Buying a home should be one of the most empowering experiences in your life. That said, finding the perfect home to fit your needs can take a lot of time and effort. There are many things to consider, including floor plans, neighborhood, amenities, price, etc. Whether you’re in the market for a condominium or a single-family residence, there is a great deal of thought you should be put into the purchase. Ben Nathan’s guide to Choosing the Perfect Home will walk you through numerous topics that you’ll want to consider. Ben Nathan is in the business of helping you find the home of your dreams. Real estate is his passion, and he believes that luxury is an experience, not a price point.
1) WHAT TYPE OF HOME
The main question you should ask yourself is what type of home is best adapted to your lifestyle. A young professional who regularly travels on business might want to consider a maintenance-free condominium or community, while a couple planning a family might lean towards a house that will offer plenty of room for children and pets.
With a condo, you will own the unit, and you will have the right to use the common areas – gyms, pools, roof-decks, parking, etc. Monthly fees are required to pay your share of taxes and insurance, as well as repairs and maintenance. You do not, however, own the land underneath. Condos are ideal for those with a minimum live-in footprint – who either don’t want to invest the time and energy in an entire house or simply do not need the space. They’re increasingly popular in Sarasota, Saint Petersburg, and Tampa. Condos often come with the added perks of various amenities and quick access to restaurants, shops, and entertainment.
On the other hand, single-family homes are what you typically think of when you imagine owning your own house. You own not only the home but the land underneath. Despite the name, a single-family home can be as small as a cottage or as large as a beachfront mansion. A Single-family home is an excellent choice for individuals, couples, or families who want space and freedom to modify the home.
2) LIFESTYLE CONSIDERATION
Before finding the dream home, you need to find the lifestyle that’s right for you. Your home is much more than a place to rest your head – it’s where you go to recharge. It’s where you entertain friends and family. It’s where you cook, work, relax, and raise your family. If you’re thinking long-term, your home should be multi-functional and tailored to your precise needs. Ben Nathan believes that lifestyle considerations should influence your home search, from location to size, the architectural style, and floorplan, and storage space needed.
The location will be covered in more depth later, that said, choosing the right location is a significant part of the home-buying process. Ask yourself what lifestyle you're looking for? Are you more attracted to the hustle and bustle of downtown, or the peace, privacy, and space of a home in the suburbs? Whether you know it or not, your lifestyle will inform this very fundamental choice.
Whether you’re looking for a pied-à-terre condo or a two-story house, size considerations will play a key role in your home search. Feeling comfortable in your new home is essential, but this doesn’t mean “bigger is better.” Don’t go with large spaces and high ceilings if you know you like cozy, intimate settings. In turn, if you have a lot of furniture, prefer larger rooms, or plan to live with other people, make sure you buy a house with plenty of space – and possibly enough land to allow future expansion.
One of the fundamental elements of your dream house should be the floor plan. Typically we offer two options: a traditional floor plan with separated rooms and compartmentalized space (these were popular until the 20th century), or an open floor plan that flows from room to room (more en vogue in recent decades). Each floor plan has pros and cons, which we’ll discuss below.
Open Floor Plan VS. Traditional Floor Plan
Open floor plans have become increasingly popular, especially in urban settings and the luxury market. One of the pros of having an open floor plan is being able to visually connect living spaces, tying together the design and aesthetics of the home.
Also, open floor plans tend to let in more natural light. Fewer walls – or shortened interior walls – means that natural light from windows can reach further into the house. This added light has another bonus of giving your home a greater sense of spaciousness.
An open floor plan can also be great for entertaining guests. If you love to have friends over to cook, mingle, and party, an open floor plan is probably the way to go. Spaces are often mixed-use in an open plan since the layout encourages flow from room to room. Generally, the location of the kitchen is critical. The kitchen can link to the dining and living rooms, or out to a porch or patio area, and make for the perfect hub for entertaining.
On the other hand, if you don’t want the living room TV visible and blaring every time you’re cooking, maybe a floor plan that connects the kitchen and living room isn’t for you. And if you are more private and don’t want your whole house on display every time someone comes over, you may prefer a traditional living room or sitting room adjacent to the front door, leaving the rest of the house private.
Another downside to the open floor plan is that if you’re not tidy, your home will always look like a mess. Everything is much more visible in an airy, open house. For the same reason, there is a lot less privacy in an open floor plan. If you put a premium on privacy and have many people living under one roof (children, for example), you may want to opt for the relative separation that comes with a traditional floor plan. You might prefer having rooms organized more specifically to their use, with a walled-off kitchen, office, dining room, etc.
Another potential con of an open floor plan is that noise tends to travel. This probably isn’t a problem if you’re living alone, but for those who love to relax in a quiet living room while the kids roughhouse in an adjacent room and grandpa blasts his radio at full volume, this could turn out to be an issue.
Finally, don’t get too obsessed with the initial look/interior design of the house. You can always customize that later. It’s much harder to change the floor plan – so make sure you find one that offers enough space for your needs and is conducive to your lifestyle and priorities. Again, your house should fit you as well as that favorite sweater you pull out on a cold winter day.
Single Story or Multi-Story?
If you’re in a condo, chances are you will have foot traffic from the people living above you. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask the neighbors about noise levels and spend enough time in the condo gauge how loud it will be. Alternatively you can ask your realtor, Ben Nathan, to pull up the HOA Guidelines, they typically indicate the Sound Transmission Class or Impact Isolation Class. If you want a condo but really can’t stand foot-traffic overhead, find a single-story apartment building, townhouse-style condos, or find yourself a top-floor apartment or penthouse. Alternatively, you can ask Ben which buildings have increased impact isolation.
If you want more options to cater to your lifestyle, you might want to find a single-family home. Many single professionals and small families prefer single-story homes for the quietness they offer and for their affordability. Certain “ranch-style” homes tend to group public rooms in the center and bedrooms and baths in the wings of the house, which can also cut down on noise and add to nighttime privacy.
Then there are multi-story homes, which have the added benefit of views that don’t just look out to the neighbor’s fence or side-wall. Multi-story homes are also more conducive to separating the family in a customized way – say, if you want your teenage kids to have their own floor. They can also better accommodate guests and live-in parents, and they offer more privacy in general. Multi-story homes also appreciate better (usually), due to the blueprint having two or three times the square footage of a single-story residence. The tradeoff is that they tend to be more expensive.
The Great Outdoors
Most properties will include some outdoor leisure areas, whether a porch, a lawn, a patio, or an entire orchard. When choosing your dream house, assess what outdoor amenities you want. Do you need a carport? Do you like to garden? Will you have pets and want a yard? Is it important to have a swimming pool?
Outdoor spaces are customizable, but the work is expensive, so consider additional costs. Just make sure you give the outdoor spaces the thought they deserve, especially if these areas are essential to your lifestyle. If you’re living alone and spend all week at work, you may not need or want as many outdoor amenities. If, on the other hand, you’re raising a family and your kids (or spouse) spend a great deal of time at home, having outdoor space can greatly contribute to your family’s quality of life.
3) INTERIOR CONSIDERATIONS
We’ve covered the major choices of a floor plan, overall style, and outdoor space, but there are also several smaller decisions about the interior that you should think about while searching for the dream home.
Do you have a ton of stuff lying around? If you do, are you willing to get rid of some of it? If not, you probably need to make sure your new home has plenty of storage space.
Check the number of closets, but more than that, measure the size of those closets. Then compare the total space with that of your current home. This will let you know how much room you have to grow into or how much stuff you’ll have to lose to fit comfortably in your new house.
A home is a long-term investment, so don’t just think about your current bedroom needs, but what you might need five (or even ten) years down the road. You should know your family’s expansion plans before starting your search. If you can’t afford extra bedrooms, but think you might want them in the future, consider whether there are there any additional areas that could be converted later into bedrooms? Sometimes attics, basements, dens, or offices can be changed around as needed and repositioned to serve as sleeping quarters.
Working From Home
In this wireless age, many of us work from home at least some of the time. Is there space for you to comfortably do this? Is there a room that can serve as a study or an office at least some of the time? A workspace can add value to a house, so if you’re thinking about resale anytime soon, you might want to make sure there’s a place suited to that.
Let There Be Light
If natural light is essential to you – and it is to most of us – make sure your home has plenty of windows and is situated in the right direction to get a lot of natural sunlight. Open floor plans can help open up the house to light, but if you’re working within a traditional house, you may want large bay windows or even a sunroom. There’s a tradeoff, though. There is less insulation in houses with more glass, and heating and cooling bills will be higher.
How’s the View
Probably less important than light, but still significant is the view from your home. If you’re in a city, does it bother you that you look out directly into your neighbor’s windows? If so, then don’t choose that residence. If a view is important to you, factor that into your location search. In an apartment, find out if there’s roof access. And, wherever you’re purchasing, find out if there’s any planned construction – this may significantly affect your view (and home value) in the future.
4) LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION
Location is paramount. Many times, the location of a home can be just as important as the home itself. Listen to your heart and make some carefully thought-out decisions as to whether you want to spend every day in a city, a suburb, an exurb, or a mixed-use residential community.
Cities offer great job, entertainment, and cultural opportunities, but they usually come with high real estate costs and a lot of noise. To get more for your money, consider investing in a house along the edge of a hot upcoming neighborhood, or even in a smaller town nearby. Suburbs are generally quieter, safer, and more laid back – but the lifestyle is very different. If you choose to live further out, ask yourself if you’ll miss the pace of the city. You might also end up with a longer, pricier commute than you’d prefer. And think about whether, realistically, family and friends will ever visit. You may want to buy a home near the people you often see, even if there are some tradeoffs to the property itself.
Even if you don’t have children, living in a good school district greatly increases the value of your home. Be sure to do your research and check the quality of the local schools. If children in your prospective neighborhood don’t attend local schools, that’s a red flag and something you should consider. On the other hand, if the schools enjoy good ratings and attendance, your property value will usually grow much more steadily.
Ben will be a great resource for neighborhood insight. He knows the businesses, construction, transportation projects, and schools that are scheduled to come to your prospective neighborhood in the future. Knowing what’s planned in your desired neighborhood can be as important as knowing what’s already there. Do the research, and ask Ben for any additional type of information.
You probably shouldn’t knock on the neighbors’ doors and see if you like them, but it’s not a bad idea to look for people outside, introduce yourself, and ask for their thoughts on the area. This can be a good way to get to know what you’re buying into and meet the neighbors without being too intrusive. Ask them what they like most about living in the neighborhood, or if there’s anything you should know about that you probably haven’t heard. They will know the location better than anyone, and they’ll most likely be honest with you since they have no stake in whether or not you buy a home there.
Take a Walk
Walk around the neighborhood during the morning, afternoon, and night. Does it feel safe? Do you feel comfortable? Is there too much noise or traffic? Are the nearby streets appealing? Is this somewhere you would feel comfortable spending years of your life? Raising a child? You probably should return and do this sort of sleuthing over the course of at least a few weeks if you want to get the best possible picture of the neighborhood. Alternatively, if you don’t have time for this and need to land the house immediately, try to walk around during the day and at night.
If you’re looking in the suburbs, you should ask Ben Nathan to find out if the neighborhood has more renters than owner-occupants. This is sometimes considered less desirable and can lower home values. In major cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, however, the cost of living is so high that renters typically outnumber buyers, so this renter/owner dynamic isn’t an issue.
You might also find out if your neighborhood is family-friendly. Are there parks and playgrounds nearby? Are there many families in the neighborhood? Ask around the community to see if it is a place where you’ll feel safe and comfortable. If you’re young and single, you might prefer an environment with fewer families and more singles to mingle and socialize.
5) PRICE & FINANCING
Ask yourself, realistically: what can I afford? Pick a high end and low end and stick to that range. Don’t just look at the home’s listing price and probable mortgage payments; consider all the costs you’ll be facing, which can include maintenance, property taxes, homeowner association fees, utilities, and redesign costs and insurance, in addition to the mortgage. Talk to your bank or lender to see what type of mortgage you qualify for and which one might be best for you. You may be able to get a loan up to $1.5 million, but that does not mean you need or want to spend that much.
It is essential to match your budget with your needs. It is imperative to find an honest, reliable agent to nail down the best price on a house. This is your best chance of landing a property at fair market value and beating out other competing offers.
6) PICK A GREAT AGENT
At the least, you’ll want at least one professional real estate agent to guide you through the home-buying process. Even better, though, is to find an entire team of skilled individuals to help you out. Your agents will assist you in finding that perfect home, pied-à-terre, or investment property to t your needs. And, as the buyer, you do not need to compensate your agent. Agents typically get paid by the seller, so there’s nothing to lose by enlisting their service. Your agent will walk you through everything from o -market listings to mortgage rates and zoning restrictions. They will show you the best condos and homes to match your desires, drawing on their wide network of personal and professional connections. Then, once you’ve found that dream home, your agents will help you negotiate a price and secure the property before somebody else buys it up.
7) LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Your home will likely be one of the most important purchases you ever make – if not the most important – and it should be a smart investment. You want to find and create your dream house, but you also want to do everything possible to make sure your home appreciates over time and that you get a solid return on your purchase.
Looking at the historical price charts of your chosen neighborhood can be a great way to evaluate your investment, ask Ben Nathan about sales trends in the area. You and Ben should create a profile that speaks to your chosen property’s specific investment value.
Having gone through this, you’ll be able to sleep easier, enjoying your dream home and knowing that you’ve made an intelligent choice both for now and for the future. Happy hunting!
And remember to stay flexible
It may be hard to describe the vision of your dream home and the reality of the property. For this reason, you need to be willing to accept a few tradeoffs. The chances are that the location, price, and condition will not all be exactly to your liking. So pick your poison. Decide what is most important to you, and prepare to make some compromises if necessary. Remember, while the condition of most things in and around the house can be improved, the location and the floor plan are what it is.