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House-Hunting: It’s Hard Work!

We spent years talking about owning a home and 21 months earnestly saving for one, but I guess I didn’t ever realize the work involved in actually buying a home. In fact, after the very first week of house-hunting, I asked my husband sarcastically, “Can you just find us a house and then surprise me?”

It’s not that I didn’t care, I was just beginning to realize the magnitude of time and effort house-hunting involves. My life is already quite full as it is, how was I supposed to carve out a number of extra hours each week for poring over online house listings and Google maps, driving around looking at homes, discussing the pros and cons of potential homes with my husband, scheduling viewings (and babysitters for those viewings!), and then actually going and walking through different homes?

It felt like I was practically taking on another full-time job!

(As a side note, I now have tremendous respect for those of you who are somehow managing to look for a new home and sell your current home at the same time — wow!)

We slowly have found our “groove” when it comes to house-hunting. And we’ve found that it’s helped tremendously for us to stop trying to look at every possibility out there and narrow down the search field. Here’s some criteria we’ve decided to use:

1) Location — We picked three locations we’re interested in. If a home is not in one of those three areas, we’re not even looking at it at this point.

2) Features — We picked three features which were most important to us: a good-sized kitchen, three bedrooms on one floor and a Master bathroom. When we look at a listing online, we first look to see if the home has these three things. If not, we don’t even bother looking further. (Our “most important features” might seem silly to some, but we’ve live in enough different rentals to know what works best for us!)

3) Pictures — A picture speaks a thousand words–especially when it comes to a potential home to buy. If the online pictures don’t “wow” us, we don’t pursue the house. I mean, if it looks ugly and ill-suited for our family online, I can’t imagine that it’s going to look ten times better in person.

If a house meets the above criteria and is in our price-range, than we’ll look at it. Otherwise, we pass it up. By following this method, we’re looking at fewer homes, for sure. But we’re saving a lot of time since we’re only looking at homes which are really good possibilities.

Just for fun: If you were to choose three non-negotiables you must have in a home you’d buy, what would they be? I’d love to hear!

Coming next time: A Good Realtor is Priceless

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  • Cathi says:

    My dream home would NOT have stairs…our house in KY is a quad and we have lots of stairs. Since we bought the house then had a baby, we had 5 baby gates! He is older now so we only use 2 now but…what a pain! Before our house in KS, we lived in TX and AZ, both of which had nice open floor plans and I miss that. So that would be top on my list too. A nice big master and master bath would also be high on the list. And my absolute DREAM is to have a huge wrap around porch! Whenever I see one of those, I melt…

  • We just bought our first house and our #1 criteria was school district, if it wasn’t in the right school district we didn’t even give it a chance; this cut way down on houses to look at. #2 was the kitchen, my husband loves to cook and refuses to have a Gally kitchen. #3 was 4 bedrooms, and #4 we really wanted a soaker tub!

  • Shani says:

    Lots of windows, I need natural sunlight! Large yard for the kids and an open floor plan so I’m not stuck in the kitchen and everyone else is having fun in the livingroom…I like to see my guests. Although, as my kids get older, a second livingroom would be nice for when they have their friends over (male and female) so they can be loud in another room other than their bedrooms.

  • kelly says:

    a living room that can be seen from the kitchen (so I can get stuff done, but still keep an eye on my little guy playing!), a YARD (we don’t have one currently), and room to entertain comfortably and have a good space for overnight guests (even if it’s not an exact bedroom).

  • Nicole C. says:

    Ours was at least 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Our house hunt took a LONG time. My husband found the ad for our house, it only had the picture of the front of the house, it looked so small, but it has a walkout basement (didn’t know it at the time). I was thinking Eww, from the pic, but as soon as we drove down the drive we both looked at eachother and smiled. It only got better after that. Yes, it’s an older house but it has 3 beds, 2 baths, a kitchen on the smaller side. But everything else we wanted. It may take you a while too, but you will know it when you step into YOUR house. Good luck with your house hunting!!

  • Brenda says:

    Our three were big yard for the kids, two car garage, and four bedrooms and in one particular school district. We had four none selling points for us.

  • April says:

    My fiance and I are just about to close on on our first house. Our criteria was a garage, 3 bedrooms and a decent sized yard. I would like to take a moment and say thank you! I have been following your blog for about a year now and it has helped me so much!

  • Lisa says:

    Dream features:
    Eat-in, large kitchen
    Lots of closet space
    Level yard with modest number of trees

    Do not let a picture eliminate a property!! Not every real estate agent is a professional photographer. The picture for the listing of the last house we owned was the WORST!
    Also, keep in mind mistakes may be made when listing properties (price, number of rooms, etc).

  • Laura says:

    Oh – I do have a suggestion – please remember to have the quality of the home thoroughly checked. Just walking into a home, you can’t tell if it was insulated properly, the condition of the roof (we had to replace ours and it was $9,000 -yikes), etc. It’s worth hiring a person to do a thorough check with this major purchase. Also, I would recommend purchasing a fairly new (if it’s a couple years old, you would likely get bonuses of the yard in, landscaping, blinds, etc.) if not a new home. We purchased ours new, but it is now almost 15 years old, and we’ve had to replace so many expensive items including the kitchen appliances, hot water heater, roof, carpet, and are now pricing out a furnace and air conditioning unit. Best wishes! HTH

  • Angie Thier says:

    We were recently house hunting, but then decided to not move. It is a lot of work. And about pictures – sometimes the pictures the realtor takes just kill me. They offer no real help at all. Here were our requirements:
    4 bedrooms or at least 3 bedrooms + office/game room.
    Big back yard for the kids to play in.
    semi long driveway for the kids to ride bikes on.
    Sidewalks to friendly neighbors preferable.
    ONE story. Oh, how I wish I would not have compromised on that when I bought our current house!

  • stacey says:

    1. Yard layout/neighborhood! With three boys… Shade trees, fenced if in town. Preferrably out of town, on a couple acres!
    2. Large kitchen
    3. Open floor plan (makes it seem bigger without the added square feet).

  • Angie says:

    Only 3?! 🙂 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (preferably both with double sinks), large kitchen. We have the priviledge of living in a small rural community where most of the yards are large enough for us and our 3 kids. Another thing that we’re really looking for is a floor plan where the kids’ bedrooms won’t be sharing a wall with our bathroom…there’s been way too many times where we’ve ended up waking the kids up just because we were getting ready for bed. I could go on, but will stop because it would be a whole blog post! 🙂

  • candace says:

    We are in the process of trying to sell our condo (2bd/1bth) and as soon as we sell it we will start looking for a house!! We must sell first because there is NO WAY we could afford two mortgages!! Living in a condo with a dog and a kid, we have some absolute MUSTS in buying a house! To be honest the most important thing to me is a good sized yard!! The kitchen is next, I want it open to the living area and to be BIG. 4 bedrooms. And it has to be close to our church 🙂

  • Heather says:

    1. House all on one level (lived in a tri-level and hated it. Husband got me a one level. Love him for that).
    2. No sloping backyard.
    3. Kitchen that is big enough for the whole family at Christmas.
    Goodluck with the house hunt. Hope you guys find most everything on your list.

  • Ana says:

    I know what you mean when we bought our home 2 years ago it was such a long process. What we were looking for was 1. at least 3 bedrooms all in one level 2. large kitchen 3. laundry room (living in apartments, this was a must) We got all this plus a walk in pantry…God is good! Good luck in your search.

  • Ana says:

    @Tricia Young,
    I know what you mean…I grew up on a cul du sac and when we found just the perfect house for us at then end. We put up a sign with children at play and sit back and enjoy ourselves.

  • The 3 “musts” for our next house are:

    1. Sidewalks in the neighborhood
    2. A basement (you lose so much space without one! plus- I am a bit afraid of tornadoes!)
    3. 3-4 bedrooms

    Good for you for sticking to your non-negotiables. The right house is out there. We looked for about 9 months, but it was SO worth the wait! We are growing out of our “first home” now and will be pursuing another home soon- I am looking already b/c I remember how long it took & we only want to move into 1 specific neighborhood.

    Good luck!


  • Martina says:

    well we bought a home with the three requirements
    1. our Mortage Payment would be lower then the Allowances the Army gives us
    2. It had to have a yard.. we lived in a Rental before with 3 rooms and 2 windows
    3. It had to be kinda in the rual area, but close enough for my hubby to work

    we bought our fixer upper, but found out its alot more fixing then we expected.. but i think its the house God intented for us.. we have a roof over our head and we should have it paid off in 9 years.

  • Kim says:

    We aren’t searching for homes just yet, but we will soon and we have a few things we learned in our current house that are musts:
    1. The house must face west, so the sun sets in the front of the house. We love to spend time in our backyard in the evenings, and it helps when the house creates the shade.
    2. We currently live on a main road in our subdivision, and we hate it. A quiet street or a cul-de-sac is a must next time.
    3. It must be an ‘open’ floor plan. We currently have one and don’t think we could ever go back.

  • Connie says:

    Crystal, good luck in finding your home. The 3 musts are hard. We’ve built our last 2 homes from scratch, thought we had the 2nd one licked after figured out what we didn’t like about the 1st, but we just found other thing we’d change next time, LOL!

    For us right now, with a baby, an open floor plan is insanity! You can’t block anything off with gates. You basically have to follow her around 24/7. No freedom at all.

    A huge kitchen and breakfast room – no matter how many cabinets I have built, there is never enough.

    Forget the formal dining or living room. It is a waste of space and unless you can close it off (i.e. it has a door or french doors) then making it into an office is impossible, at least for someone like me who runs a business out of the house.

  • april says:

    Great Ideas
    We will be looking soon….I am very picky and after living in a home in a nice neighborhood but not so nice neighbors my #1 is NOT trashy neighbors
    2. garage in the back
    3. no pool (d0nt want the hassle)
    4. sidewalks
    5. one story

  • Definitely a large kitchen with ample counter space and a decent sized pantry. Right now we are moving from a house with a small kitchen and almost no pantry!! 2nd would be closet space for all rooms, at least some sort of walk-in for the master bedroom & room for storage in the kids rooms. And a lot of natural light throughout is something we love!!!

  • Christi says:

    1. Yard to mess with
    2. Master on 1st floor (preferably all on one floor!)
    3. Laundry and Dishwasher

  • Angel G. says:

    My three are Money making potential (must be under priced for square feet due to minor updates), location (a place that could sell on location alone), at least 3 bedrooms on one floor.

  • Sherri says:

    Three “must” haves —

    An extra bedroom — for guests or office or combination. You just need that room.

    A large kitchen with plenty of cupboards and a personal perference – windows — I love my windows over the sink – I can see my garden, all the trees — just lets in light and to see the beauty of the day.

    A garage — may sound extravagant but after living in a big house without a garage for 20+ years and five kids growing up in it, a garage would have been wonderful. Storage for that lawmower, garden tools, bikes, skateboards, snow shovels, etc. As it is and was, all that stuff is dragged into the house and down into the basement (except the lawmower). So, imagine all the dirt, mud, ice, snow and yuk walked into the house on a continual basis. Awful!! I am shampooing the rugs and mopping the foyer tile floor all the time. A lot of homes have a “mud room” you enter from the garage — great for the shoes, boots, coats, all the stuff to remove and helps keep your home in good shape.

    Above all else, have fun looking! You will know when the right one comes along! God has a special one just for your family!


  • Heather says:

    We’re paying off 20 acres & planning eventually to build a straw bale house on it. Requirements: Serious kitchen & pantry area, sewing room, “great room” layout for kitchen/dining/living room area.

  • Kim says:

    We moved into our first home last October, and we found very quickly that our list of non-negotiables came down to only one (aside from location!): a second bathroom! I am anxious to see your post about realtors, because without our very excellent one, we never could have navigated all the ins and outs of house hunting and buying…

  • Lea says:

    We wanted a large sunny backyard where we could have a garden.

  • Shelley says:

    After buying and selling 5 houses, my advice.
    1. No matter how much you love your realtor hire a real estate attorney to review your contract and closing documents. It is much cheaper to pay them a few hundred dollars to enusre everything is correct than to try to fight the title company, sellers, or agent if something happens. It seems after everyone gets paid, all cooperation stops.
    2. Think long term. The school district might not be as important to you as you are homeschooling; but when you sell, it will most likely be important to those looking at your house. Is the house going to still work for our family in 5 years? Enough bathrooms etc.
    3. The features of the house. No matter what you decide, there will always something you don’t like about the house or wish it had. If I had to pick 3.
    closets- it is hard to add more. Lack of square footage is better than lack of storage.
    laundry room- needs to be close to where you spend most of your day.
    kitchen- nothing worse than a kitchen that is too small and that people can’t gather in when they are over for dinner.
    Good Luck and have fun!!!

  • Megan says:

    I disagree about pictures. We are in the process of buying a house, and have found that some of the listings with the best pictures were really not that great, while some of the listings with horrible looking pictures turned out to be the best houses. What really annoys me is when the picture focuses on something not important- like the bed or the ceiling fan.

  • HS Mama says:

    We are currently in our 3rd house. Our first two, my hubby purchased without me seeing them in person first. So, yes, it does happen!

    Also wanted to say that you don’t necessarily need babysitters for showings. We have always brought our children, when I’ve gone. As they’ve gotten older, we tell them not to talk about the house while we’re there (and in front of the other realtor), but we will hear their thoughts when we get in the car. 🙂

    We are currently looking to downsize. We are also looking to move from the country to the city. Our 3 must-haves for our next home would be:
    1. at least 3 bedrooms
    2. walking distance to a playground (since we won’t have much of a yard)
    3. safe area

    Happy house hunting!

  • Lisa says:

    Lots of storage space in kitchen and a good sized storage area for seasonal, tools etc. NO TILE COUNTERTOPS. I have this now and hate it. Its a deal killer unless the house is prices cheap enough I can afford to put in new countertops. Space, space for the kids to run and play and explore outside.

  • Lisa says:

    a garage
    a big yard
    at least 2 bathrooms!

    we’re pretty easy to please!

  • Momof Two says:

    We’ve been looking for over a year 🙁

    Good luck. It is tiring and in the end you usually have to settle on a few things. No house is perfect.

  • Jenny says:

    Dear Crystal,

    I don’t know if you’ll read this since its like comment number 300 but I just wanted to ask you to reconsider 1 of your 3 criteria. My husband and I just moved in 2 days ago to our first home. (20% down, 15 yr mortgage in a 200k+ area, Dave would be proud!). Anyway, we waited 5 months to look at this house and then thought, what the heck, let’s just look. The pictures were UGLY and the description of 8 ft ceilings and a septic system did not sound right for us. Well, since we got this one at 10% less than market value and way underpriced for our area where average 50 yr old homes go for 250k+ and only the extreme fixer uppers or ghetto houses go for under 200K we were hesitant to come look at something at 210k where the pictures were bad.

    BUT…remember that their realtor chooses the photos. I found the realtors here put a lot more work into those 400k houses and don’t have so much time for these houses that aren’t worth as much to them in fees. So this realtor did NOT put up the fabulous recently updated bathrooms, the dining room with the 11 month old pergo wood floor or the LARGE yard photos of 0.4 acres (flat land which is a huge amount in this city with no visible neighbors on either side). IF we hadn’t come to actually look at the house we would have missed out on a good thing.

    Remember that the houses that are steals aren’t making much money for the realtors and some realtors may not put the same amount of work into selling them as they do their million dollar/luxury homes which photograph easily because they’re filled with stainless steel appliances, pools, and new paint/wallpaper. I know you’re a bargain hunter and I hope you will consider this when you’re trying to find the right home.

    Best of luck, can’t wait to see what you snare!!! Don’t forget to divulge all the juicy negotiation details! We won’t benefit from them as we already bought our house but I know a lot of your readers will!

    Best of luck and keep sharing your great deals and heartwarming stories (And more pics of those cute kiddos!)


  • Meg H says:

    I have to agree with a previous commenter, don’t let a picture be the thing that keeps you away.

    We just purchased a new home in August of 2009 after looking for six months. The house we ended up falling in love with is the one we drove by time and time again. I refused to go in and look at it because the pictures online were so bad. Thankfully we were at the house next door and our Realtor finally talked me into just walking over and taking a look. I walked into two rooms and knew it was “the one”.

  • Kendra says:

    When we bought our home almost 9 years ago we had only one child and I was newly pregnant with our second. We each had one important feature that we wanted. Mine was a LARGE back yard and his was central AC. We also required a minimum of 3 bedrooms and two full baths. What we bought met all of the criteria EXCEPT the AC!! (But I think that has actually saved us a TON of money in the long run not cooling the whole house!)
    Now with four children my criteria would be a little different.
    A LARGE backyard
    master bath
    a big kitchen
    We really compromised on the kitchen and got a tiny not very functional kitchen and I regret the 65 year old fixtures and lack of ANY space almost daily. We thought for sure that we would be ready to remodel the kitchen in a couple of years. But other necessary projects have taken the money. You cook a lot and want to have your kids in there with you. Don’t compromise on the kitchen!

  • Kendra says:

    I forgot to mention single story all the way, at least while the children are young!!

  • Amy says:

    1. landscaped yard (not super fancy, but I need trees and plants!)
    2. a nice size kitchen
    3. a beautiful porch


  • Crystal says:

    My husband and I are planning to buy our first home next year when he comes home from Iraq and we’ve already discussed the matter of a criteria list. We want to find a home in our prince range (which is particularly low) because we want a fixer upper and plan to do most of the fixing up our selves since my father has every tool imaginable considering he’s been in the remodeling buisness for 30 years! Yes I know I lucked up. 🙂 Somethings we’ve included on our list is #1 location: The house must be within a 40 minute driving distance from his place of employment (yes that’s a lot of ground we have to cover but we have time) #2 it must be in a nice neighborhood! #3 it must have atleast 3 bedrooms and 2 baths with a good floor plan so that it’s easy to add-on to. #4 it must have sheetrocked walls ( I HATE doing drywall!) #5 must have fair sized backyard. other than that we are good to go. we have a remodel fund planned so if the kitchen and bathrooms need updating we’ll be able to do so or the floors and the windows etc… you get the idea!

  • Mindy M. says:

    We are sort of looking & my husband’s first criteria is it either has to have a large enough shop/garage or a place to build one, then it has to have at least a full + a half bath (no more having 4 people squeezing in one bathroom) & for me, it has to have more than a closet for a kitchen.
    I think we have more can’t have’s than must have’s (e.g. no wood paneling, no major bathroom/kitchen remodeling, can’t be located on a busy street – been there, done that on all of those).

  • Melanie says:

    1) large kitchen that opens into living/entertaining room
    2) four bedrooms
    3) location (to school, church, work)

  • Gina says:

    1. Fenced large-enough-for-kids-to-play-in yard (and preferably privacy fenced) with windows so I can watch them.
    2. STORAGE!!!!! Closets! Kitchen cabinet & pantry space and counter space for cooking (which I currently don’t have in our galley style kitchen). Our current house was originally owned by a bachelor. We have tiny closets, no pantry, and FOUR children. Um…yeah. LOL
    3. Four bedroom, two baths.

    And as a “bonus” – a room right off the kitchen where I could have major book shelves for homeschooling. I don’t need a room to homeschool in, I like having them at the kitchen table so I can get stuff done in the kitchen while they’re doing school

  • Katherine says:

    I was surprised to read that a picture would stop you from looking at a house–house listings are not magazine layouts, afterall… Good luck in your search, and if the house is in your price range, has the right number of bedrooms/bathrooms and a good square footage, GO SEE IT! 😉

  • Michelle H. says:

    My top 3 requirements are good school district, open floor plan, and at least 2 bathrooms. We bought that house 4 months ago, and are remodeling it while trying to sell our current home. I will never EVER live in a house for sale again. With 2 kids under 4 it is so hard to keep it show-ready, and people always seem to want to see the house when the kids are napping or sick.

  • Kim says:

    Location Location Location!
    Also, don’t get hung up on how a home is decorated. Look at the space and set up. Try to look past the bad wallpaper and mustard colored bathroom tile. We got a great deal on our home and love the neighborhood and location. We are 5 minutes from church and family and 2 minutes from my children’s small Christian school. We’ve been here 5 years now and have redone almost every room in the house including the 3 baths and the kitchen. Now the house is exactly the way that we want it. We have 5 bedrooms, 4 baths(we added another when we finished the basement), a playroom, family room, living room, dining room, and kitchen. Plenty of room for our 4 children to grow up in and room for out of town guests and space to host our weekly Bible study. I don’t want to ever move again. It took a while to get to this point but it was worth it.

  • Stephanie says:


    I am just wondering if it would be easier to have a Realtor rule out homes based on your criteria and send you a weekly email with ones that match what you are looking for?

    Also in our area we have an online resource where you can put in what you are looking for and it sends updates when something is available with your criteria. We did that as well and were able to jump on new listings fairly quickly.

    When we were looking these were a couple of things that were helpful to us. We let the Realtor do the work..that’s what they get paid for 🙂

  • Raven Tran says:

    WE have been house hunting for 7 months, We’ve decided to wait 2 more years to pay more down if not 100%! ( you’ve been a huge inspiriation on that!

    our criterias never changed even from location to location..

    1.) Safety!

  • Raven Tran says:

    – safety was our first concern, with 1 3yr old and another planned soon!
    we called local Police and searched the web to find out crime ratings and activities in the surrounding areas ( as well as S*X offenders!)

    2.) School district.
    – We both work fo rthe goverment and have long hours. Child care is enevidable and I can’t homeschool liek i’d prefer, but with before and afterschool costs already budgeted i can not afford privet school or tutors, so school ratings are a huge sway for me! We’ve even looked at houses 500 sqr/ft smaller for the same price becuase it was near award winning public schools!

    3.) The first impression. If i can’t imagine my family living in the space.. if i have to knock down walls, or completely redo a kitchen, squeeze our exisiting life into a home that dosn’t “feel” us.. it’s most liekly not “US”!
    Example. I walked into an older home last month. the tile was retro, the kitchen was homey and I imediatly started talking about how I couldnt wait to prepair dinner, and serve it in the actual dinning room while our son worked on home work in the attached office space. It worked for us, right off the bat!

    With each home will come compermise. It may not be EVERY thing you wanted or right next door to your best friend.. but when you find the right home, you’ll feel it in your gut. Dont force it.

  • Winter says:

    A good sized kitchen; at least 1 bedroom on the main floor, preferably 2; and a basement that is clean and in good condition- not gross, not dark, not grungy.

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