When a housing wish list evolves

August 20

(Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS)

Marshall Park is a D.C.-based real estate agent at Redfin who writes an occasional column on the local real estate market.

When we received the e-mail alerting us about a new home from our saved search, we knew we had to see it, and soon. After a little more than a year looking at houses across Northern Virginia, I thought this could finally be the one.

As a real estate agent, you’d think I would have had an easier time finding a home. I tour houses all the time, know the neighborhoods inside and out and am used to asking my clients probing questions to help them focus on their priorities and preferences. When clients’ wish lists are all over the place, I help them get to the heart of what they want and need, and determine how those wants and needs fit their budget.

But when it came to my own home search, I had the same struggles as many homebuyers. When starting the search, my wife and I were convinced that we wanted a townhouse close to our workplaces. But as we toured and discussed our needs, we shifted our focus to a single-family house.

We had to reconsider proximity to work and the Metro, when we took into consideration the need for more livable space. All these factors came into play after touring a few houses. We didn’t realize that our priorities would change after seeing what was available. So in the end, we chose a single-family house that is farther from work than we originally hoped but has more square footage than a townhouse. If you told me 12 months ago that we’d change our original scope and buy this house, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. We landed in a very different place than where we started, but feel like the process helped us make the right decision.

My situation is similar to a lot of homebuyers. Buying a home is a journey and priorities often shift during the process. You may be set on a detached home, only to realize that the maintenance would be too much. Or you may be sold on having a view, but find that you’d rather put that money toward an extra bathroom. I’ve worked with many clients who were adamant about buying in the District. When the reality of the price and competition set in, they happily expanded their search to the suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.

Don’t believe what you see on reality TV. A couple starts a home search with a wish list. They tour three properties one day and sit down in a coffee shop afterward to have a heart to heart. Which home should they choose? After a brief discussion, they make a decision and submit an offer. And guess what — they get the house!

While these shows are fun to watch, they aren’t a realistic depiction of the buying process. While I have had clients who made an offer on the first home they toured, many more see 10, 20 or more homes before they find what they are looking for. And that’s okay. Each home they see educates them and gives them a greater understanding of what a certain price segment will get them.

My advice to homebuyers is to start with a wish list and be realistic about must-haves. Everyone has items they absolutely cannot compromise on. Don’t compromise on those. You don’t want to regret your decision. With regard to the rest, be flexible and keep an open mind.

Buy a home for your actual lifestyle, not an idealized version of it. You may desire a space to entertain, but if you realistically have dinner parties only two times per year, a formal dining space may not be an essential.

Visit many homes. Don’t be afraid to look at properties below and above your price range. This can give you a sense of what you are getting for your money and how it compares. You may decide to take a time out to save more in order to fulfill your wish list or end up buying something smaller in a more desirable location for less.

Ultimately, take your time and remember that it’s okay to change your mind. Trust yourself and enjoy the journey. If the search takes longer than you expect, it will be that much sweeter when you do find what you’re looking for.

Previously from Marshall Park:

A listing strategy for home sellers

Should you waive the financing contingency?

Homebuyers have options with inspection contingency

D.C. neighborhoods where homes sell fast

Tips on winning a bidding war in D.C.

 

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