Needs versus wants

Most of us cherish the notion of a dream home. In our mind’s eye it may have big windows, fireplaces and airy open spaces. But in reality, an ideal home is one that allows us to comfortably express our lifestyle. That’s why it’s so important to make a list of your needs before you go house hunting.

Family needs
Do you have a family or are you planning to start one? Both will affect the number of bedrooms you need. You may need a backyard for small children or dogs. If you have teenagers, maybe you could benefit from a basement rec room and an extra bathroom. If you have more than one car, you may need plenty of parking and/or a garage.

Do you need to be close to certain schools for your children or near transit to get to your workplace? A downtown loft-condominium or trendy Victorian row house might be the answer if you are a single professional who wants to be close to your work and to nightlife -- just be sure to check that it’s in a neighborhood where you feel secure.

Work space
If you work from home, you may want an extra bedroom for a home office and wiring for the Internet and a second phone line. If you have hobbies, such as gardening or woodworking, you may require a utility room or a work area in the basement.

Research shows that people tend to be in starter homes for an average of five years. Look down that five-year timeline. Will you be starting a family or having another child? Be sure to take such plans into consideration.

You’ll want to consider ease of maintenance. That huge lot may be gorgeous, but do you want all the mowing and weeding that goes with it? A beautiful, old home may require substantial upgrades and more costly repairs than a newly built home. Can you afford the extra expense?

Be realistic when making a list of your wants. Many people put fireplaces, a master suite with a large bath and open-plan main floor spaces on their list of wants. Wood floors, bay windows and renovated kitchens are also popular. If you can get a house that meets both your needs and wants, and fits your budget, that’s great. If not, be willing to compromise on the non-essentials.

What’s important
Look behind those cozy shutters. Are the window frames solid? You may love a home’s color scheme, but make sure the masonry and roof are in good repair. They are much more expensive to replace than the cost of repainting. Similarly, brass lighting may be appealing, but if the house doesn’t include that, it’s easy to install new fixtures. However, new wiring and a breaker box will mean fewer worries. Is the kitchen you’re viewing somewhat dated but has the space you need and pleasant natural light? You can always paint the walls and cabinets for a quick lift and schedule a renovation down the road.

It’s easy to fall under the spell of a charming house. Just remember to go over your list of needs. After all, you’re looking for more than just a pretty face.

Examples of needs Examples of wants
Enough square footage for comfortable living Specific color of carpeting, paint or exterior
Enough bedrooms to accommodate your family Pool or hot tub
Space for a home office Wood floors
Adequate number of bathrooms Bay Windows
Eat-in kitchen Built-in entertainment center
Garage or basement for storage needs Decorative fixtures
Lot size to accommodate children’s play area Skylights
Adaptation for disabled An attractive view
Proximity to a specific school Newly renovated kitchen
Close to transportation, office, shops Fireplace
Adequate plumbing, wiring, insulation Open floor plan
Good windows Big master bedroom with adjoining bath


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