Must-Have vs. Nice-to-Have: Know Your Lists

One of the most important aspects of your home search is learning what you can live with and what you can live without. At the start of your search, you may not know the difference between the two. Here are some tips to help you create your “must-have” vs. “nice-to-have” lists. ‘Tis the season for list making anyways.

The first and most important item on your “must-have” list is the budget, which informs everything else. The best way to figure out how much “house” you can afford is to meet with a lender to identify your max purchase price in regards to your debt to income ratio (max debt to income ratio most lenders allow is 50%). Once you know your budget, you should connect with a realtor and start looking at places within that price range.

See plenty of properties.
There is no better tool to help you sort out your “must-haves” vs. “nice-to-haves” than viewing a variety of properties. You may want to live in a specific neighborhood with a yard, gourmet kitchen, luxury bathroom, private outdoor space, great view, etc. However, these items all come at a price.

Be open to the search process. You may want more for your money, and let location rank secondary. Or, you’ll decide that location trumps living space and opt for a smaller home in a more coveted area. Either way, scoping out a multitude of properties will help you determine.

Focus on what you can’t change.
Some factors you likely can’t change: price, school district, outdoor space situation, building size, certain layout aspects, building age, stair count, elevator existence, etc.

One of the most important items that you can’t change is the structure of the house. For example, if you need 3 bedrooms because you have two kids, then that could weigh heavier than location on the importance scale. Focus on the makeup and the budget first, and then see what else is important to you based on these factors in the areas you are looking.

Know what factors you can change.
Now that you have toured several places and figured out what you really must have, you can hone in on the items that you can change. You may see a place with an ideal bedroom count, layout, price tag, and location, BUT it has an outdated kitchen, old bathroom, sorry paint, scratched floors, etc. This is where you need to invoke your imagination because all items can be modified! The nice part about doing the updates yourself is that you can customize them to your taste and truly create your dream home. On the other hand, these items can be costly, so figure that into your overall budget or set a plan to upgrade over time.

Take these tips, and hammer down your “must-haves” and your “nice-to-haves”. This will make your search much easier and more objective. Enlist a solid realtor to help you navigate and update your lists throughout the search. Ultimately, when you find the right place, you will know it.

Happy Hunting!

Matt Engle
Real Estate Broker

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Blog by: Matt Engle
Matt represents residential real estate and investment buyers and sellers in Chicago. He also has a wealth of experience in residential leasing. Matt listens intently to his clients’ needs and thoughtfully guides through professionalism, education, and responsivity. 


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