Making a Wish List (and a Reality List)

100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask

First, let’s talk about what exactly constitutes a wish list. A wish list is nothing more than a list of everything you’ve ever dreamed of having in your house: marble kitchen countertops, a wood-burning fireplace, three-car garage, four-person whirlpool, the best school district in your state, a five-minute walk to work, four bedrooms, a master suite with his and her closets, and vaulted ceilings. You get the picture.

The best brokers in this business will ask their first-time buyers to create a wish list detailing everything they’d love to have in a home, including:

  • Location. Think about where you like to shop, where your children will attend school, where you work.
  • Size. Think about how many bedrooms you want, the size garden, the extra room you may need for expansion, where you will do the laundry, storage space.
  • Amenities. Think about the garage, kitchen and bathroom appliances, swimming pool, fireplace, air-conditioning, electrical wiring, furnace, hardwood floors.

On the first pass, many of the items may seem to be in conflict with each other: You want to be close to a transportation network so it’s easy to get around, and yet you want a quiet and peaceful neighborhood.

You might want to work, but when you come home, you want your home to be silent and secure. You want a wide variety of shopping, and yet you also need to be close enough to your health club to use it on a regular basis. You want to take advantage of the city, yet live in the suburbs.

Decisions, Decisions…

But that’s what a wish list is all about. If you’re honest about what you want, the inconsistencies and conflicts will come out. Most first-time buyers are confused by all their choices. First-time buyers take on that “kid in a candy store” quality: Many have difficulty choosing between different styles of homes. One broker says she always has a few first-time buyers each year who need to see at least one of everything in the area: a California ranch, an old Victorian, an in-town residence, and several new subdivisions. It takes a tremendous amount of time, which is wasted if the buyer decides ultimately to go with a loft. Some brokers also use a tool to help their clients define their needs as well as their wants. They call this the reality list.

Joanne, a real estate sales associate in New Jersey, says she asks her first-time buyers very specific questions about what they need to survive in their first home. “I just know their pocketbook will not allow them to have everything they want. I tell them they will begin to get what they want with their second home. Not the first.”

Here are some of the questions Joanne might ask:

  • How many bedrooms do you need?
  • How many children do you have or are you planning to have?
  • Is a garage absolutely necessary?
  • Why do you need a home with a basement?
  • Do you use public transportation on a daily basis?
  • How close to work do you need to be?
  • Does driving on a major expressway or in traffic make you crazy?

By asking specific questions about your daily lifestyle, Joanne and other brokers are able to center in on the best location and home size and amenities for your budget. They can read between the lines of your wish list.

“Wish” and “reality” lists have another use. By prioritizing the items on these lists, a good real estate agent can tell which items you might be willing to trade off. For example, if the first wish on your list is to have a four-bedroom, two-bath house, and the thirty-eighth item is a wood-burning fireplace, then the broker knows you would probably prefer a four-bedroom, two-bath house without a fireplace to a four-bedroom, one-bath house with a fireplace.
What Trade-offs Are You Willing To Make?

The bottom line is this: Unless you win the lottery, or are independently wealthy, you’re probably going to have to make some trade-offs when buying your first house. (This applies to almost ANY house you will buy. – Andrew)

The Wish List

Brokers say the best wish list should include everything you want in a home, such as location, schools, shopping, and distance to work. If your initial list says “nice house, four bedrooms,” try asking yourself these questions to stimulate your true desires:

  • How often do I go to the city? Suburbs? Country? Where would I rather be?
  • How long do I want to spend driving to work each day?
  • Do I have frequent guests? Do I need a separate guest room?
  • Will my children take a bus to school, walk, or will I have to drive them?
  • How far away is my church?
  • Do I want a big garden?
  • Must I have a garage? Two-car? Three-car?
  • How far away is the airport?
  • What is my favorite form of recreation and how far away from it am I?
  • Where does my family live? Where do my friends live?
  • How far away do I want to be?

Lifestyle Considerations

Questions of lifestyle are crucial components of a wish list. Do you and your spouse like to stay in on Saturday nights? Or do you prefer to be close to the “action?” And will that change over the years? Are you a single woman or married with six children? Do you travel frequently? Do you own a car? Do you own, or are you contemplating purchasing, a boat in the near future? Will you want to be within fifteen minutes of the marina?

Summarize Your Desires

Once you get the information down on paper, try to organize it into a concrete sentence: “I want a four-bedroom, three-bath home with a large garden, fairly new kitchen, loads of closets, a wood-burning fireplace, two-car garage, within a fifteen-minute commute to the office and church, down the street from the high school, in such-and-such location.”

That’s a start. Now, prioritize the items in your wish list, and think about which items you would trade off for others.

For example, would you give up a wood-burning fireplace if it meant having a two-car garage? Could you get by with a smaller house if it means you’d be in a better school district? Would you prefer to be closer to work even though it means giving up a large garden? What if you had to live in a condo, but could walk to work?

The Reality List

Now, for your reality list. Write down everything you can’t live without for the next five years. If you’re a single woman, your reality list might include:

  • Two bedrooms (that’s really for sale purposes; it can be much easier to sell a home with two bedrooms than a home with one bedroom);
  • Two bathrooms (same reasoning as above);
  • Parking space or attached garage;
  • Outdoor living space of some sort (could be a garden or patio);
  • Second floor or higher;
  • Within a twenty-minute drive to work.

Now your broker has something to work with. He or she can take your wish list and begin to match it to homes listed in your multiple-listing service. Are the wish list and reality list worth the time and effort? Brokers say yes.

These Lists Help YOU Get Clear

Even though a good broker will spend an hour or two divining the same information, writing up a wish list and a reality list will help focus YOUR mind on what YOU really want. An honest wish list is a road map to finding the house of your dreams.

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