

For example: You will find many MLS lists include town houses, back-to-back, row houses, duplexes, semi-detached and more. Get to know the different types by previewing examples in person before selecting the ones you incorporate.

House style. Apart from how the home relates to others nearby, there is a plethora of architectural styles including colonial, ranch, split-level, split-foyer, Cape Cod and the list goes on.

With so many options, it’s best to delete only the ones you refuse to live in and base your search on any you would at least consider. Remember, most MLS platforms allow your real estate agent to set up a search that not only includes all options you require, but negates the ones you don’t.

Age. After seeing your parents’ house fall apart over the years, it can be understandable why you only want a house built after 2010 – they require less big-ticket improvements in the foreseeable future, are more energy efficient and have a modern layout.

That said, there are many responsible home owners who have taken the time and invested the money to properly update and upgrade their older homes.

Similar to the advice given regarding location, if you are dead set on purchasing a home built in a specific time period, add 10 to 15 years to allow for outliers that may have been brought up to today’s standards through improvements made by the owner.

Not-so picture perfect. Real estate photography is most effective when it captures and accentuates the most alluring aspects of the property.

The photos you find in the MLS cover all parts of the spectrum – from the listing agent who went around with their iPhone and made sure to take a selfie in every bathroom mirror, to the professional photographer who used the super-fisheye lens to make the 500-square-foot condo look like a mini mansion.

As you peruse listings, take all pictures with a grain of salt.

When dealing with a smaller list of potential homes, your agent will appreciate your willingness to not judge a book by its cover, and schedule an appointment to view the house in person. While looking for the perfect home, remember pictures are never perfect and are all a matter of perspective. The only true perspective is when you are the one standing inside the house.

Type of sale. By now, you’re likely familiar with the difference between foreclosures, short sales and a standard sale. Even so, take the time to discuss them with your agent so you can fully understand the process they entail to decide if they are a good fit.

Many times, people are so afraid of short sales and foreclosures from the horror stories they’ve heard, they neglect the positive stories where people walk into instant equity with little hassle.

Basement type. While you may have your heart set on a finished basement with a playroom for the kids, office for you and your spouse and a great bar area for entertaining, is that all really worth the price tag that comes along with it?

Sure, the idea that you won’t need to sink time and cash into major renovations and instead wrap it into your mortgage makes sense. But limiting your parameters to finished basements doesn’t allow you to maximize your search potential.

While the house with the finished basement may be located in a good neighborhood, you may be able to find a larger house with an unfinished basement in a great neighborhood for the same price. When the time comes to finish it, not only will you be in a more desirable area producing a higher return on investment, but you’ll be able to design the basement exactly the way you want.

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