How to Craft the Perfect House Wants and Needs List

A house wants and needs list can help you find the right home for you.

If you’ve seen some of those house hunting shows on TV, you’ll notice that every home buyer has to make a concession somewhere. They never get everything on their list. They might get two out of the top three things they wanted, but they have to sacrifice somewhere. So, if you can’t have it all, how do you narrow it down to what’s important? Taking it one step further than that, how do you tell the difference between the things you want and the things you need in a home? A helpful starting point is to create a house wants and needs list.

Every home buyer has to make a concession somewhere.

define wants and needs

Before you even start creating a house wants and needs list, you should ask yourself two important questions. (1) Is this something I can change or add myself with relative ease? and (2) Can I live with or without this? The answers to these questions can help you define your wants and needs.

Here’s an example: Living at the end of a cul-de-sac is something you cannot change or add yourself with relative ease, so it doesn’t pass the first test, but it may be something you can live without. Another example? The home’s location is something you can’t change and may not be able to live with. So if keeping your daily commute under 40 minutes is important to you, then a home that’s situated 50 minutes from your workplace may not be one you want to buy.

Putting home features to the test like this will help you figure out what truly matters to you. From there, you can more easily categorize the things you want and the things you need.

be honest

Let’s be honest: we tend to get our wants and needs mixed up. It’s easy to think we need something, when really we just want it. You need a roof over your head but you want a Spanish Colonial tile roof. You need working plumbing and electricity but you want water-saving faucets and solar panels. Do you see the difference? It goes without saying that true wants and needs will be different for every home buyer, but being honest with yourself about your real needs versus things you just want is key.

Let’s be honest: we tend to get our wants and needs mixed up.

be flexible

Flexibility is important. Be ready to stretch! Especially if the market is competitive (like it has been this year), you’ll have to be a little flexible to get a home that has potential and checks off most of the things on your list instead of a turnkey that has everything imaginable. Keep this fact in mind: most homes require some personalization to make them a better fit for you and your family. If it meets your must-have needs but not all your wants, be willing to roll up your sleeves and gradually make changes as you live there.

be realistic

Right from the start of your home search, be realistic with yourself: you might not get everything you want. Remember the home buyers on TV? They start with a tight grasp on all these things they can’t live without and, by the end of it, some of those things they thought were dire needs didn’t make the cut. It’s a classic case of expectations versus reality. In the end, home buying is more about compromise and finding the best possible home based on what’s important to you.

In the end, home buying is more about compromise and finding the best possible home based on what’s important to you.

make the list

If you want to be realistic with yourself, you’ll have to manage your expectations—and building a house wants and needs list can help. Do this thoughtfully and carefully, but don’t overthink it. It’s as easy as taking a piece of paper and writing your wants on one side and your needs on the other. Remember that this is just a starting point that will most likely evolve as your home search does.

Another way to do it is list all the key features of a home down the left side of the paper. Some of the features could be things like a garage, gas stove, finished basement, hardwood floors, etc. At the top of the page, make four columns: Very Important, Nice to Have, Not Important, and Do Not Want. This makes for a house wants and needs list that’s a bit more detailed. And the more detailed you can get, the more it will help you—and your real estate agent—narrow the search.

Speaking of your real estate agent, you’re not the only person who could benefit from a house wants and needs list. Not only can this practice be good for you, it’s good for your real estate agent too. They will most likely ask for this information early on in the process, so creating a house wants and needs list can help your agent find homes that might be what you’re looking for. It can save a lot of time in the overall process if you have this information ready for them.

As you use your lists to aid in your home search, don’t be surprised if things shift as you do some walk-throughs. What starts out as a need could turn into a want, or vice versa. Or, something you thought was a want could fall off the list entirely. Again, be honest, be flexible, and be realistic.

Most homes require some personalization to make them a better fit for you and your family.

think ahead

While you’re thinking about the things you want and need now, it’s good to also think about the future. This is especially important if you’re planning on living in the house you buy for more than five years. Ask yourself things like: Are you planning on having kids here? Or (if you’re a little older) will you need wheelchair access to the house? Do you have plans to buy another car and, if so, do you want covered parking for it? This part will be a challenge because you don’t know what the future holds and you can’t account for every single possibility, but it’s good to think in this direction anyway.

some things to consider

We know there are so many things to consider when you’re buying a home. Here are some parting thoughts to help you wrap your mind around figuring out your wants and needs.

When you’re home shopping, think about what adds value. A home is an investment and you want it to be one that holds value for you and your family now and for years to come. Generally speaking, if a thing is beautiful, convenient, and safe, most people will consider it valuable. A home with these value points will be more competitive to get into, but it can increase your return on investment if and when you go to sell the home.

Some things we would consider to be value points (and needs, for that matter) are things like a safe neighborhood and a home with a solid foundation and stable structure. A home should be a safe haven. If the home doesn’t have the basic necessities to keep you and your family safe, healthy, and comfortable, then it may be one you have to pass up.

Lastly, keep in mind that no house is perfect. You will have to compromise no matter which house you pick. Chances are, your dream home doesn’t exist. In any case, you may have to buy a house that has the potential to become your dream home and put in some of the work (even some sweat equity!) to make it perfect for you.

Share this on one of our social channels with your answer to this question: what is the most important thing to you in a home?

About the Author

Laura is one of our blog authors. Currently living in Charm City, she's a Great Lakes native who likes salsa dancing, brews a mean cup of Joe, and reads the Chicago Manual of Style for fun. As a young first-time home buyer, Laura likes writing educational pieces that dispel mortgage myths and give helpful hints about what the home buying process is really like.