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Identifying Housing Needs and Goals 

Defining needs versus wants in real estate

What does one want in a home? It seems like a relatively straightforward question; yet may not necessarily be the right question to ask when beginning a search for a home. Expanding on the question of "want" to include a clear picture of needs, desires and attainability will help organize the variables to be considered when purchasing a home.

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The homebuying experience, for most, is an emotional one. It can be easy to get caught up in the wants and even the "love at first sight" magic of a home and lose sight of what the priorities are—and perhaps maybe even result in looking beyond the flaws or other factors like location. Taking the time to clarify needs versus wants will help save the time (and frustration) of looking at homes and properties that don't fit the criteria. It will also help to put emotions aside—to the best of one's ability when actually viewing a property. Finally, it will help make decisions when the budget meets the reality of the market and help one act quickly with confidence when the right home comes along.

Needs are things that are must-have priorities. Another way to think of them is virtual deal breakers. These are true essentials that aren't easy to change, or even impossible to change, with little room for compromise. A key factor in determining a need is giving consideration to how long one plans to be in the home. The median duration a homeowner stays in their home is slightly over 13 years; so, consider the things that one will need in the course of that time. For example, if one plans to have children in the years subsequent to purchasing the home, it would be considered a need to have a bedroom for the children.

Wants are optional to varying degrees. Wants are non-essential things that are nice to have and can be lived without. There are big wants and smaller wants. Perhaps one wants new appliances and the perfect home that fits the need requirements comes up, but has older appliances. Is it worth walking away from the home when the appliances can easily be replaced?

When creating the checklist of needs and wants, ask the right questions. What are the loves and hates of the current home and neighborhood? Distinguishing dislikes of a particular feature or layout of the current living situation will help a buyer think twice about settling for a home or neighborhood that has the same problem. Needs are ever changing, and one's needs with their first home are likely not going to be the same 10 years later. Consider both the long- and short-term goals of the purchase. Is this home the forever home, or is it the steppingstone to trade up in five years?

Finally, when creating the wants and needs list, are the expectations realistic? Do they fit within the budget? The homebuying process requires compromises and tradeoffs. A great way to determine realistic expectations is to visit open houses before one intends to buy. Research the market and what tends to be standard in various neighborhoods and price ranges. Talk to real estate professionals to get a representative sense of what various budgets tend to afford with amenities and locations.

Identifying one's needs and wants will help serve as guide and guard rails in the homebuying process. Having a clear picture will help to create a smoother home search, less confusion and ultimately ease the stress that is inherent in the homebuying process.

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