Whether it takes you two days or two years to find a home, the search process involves two stages. The first step of the home search is locating yourself in the market. Once you've done that, then you can begin the focused home search. The location stage requires some significant soul searching and sometimes a reality check.
Where Is My New Home?
Often, the primary issue involved in “locating yourself in the market” is deciding on the physical location of the home. Even if there are no financial restraints, there will be questions regarding commuting distance, schools for the kids, or the area where you want to live. Is a shorter commute worth being in a “lesser” school district? Would the commute from Boulder to your job in Denver be worth it to live near the Pearl Street Mall? Would it make more sense to find something located midway instead? What happens if you change jobs in a few years?
What are My Must Haves?
For most of us, financial concerns necessarily complicate the physical location issues. Residing in the city of Boulder may mean living in a 1000 square foot, 1960’s ranch with no garage. Would you settle for a 10-minute drive to Boulder if you could buy a newer 1600 square foot home with a 2-car garage? Would you consider a 25-minute commute if you could get a 1900 square foot home, a finished basement and a 3-car garage?
Or, perhaps your monthly payment is your primary concern. Would you consider a 10-minute commute if you could get the 1000 square foot ranch for 20% less than you’d pay in Boulder? How about a 25-minute commute for a 60% discount over the Boulder price?
What Are the Trade-offs?
As you begin to get serious about buying a home, you face a series of these kinds of decisions. They are often difficult, and sometimes agonizing, as you’re required to make a variety of trade-offs. Is square footage more important to you than commute time? Is your children’s education, or the social/cultural environment you’ll live in paramount? What about the physical beauty of your surroundings? If you have a life partner, you may discover that the two of you fundamentally disagree. What happens when you must sacrifice the Boulder address for a 2-car garage — because he or she insists?
Where Do I Draw the Line?
The specific issues that arise and how the trade-offs are weighed varies widely from one home buyer to the next. Inevitably though, these types of decisions are just a part of the process. For most people, those decisions are rarely easy or trivial. Because our personal values and goals guide these decisions, our housing choices reflect how we think of ourselves and our partners. Whether we'd like to admit it or not, most of us have an identity we want to project. Consequently, our housing choices need to project that identity. Would you be embarrassed to have your parents or friends visit the smaller home you can afford in Boulder? Would you feel comfortable inviting members of your rock band to your brand new home in Erie? Working through these trade-offs with your partner can be a simultaneously disturbing and enlightening process.
Once you have completed this first step of locating yourself in the market, it's time to begin the focused home search.