Buying a Home? Know What You Want, Versus What You Need


Ask three different people how they’d see their Chicago “dream home,” and you could well get three different answers. For one, the perfect slice of Chicago may be a Gold Coast penthouse with views of the lake. For another, a cozy converted two-flat with a detached garage is the way to go. For the third, maybe the goal is to one day buy a Chicago-style bungalow, with an unfinished basement perfect for a major renovation project.

The point? No two people are going to have the same perfect property. Everyone’s tastes are going to differ, both in terms of what they want in their dream house, and what they really need. Identifying the difference between these two categories early on is one of the most important steps that you can take at the start of the homebuying process.

Dreaming Big: Don’t Be Afraid to Brainstorm

Once you’ve gotten a hold on your finances and received your pre-approval for a mortgage, the next step on the buyer’s journey is to be honest with yourself about what you want in a home, and to understand that these things may be different from what you need in a home.

Now, we’re not saying that you shouldn’t dream big! Certainly, coming into the process with optimism will be key. When you’re first considering buying a home, it can actually be extremely helpful to explore the options available in your area via real estate listing sites, social media, real estate magazines, and so on.

It can’t hurt to think big, especially early on! But, with that said, you also have to be realistic about what constitutes a deal-breaker, and what compromises you can be willing to live with in a home, for the sake of your lifestyle and your budget.

To help, real estate blog Keeping Current Matters offers some useful advice. After creating an exhaustive list of everything you could possibly want in your perfect property, KCM advises home shoppers to organize the features they like into three categories:

  • “Must-Haves”
  • “Should-Haves”
  • “Absolute Wishlist”

Let’s go into each of these in a little more depth.

“Must-Haves:” What You Need In a Home

The “must-haves” category is your most important list. Essentially, this pool of features will act as your baseline; if a property doesn’t have these attributes, it shouldn’t and won’t be considered. Is off-street parking a must? Do you absolutely need to have a backyard, two bathrooms, or three bedrooms? Are you within the boundaries of a well-ranked neighborhood school? If any of these attributes are a “must,” then houses without them can be crossed off as they crop up during your home search.

Understanding your “must-haves” is a vial step in the homebuying process! Not only will this list allow you to narrow your focus and only expend energy on the homes that will actually work for you, but it will also allow your broker to make better choices when it comes to which properties to bring to your attention as your search goes on. Because of this, it’s important to be thorough, fair, and realistic about want constitutes a “must-have” as opposed to something you just really want.

“Should-Haves:” What You’d Like In a Home

The “should-haves” category is your next level up; these can broadly be thought of as your “wants.” As KCM explains, this category will feature the attributes that you’d like a home to have, even if they aren’t essential to your decision. Assuming a property checks off all of your “must-haves” and at least a few of your “should-haves,” then it should stay in contention.

Since you’re likely dealing with major features (number of bedrooms, location, list price) in the “must-haves,” you can dream a little bigger with your “should-haves.” Farmhouse sinks? Skyline views? A specific type of flooring? Private patio? As long as you don’t get hung up on these details, there’s no reason that you can’t hold out hope for attaining at least one or two of them.

“Absolute-Wish List:” What Gets You the Most Excited About a Home

Finally, there’s the “absolute-wish list” category. As KCM puts it, buyers should think of their “absolute-wish” features like this:

“if we find a property in our budget that has all of the ‘must-haves,’ most of the ‘should-haves,’ and ANY of these, it’s the winner!”

These are your wildest, most extravagant home dreams, the stuff that late night HGTV sessions are made of. In other words, the features on this list won’t necessarily make or break your decision to buy a home – even if they would be really, really, really nice to have. When picking one property over another, it may come down to this final category, but it's important o remember that these are the features that should be considered last.

The Bottom Line: It’s All About You

Wants and needs will vary from buyer to buyer, and we’re not going to tell you that one piece of the homebuying puzzle is necessarily more important than another. Your decisions will depend on your unique circumstances, and we’d be more than happy to sit down with you to discuss what really matters for you right now, where you’d like to be in the future, and how you can get your finances ready to get there.

Ready to get the process started? Real Group is here to help! Drop us a line today when you’re ready to talk your realty wants and needs – and work out a plan to make your dream home a reality!

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