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Finding a Home That Fits Your Needs

Bedrooms? Neighborhood? Dog Park? Tips for Your Search

Shopping for a home is a process. Last year, the typical homebuyer searched for 10 weeks before finding the right property, according to research from the National Association of Realtors. And for more than half of buyers, finding the right home was the hardest part.

Raven and Hazel Wallace had several things on their wish list when they hit the housing market in the summer of 2014. They wanted at least four bedrooms, including one on the first floor, an open kitchen and family room, and a formal dining room, among other things. They also wanted to stay in the San Diego neighborhood where they already lived.

“We'd lived in a house there for almost 20 years, so we were used to this area," says Raven, 55, who lives in San Diego. “And the commute was just right."

In the end they found just the place, but it took a few false starts and more than six months to complete the process. “We searched to exhaustion," Raven says. “But everything about this house was just right."

Before you embark on your own home buying odyssey, here are a few things that may help you find your best match.

Start online.

For more than four out of 10 homebuyers, the first rung on the home buying ladder is browsing the Internet for properties, according to the National Association of Realtors. And that's smart. “A lot of times it gives buyers a very good idea of what appeals to them," says Sandra O'Connor, a real estate agent in Greensboro, N.C., and a regional vice president of the NAR. “An open floor plan, or something more traditional, for example." Plus, you get a good feel for what you can find in your price range.

Think about your family.

Most people have a number of bedrooms and bathrooms in mind, but may not have thought about the configuration they prefer. For instance, do you need a master bedroom that's on the same level as the other bedrooms? Do you need a first-floor bedroom for elderly parents? Do you want an open kitchen and living room so you can keep an eye on toddlers? Consider how you live and how your house should reflect that.

Check out the yard.

If you have small children or pets, or might have them down the road, don't overlook the outdoor space. “A lot of people have special pet requirements," O'Connor says. “There are times when I've felt like I've sold a yard rather than a house." Also, think about your future needs. You may find that the postage stamp of grass that worked with a baby is insufficient when you have two older children who like to run.

Consider proximity.

The house may be exactly what you want, but how close are you to work? To schools? To parks? Are you too close to a busy street or noisy part of town? You may find what you want, but not where you want to be. “Perhaps the house is in a different price bracket because it's far away from the city center," O'Connor says. “Maybe you can get more house for the money if you go out further." In the end, you have to weigh what's important to you.

Be flexible.

You might have your heart set on a 4-bedroom house with an open floor plan—but discover that in your location, for what you can spend, that's not possible. “Once you start looking in your price range," O'Connor says, "you can reassess and say, 'Is this realistic?'" You may also find that the home you adore doesn't meet all of your criteria. “I had clients that said, 'We will not look at anything that does not have a first-floor bedroom.' What did they end up buying? A house without a first-floor bedroom because they fell in love with everything else about it."

Remember that it's an investment.

Are you shopping for the home you'll stay in for the rest of your life, or will you have to sell it at some point? You may want to pay attention to things that may be important to other buyers down the road. “For instance, if it's a professional couple without children, they may say the schools don't matter," O'Connor says. “But when they go to sell the house, the schools will matter." Think about the things that will give you a good return on your money when the day comes to put it on the market.

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