Buying a Home

72 Questions to Find the Perfect House

One of the toughest things for two architects to do is to find the perfect house. Such a thing doesn’t exist, I would argue, since you’ll always have to make a sacrifice or two (or ten). But once you’ve saved enough money for a house (and many times, even before), the time comes to start searching for that real estate gem.

One of the most useful exercises when we went looking for a house three years ago was defining exactly what we wanted before we even started.

It wasn’t a list set in stone—after all, a house will rarely have it all. But we took the most important things to each of us and created a prioritized list. Things at the top were near-requirements and those closer to the bottom we could live without.

My wife and I each had a list that was different (but complimentary), and we decided that any home we bought would satisfy both lists equally. What are some of the things we considered for our house list? Here’s a list to get you started—try to imagine you’re standing in your perfect home and see if you can answer these questions:

Basics

  1. Single-family, townhouse, or condo?
  2. Urban, suburban, or rural?
  3. What part of the country would I like to live in?
  4. Would I like to live in a completely different country?
  5. New home or existing home, or lot?
  6. Single-story, multi-story, or split level?
  7. If existing, well-maintained or a fixer-upper?
  8. If existing, what’s the ideal and maximum age of the home?
  9. Is previous owner history an important criteria? How many owners?
  10. Do I want a “move-in ready” home or something I’ll need to work on first?
  11. What are some things I’m not willing to live with in a home?

Finances

(Keep in mind, these are very dream-home specific–you still need to evaluate exactly what you can afford separately).

  1. What percentage of my income should the house demand?
  2. How much will I spend on driving/transportation?
  3. If gas prices rise, will this home still be financially viable?
  4. Do I want to spend a lot of money improving my house?
  5. Will I buy new furniture or bring what I own now?

Neighborhood

  1. How far and what quality are the nearest schools?
  2. Where are the nearest shopping centers, grocery stores, and banks?
  3. What kind of community is it? (“Established,” gated, cohousing, etc.)
  4. What’s the “feel” of the neighborhood? A wooded “retreat,” perhaps? Cookie-cutter tract housing?
  5. Is the home part of a larger home association?
  6. Are there commons areas that provide an additional benefit?
  7. What are the neighbors like?
  8. Are utilities readily available or does the site need to self-sustain (well water, for example)?
  9. Do I want a lot of kids in the neighborhood?
  10. Are the streets quiet or filled with activity?
  11. What kind of traffic can I expect on my way to work or school?
  12. Does the neighborhood have any formal or informal security in place?

Site Design

  1. What’s the ideal lot size?
  2. Do I want a corner lot, inner lot, cul-de-sac or other type of site?
  3. What kind of separation from other nearby homes?
  4. Should the home be set to the front of the lot (large backyard) or toward the back (large driveway)?
  5. Wide open lawns or dense vegetation?
  6. Shade trees or plenty of sunlight?
  7. How much maintenance should the landscape demand?
  8. Do I need space for a home garden?
  9. Does the home have a pool or play area?
  10. Does the site overlook any natural features, like the mountains or a lake?
  11. Is the site large enough for a future expansion, if that’s something I want?

Home Design – General

  1. What’s the ideal square footage?
  2. How many bedrooms and bathrooms?
  3. Formal or informal layout?
  4. Should room sizes be average, large, or small?
  5. Should bedrooms be grouped or separated?
  6. How flexible is the layout to future changes?
  7. How flexible does it need to be? (Am I planning a larger family, etc.?)
  8. Will the home have an indoor-outdoor component, like a lanai or patio?
  9. Is the exterior style of the home important?
  10. If it is, what kind of architectural style is it?
  11. How readily could the style be changed to something else?
  12. More common space or more private space?
  13. Is the home handicap-friendly or convertible?
  14. What kinds of views can you see from each room?

Home Design – Specific

  1. What kind of kitchen layout?
  2. Does the kitchen have space for all the appliances I use? (Refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, etc.)
  3. Garage or carport? Attached or freestanding? One car or two?
  4. How much window area do I like?
  5. How much closet/storage space?
  6. What’s the minimum quality of interior finishes (e.g. granite counters, etc.)?
  7. Are there any specific design features that I would love (fireplace, loft area, etc.)?
  8. Is there a space to work from home if that’s my plan?
  9. What is the age of the major appliances and equipment in the house?
  10. Are the existing colors of the home important or do I just plan to repaint?
  11. What kinds of amenities does the master bathroom have?

Emergency Planning

  1. How far is the nearest fire/police station?
  2. How far is the nearest hospital?
  3. Do I mind if the house is in a flood plain?
  4. What kinds of natural events (hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, snow storms) am I prepared to deal with?
  5. To what extent do I want the house to be prepared for dealing with less-common events? (Category V hurricane, high flood, etc.)
  6. What is the crime rate in my ideal area? Is this higher or lower than other local areas?
  7. Do I like privacy or should the neighbors be able to look out for our safety?
  8. In an emergency, can we evacuate the house/neighborhood/city quickly?

I hope that gives you a good starting point for creating your own prioritized “dream home” list. Are there any criteria I’ve missed that you would include? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Photo by takomabibelot

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12 thoughts on “72 Questions to Find the Perfect House

  1. Those are some great questions. Even though I’m not looking for a house and I’m a student, I like to think of these things now and then to plan for the future. While all the questions are important I think many parts of our lives tie into finances, therefor to me the finance questions are the most important.

    -Ravi Gupta

    • Wojo says:

      I think anyone who wants to buy a house, even if it’s 20 years in the future, could benefit from this. What better motivation than “seeing” your dream home in your mind, right?

  2. Austin says:

    Great post, Wojo. After starting to look at houses, we have thought about our “must-haves” and “would-like-to-haves” — these are all great questions.. very useful!

    Austin

    • Wojo says:

      When I first started looking for homes, I didn’t have this kind of list at all, and there was nothing to evaluate anything I was seeing against what I wanted. Boy, am I glad I wrote out a wish list! :)

  3. Scott Messner says:

    This is a great list but with over 70 points it may be too big. Potential home buyers should pick their most important “must haves” and “like to haves” from this list and go with that. Like you said, even with a shorter list be prepared to compromise. Without building new, which is a headache in itself, it is very difficult to find a house that has it all.

    • Wojo says:

      I completely agree–like I said in the intro, my wife and I each created our prioritized list. To elaborate–we each selected about 10 criteria which were most important to us from this long list, and had another 10-15 in the back of our mind as “like-to-haves.” I would, however, say to at least get the “basics” list resolved and not use that as criteria at all–but as the starting point. Great comment.

    • Wojo says:

      I think many people feel the same way. For me, of the many benefits of buying a home, the possibility of it being an “investment” is at the bottom of my list. I think putting it anywhere else is how we got into this mess in the first place.

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  6. I bought a house 2 years ago and the only things i really considered was the neighborhood, # of bedrooms, and the price. I was doing it more as an investment that i planned to live in. I’m sure its alot different if you are an architect and are moving in your family.
    But you should check out some foreclosures or short sales if you can. I got an amazing deal and my house has already gone up in value about 100k in 2 years. realtytrac is really good for finding those type of homes.

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