This guide to how to find the right home covers all the nuances of finding the perfect house for your new beginning.
Finding the right home is an adventure – sometimes a long and arduous one, but exciting nonetheless.
Fair warning: the reality of the house-hunting experience is often more emotional and uncertain than homebuyers might expect.
Not to worry, though. We’ll cover all the nuances of finding the perfect house for your new beginning.
What's in this Article?
One of the most important steps for buying your first home is narrowing down the list of preferred property types. This can help you save time in your search, since you won’t waste hours looking at places that are non-starters.
Here are the most common options:
- Detached single-family homes: Standalone homes designed for one owner or family, with no shared walls or spaces in the home. Usually includes a small piece of private land
- Condominiums: Multiunit homes similar to apartments. You own an individual unit in the building, but not any of the grounds. Condo developments sometimes include shared spaces and amenities for residents, such as swimming pools, gyms, and community gathering areas
- Townhouses: An attached home that shares at least one wall with another unit. Like condo developments, townhouse communities sometimes offer shared amenities for residents. Buying a townhouse often requires membership in the community’s homeowners association (HOA)
- Multifamily homes: Properties with several attached units, such as a duplex, triplex, or fourplex. These are attractive to homebuyers who want to earn rental income from the units they are not occupying themselves, or those who are planning for multigenerational living arrangements
Knowing where you want to live is essential to finding the right house. A great property that’s on the opposite side of town from where you work or where your kids go to school is not worth seeing, unless you’re OK with seriously extending your commute.
When considering potential neighborhoods or cities, keep the following in mind:
- The commute: How will your move to a particular area affect your commute? Does it shorten it by half? Or will you spend even more time on the road than you already do?
- The surrounding town or city: How far will you have to drive to pick up groceries or go out to eat? Is the neighborhood walkable? Are there parks, community centers, or entertainment venues? How far are you from doctor’s offices or emergency services?
- The school districts: If you have school-aged children, will they need to change schools if you move? What is the local school district like? How many options are there for education, daycare, and recreational activities?
- The demographics: If you’re the parent of young children, chances are you want to move to a neighborhood where there are other families so your kids can easily make friends. Likewise, if you’re single or you’re a retiree, you may want to move into a townhouse community or neighborhood where the amenities favor homeowners similar to you in terms of lifestyle and needs
If you’re moving to a new city or state you’re unfamiliar with, ask your real estate agent or Realtor for tips. Give them specific notes on the type of property and neighborhood you’d like. That will help them find the right home for you.
When you send them listings that interest you, be specific about what appeals to you. Tell them a bit about your hobbies, what you enjoy doing outside of work, your values. They can use that information to refine your search and find listings in areas in which you’re more likely to thrive.
For instance, if your favorite thing to do on a Saturday is browse the local farmers market or work in your own garden, you’ll want to live somewhere that has a farmers market and has homes with plots of land for gardening. If you’re a foodie who loves to be the first in line at new restaurants or you’re a big live music fan, you’re probably best suited to a city with a bustling downtown area with plenty of eateries and entertainment.
Home features and amenities can be a pivotal point in choosing the right home. For some potential buyers, there is a “make or break” list that they simply won’t budge on. This can include everything from the minimum square footage to features such as a pool, fireplace, or media room.
So what are your absolute must-haves? A few to consider:
- Square footage: How big do you want or need this home to be? Some homebuyers want lots of space for entertaining, kids, having older relatives move in, or for a home office and hobbies. Others prefer smaller homes because they prefer a more minimal or eco-conscious lifestyle
- Bedrooms and bathrooms: Do you need extra bedrooms for an office or a guest room for family and friends who visit frequently? Try to imagine how your needs might expand over the next few years to decide how many beds and baths you’ll need to be comfortable
- Common areas: Is there enough space for everyone in your home to unwind, be together, or feel like they have their own corner of the home?
- Finished basement: This isn’t a must-have for everyone, but many homebuyers seek out finished basements for extra storage or versatility as entertainment rooms, home gyms, or additional living areas
- Office space: If you’re one of the many people who started working remotely during the pandemic, dedicated office space may be high on your priority list. If a house doesn’t have an extra bedroom for an office, look for lofts or other rooms that can be at least partially converted into a work area
Think about lifestyle needs as you find the right home: Are there sidewalks that make it easier to walk or jog around the neighborhood? Bike lanes? Yard space for gardening, kids, or pets? Spend time imagining yourself living in the house and in the neighborhood. How well does it suit your routines and priorities?
Finding a property you love is one thing. But finding one you love and can afford is the key to your homebuying happily ever after.
For that reason, you should get preapproved** before you start looking at houses. A preapproval letter tells you how much house you can afford and which loan programs are available to you. And the loan program you plan to use will affect the properties you can buy.
Your credit score affects the type of home loan you can get, your interest rate, and how much money you can borrow to buy a property.
Here are the minimum credit score requirements for the most common mortgage programs:
If you’re an eligible member of the military community, you may qualify for a 100% financing VA loan to buy a home. These loans are available for veterans, active-duty servicemembers, and some surviving spouses who have entitlement benefit available.
Some loan programs, including USDA loans and some conventional loan programs, have income limits for who can qualify. Income limits vary based on the area median income (AMI) in the area you want to buy.
If you’re buying a luxury home, or you’re in an area with very high home prices, you may need a jumbo loan.
The standard mortgages lenders offer typically have loan limits, or a maximum amount they can allow you to borrow for a home (the exception is VA loans. If you have full entitlement benefit available, there are no loan limits for a VA loan.).
But jumbo loans allow you to purchase homes that are priced above the loan limits in your area.
No matter which type of loan you use to buy a home, your lender will order an appraisal of the property to determine its fair market value. But some loan programs, particularly VA and FHA loans, have strict property requirements set by the government.
An appraiser certified for these loan types will have to do the appraisal if you plan to use one of them, and they may require certain repairs to be made before you can close on the home.
However, there is a way around this. If you want to use a VA or FHA loan to buy a fixer-upper, you might consider a VA renovation loan or FHA 203k renovation loan. These are both no or low down payment programs but they allow you to finance the cost of repairs into the mortgage.
You can then buy the house you want with the loan program you prefer without stressing about meeting the property requirements. There will still be an appraisal, but this option can help you break down that particular barrier to purchasing the home.
There are also conventional and USDA renovation loan programs.
Having the home of your dreams is life-altering (in the best way) but it also takes a considerable amount of research and soul searching to find exactly what you’re needing for you and your family. The key takeaways from us would be:
- Know your must-haves in property type, location, and amenities before you start looking
- Be candid with your real estate agent about what you’re looking for in a home and neighborhood
- Understand how much you can afford and your loan program’s requirements
Finally, enjoy this moment. Buying a home is monumental, so enjoy the process, take it all in, and remember to celebrate after you get your keys.
Fairway is not affiliated with any government agencies. These materials are not from VA, HUD or FHA, and were not approved by VA, HUD or FHA, or any other government agency. *A down payment is required if the borrower does not have full VA entitlement or when the loan amount exceeds the VA county limits. VA loans subject to individual VA Entitlement amounts and eligibility, qualifying factors such as income and credit guidelines, and property limits. **Pre-approval is based on a preliminary review of credit information provided to Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation, which has not been reviewed by underwriting. If you have submitted verifying documentation, you have done so voluntarily. Final loan approval is subject to a full underwriting review of support documentation including, but not limited to, applicants’ creditworthiness, assets, income information, and a satisfactory appraisal.