Before you even begin searching online, sit down and think about what you "need" versus what you "want" in a home. Start with the things you absolutely need: three bedrooms, central air, a backyard, a good school district, etc. Then list your wants: hardwood floors, a large kitchen or a swimming pool. By keeping these distinctions in mind, you can focus your search on the homes that meet all of your needs and include at least a few of your wants. Always be prepared to make some compromises to stay within your price range.
Consider different types of homes such as condos, town homes and apartments. Depending on the stage of your life, a low-maintenance condo or apartment may be a better choice than a single-family home. Also think about the style of home you like: traditional or modern, brick or aluminum siding? While these seem like superficial considerations, you might find that you or your spouse has strong opinions.
Of all of the decisions to make before you begin your home search, arguably the most important is location. The location of your home mirrors your list of needs and wants. If you need a good school district, stick to locations with good schools. If you need to be able to walk or bike to work, search within a tight radius of your office. If you're looking for peace and quiet, avoid homes along major roads. By combining these requirements, you will waste less time looking in the wrong places.
Keep in mind that your location preferences may change over time. For example, having kids raises the importance of a good school district. And what if you lose or leave that walkable job? Would you still want to live in that neighborhood? Make sure to balance your near-term needs with your long-term goals. With a tight housing market, it's not always possible to sell and buy a new house every few years.
Location criteria to consider:
- Proximity to town
- Proximity to work
- Quality of schools
- Public transportation
- Crime rate
- Tax rate (especially property tax)
- Restrictive covenants (Can you keep your backyard chicken coop?)
- Air and water quality
- Community (do you share common values?)