A couple talking through differing opinions while meeting with a realtor.

House hunting is an exciting time filled with possibilities. It’s fun to think about all the cool new features you’d love to have in your new abode: high-end fixtures, a cozy outdoor entertaining space and the perfect location.

While it’s easy to get carried away creating a homebuying wish list, sooner or later, reality sets in. How much you can afford, the inventory available on the market and the best fit for your lifestyle all come into focus.

But it’s all about balance. You can make a realistic wish list that both fulfills all your top priorities and is affordable.

Clarify wants vs. needs

First, get a handle on what’s most important to you by starting with a broad list of everything you’d like in your new home. You can go big during this step of the process and even include those fantasy features that you have a hunch might not be feasible. By letting your imagination run wild, you’ll satisfy the part of you that wants to dream big and get a clearer picture of your true priorities.

Next, separate this list into non-negotiables and those “nice to have but not necessities.” For example, if you need at least three bedrooms to comfortably fit your family, enough space is a must. Hardwood floors or a luxury whirlpool tub, for instance, likely fall into the wants category.

When you begin your search, prioritize your needs category and think of features in the wants category as bonuses.

Consider your daily lifestyle

Maybe you’ve always dreamed of living in a country home straight out of a fairytale, but your job dictates that you live in a major metropolitan area. Or perhaps you love the idea of backyard pool parties but realistically you travel a lot and won’t be home enough to enjoy a large outdoor entertaining space.

Your ideal home should fit your day-to-day schedule and activities. For instance, it may be very important for you to stay within a certain area for your kids to attend the same school. Or maybe you work at home and need a dedicated office space. Don’t ignore the practical considerations that will have a big impact on your satisfaction with your purchase and overall happiness. Your home should fit your lifestyle, not the other way around.

Be open to surprises

When making your wish list, try not to be too rigid. While it’s important to stick to top practical priorities (i.e. you probably shouldn’t consider a cramped fifth-floor walkup if you know you need space for your three dogs), try to remain open to features and homes that don’t tickle your fancy at first glance.

Say your spouse is set on a ranch style home, but you always assumed you’d have a basement. Consider what you want out of that space and whether it could be replicated another way. For instance, maybe a single-story home has a sun porch that could provide the extra storage space you want. You could also try a compromise that meets in the middle — like a split-level house.

Sometimes the amenities you see as super desirable end up being not so glamorous after all. For instance, while a fireplace may sound like an enviable extra, some homeowners who have them find them to be a pain because of the cost and labor of maintenance and cleanup involved. Don’t miss out on a home that’s perfect for you because it’s lacking in one or two nonessential aspects.

Accept tradeoffs

The saying, “You can have anything you want, but not everything you want” definitely applies to homebuying. Finding a home that checks off every single item on your wish list is probably not attainable, so save yourself the frustration by accepting some concessions.

Every choice you make has benefits and drawbacks. If you choose a home that’s in the exact center of your desired location, it may have a smaller backyard than the one that’s a bit off the beaten path. While you might feel like Goldilocks looking for the home that’s “just right,” don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Think about your timeline

How long you plan to stay in your home should also be a major factor in putting together your wish list. If you plan to sell your home in less than five years, it may not appreciate enough in value to recoup your expenses.

If you consider the purchase a “starter home,” you may be OK with a smaller floorplan knowing you will upgrade eventually. But if you want to remain in your home longer-term, choose one that will fit your needs as best as you can predict them for years to come.

Your dream home is within reach

Creating a realistic homebuying wish list is more of an art than a science. But by focusing on what matters most to you and your family, you can find the home that’s perfect for you.

Get your home on your terms.

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