Make a needs vs wants list when buying a home

Make a needs vs wants list when buying a home

When you’re looking to buy a home — whether it’s your first, something larger, downsizing, or an investment property — you need to think about your needs versus your wants. This way, when you meet with a REALTOR®, they’ll be able to better assist you in finding a home that suits you and your budget.

While you may think you really want to splurge for hardwood floors throughout your new home, you may actually need to have an extra bedroom for when family comes to visit, so there are going to be compromises you must make. Taking the time to narrow down your needs and wants will help make the house-hunting process even smoother, as you’ll already know what things you can and can’t live without.

How do you define a need vs. a want?

While many people can sit down and craft a long list of wants and needs for their dream home, knowing the difference between the two is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

According to Denae McCullough, a REALTOR® with McCarthy Shymkiw & Associates in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, “Your needs are a necessity when it comes to determining the day-to-day functioning for yourself or your family in your next home.”

McCullough explained that these needs might include things like location (think commute and school catchment areas), the number of bedrooms and the space required for those living in the home, not to mention type of home. On the other hand, she explained wants are the things you desire, but aren’t necessarily key to your family dynamics, happiness or routine.

For example, you and your family might really want an in-ground swimming pool, but this feature and its maintenance costs would put you over budget, when you really need that accessible washroom, laundry facilities on the main floor, or an attached garage.

“Everyone’s wants and needs will differ, and what might be extremely important to you, may not make the cut for someone else. Communicating this list to your REALTOR® is important so no assumptions are being made,” McCullough said.

How soon should home buyers start determining their wants and needs for their future home?

You’ll want to take some time to sit down and make a list of everything important to you in a new home. Remember, it’s never too soon to dream up the wants and needs for your future home. Start with the most important things (your needs) and then work your way down your list to the less important things (wants).

McCullough explains you can start by taking note of where you’re living now and determine what you love about your current home, what you’d like to experience differently, and any “pain points” in your day-to-day routine that could be solved by a trait or amenity in your next home.

Gareth Ian Roberts, a REALTOR® with RE/MAX Hallmark Realty Ltd. Brokerage in Toronto, suggests keeping a running list once you decide you’re in the market to buy.

“Start making a list of needs and wants so when you’re ready to meet with an agent, you already have an idea of what you’re looking for,” he says. “Keep in mind as you go through the process, the list can have multiple changes to it.”

What are some things people don’t think to include on their needs and wants list?

There are some things home buyers might not realize they should include on their list or even think about.

“Something that people may not consider when crafting their wants and needs list includes planning for the next five or more years,” says McCullough.

Even though you might hope to move on to your next home sooner, McCullough says anticipating the wants and needs of “future you” is also worthy of inclusion.

“If you want a pet in the future, make that clear to your agent so you’re not buying into a strata property with restrictive bylaws. If you want the option to keep your condo when it comes time to up-size, have a good understanding of the rental restrictions in place,” she suggests.

When considering your minimum bedroom count, try and determine if your future includes children or roommates — you’ll want to make sure there’s room to grow.

“By anticipating this future criteria, you will put yourself in a position of moving next because you want to, not because you have to,” says McCullough.

Thinking ahead is also Roberts’ advice. Sunlight, storage and snow shovelling are all things to consider, he says.

“Sometimes people, depending on where you live, don’t realize how much snow shovelling you’ll have to do in the winter,” he points out. “Covered parking is definitely a major want. But, given what city you live in, it can be an easy compromise to make in the process of looking for your new home — you may be fine with settling on just a parking spot.”

How can your REALTOR® help narrow these things down?

When it comes to home buying, Roberts says having a REALTOR® who listens well and can explain what’s realistic and what’s not will help narrow down your list to create a more refined, efficient search — quality over quantity.

“As a REALTOR®, getting to know our clients and their lifestyle is fundamental in helping narrow wants and define needs,” he explains. “As your REALTOR® shows you properties, you’re able to work together to weigh the pros and cons of different home configurations and the needs and wants they each offer.”

McCullough says it’s also a good idea for you and your REALTOR® to research your local market, follow and check out what’s available on or, and to visit open houses before you seriously start searching. By checking out new neighbourhoods and getting a feel for different home layouts, finishes, and ages of properties, you’ll be better able to narrow down or add to your list.

The best advice is to start writing down what you want and what you really need. As the list grows, you’ll begin to understand the kind of home you should be looking for and the expectations you should set, which will make the search process even easier for both you and your REALTOR®.


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