Okay, so Valentine’s Day is over, St. Patrick’s Day is on the way, and the title of today’s post is a line from a Christmas song. Yep, that’s how we roll here at the KaZoo casa. Two months late? Nope, just ten months early. Or so we tell ourselves.
In addition to loving all things Christmas (even in February), I love to make lists. I make lists of the lists I need to make. (Anyone else?) I adore the Petersiks’ Listy McListerson posts on their YHL blog (http://www.younghouselove.com/2013/05/new-house-new-listy-mclisterson/) …and there’s a similar post forthcoming here on the ‘Zoo.
Chris? Not so much a list lover (spreadsheets yes, lists no), though lately he has started making lists, too. I think he might be disturbed by how appealing I find him when he makes lists and eats his green veggies (yes, I am pleading guilty to two accounts of oversharing right there).
Anyway…several years ago, back before Chris was a
sailor list-making man, one list we both agreed to make together was a list of criteria for house hunting. Now, most people have ideas in mind as to what kind of house they want, but we wanted to have a list documenting more specific things we loved/despised about our past residences so that we could remember the wonder/horror of these things whenever we were in the market for a house again. Memory is a fleeting, fickle thing, especially as you get older. Someone’s got to be able to say, “Remember how the water would run cold before you could finish washing your hair and you caught pneumonia because of the stupidly small (electric) water heater?” and “Remember how amazing it was to have his and hers closets in the master? Those were good times.” In this case, we leave it to our trusty list to do the remembering and reminding for us.
In the beginning, we just made a checklist. Early versions of this checklist included general things like “3BR/2BA” and more personal needs like “Room for Amy’s piano,” while later iterations included things like “later than 1983 construction to avoid electrical scariness” and “large capacity water tank/heater so hot showers and warm baths are possible” (Can you tell I was really scarred by the cold showers?)
As our list grew lengthy, we decided to convert the overgrown list of likes/dislikes into a spreadsheet with three categories, circa 2011:
Brilliant, right? Not really. In fact, some needs and wants were needed or wanted more than others, so we realized we needed categories for the things under each column to help us be able to weigh pros/cons across houses when we started looking. The final version of our list, revised in October 2013, looked like this:
Basic Needs aka “The Bare Necessities”(Jungle Book, anyone?) were things a house needed, at minimum, to even merit consideration, you know, like indoor plumbing and electricity. Kidding. We took those as givens, but realistically, we worked hard to whittle down our needs to things that really matter, like the minimum square feet we could foresee ourselves needing for the next ten years. We settled on 1600 sq ft, which is actually quite smaller than the average US home of today but still much larger than the average of many other nations. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8201900.stm and http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/how-big-is-a-house for more info.
Deal Makers We subdivided our former “Wants” column into Deal Makers and Desires/Bonuses. Deal Makers were things that weren’t essentials but would make us even more interested in a house, like a tub in the master bath, especially a separate tub/shower combo. A house without any deal makers probably wouldn’t get a second look, whereas a house meeting quite a few of these criteria would be worth considerable thought.
Deal Breakers We renamed “Don’t Wants” to be Deal Breakers. Things like standing water near the property (aka mosquito resort) or evidence of WDOs (wood destroying organisms like termites or carpenter ants) would be considered Deal Breakers that would cause us to
walk run away from a house and never look back. Other “less-satisfactory-but-not-alarming” Deal Breakers, like having an electric scary eye stove (you know what I’m talking about, right?) would be used as tie-breakers to narrow our list of contenders down to a winning home.
Desires/Bonuses These were things that we would consider to be extra niceties to have, but we would be okay buying a house that didn’t have any of these. We didn’t want these to be considered Deal Makers because we also knew that these types of items (granite countertops, hardwoods) tend to increase the value of a home and, accordingly, the asking price. Since a higher asking price wouldn’t necessarily be desirable for us, we put these “luxury” upgrades in this Desires/Bonuses separate category and left typical builder-basic upgrades like a double vanity in the master bath as Deal Makers.
The rows of categories aren’t listed in any particular order but were simply used to help organize our thinking. Naturally, major health/safety line items and expensive things to change/replace like an AC unit or leaking roof were given more weight in our decision making.
NOTE: We didn’t include asking price on this list because the list is about the features of a home that we knew would influence our purchasing decision. Price was definitely a major factor in our home buying, and we considered price to be equal to the sum of the items on the list so that a pricey home with all nice upgrades would be weighted similarly to a much cheaper home with builder basic things. Thus, a cheaper home with a few nice things (and no major scary things) could potentially win out over a much nicer home that was priced beyond our comfort zone.
Why this need for a crazy detailed spreadsheet of awesomeness, you ask? We give you five reasons:
- Not Seeing the Trees for the Forest When home buying, people who take the time to create a detailed list of their needs and desires are more likely to see the potential of a home to work for their particular needs. For example, a family who passes up a 3 BR home because it doesn’t have an extra room for a play area because they are used to having a fourth bedroom may overlook the abundant built-in storage of a living space that would allow for children to play in the living room and interact with other family members, while also allowing for toys to be corralled when playtime is over. Yes, I realize that toys will be strewn about haphazardly at times, but we’ve all survived stepping on a Lego or two. I even survived a face plant into the Lego Black Monarch’s castle as a small child (http://www.amazon.com/LEGO-6085-Lego-Monarchs-Castle/dp/B002KPKOZY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392747581&sr=8-1&keywords=black+monarchs+castle). The blood washed right off the Legos. Too bad they were left behind by someone in one of my family’s previous moves or we could totally be
making $1k off thoseplaying with them right now. Not that I’m bitter after eight years and counting.
- Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees Having a detailed list of things you like without a ranking system for prioritizing particular items may result in overlooking a home because it doesn’t have a couple of items like granite countertops and hardwood floors, when the asking price is low enough to be able to put in your own choice of granite and hardwoods, which you’d probably prefer over someone else’s choice anyway!
- Not Seeing the Deadwood for the Redwoods Finally, a detailed, prioritized list helps home shoppers avoid pitfalls from the rose-colored glasses effect brought on by faulty optimism, eagerness, or desperation. When searching for a home, remember The Wizard of Oz, and DO pay attention to “the man behind the curtain.” We are often so drawn to the greatness of certain features that the weaker, potentially troublesome realities remain invisible to us. For example, it is easy to be distracted by the charm of a recently updated 1960s ranch with original tilework and hardwoods and not even notice the lack of grounded outlets in critical areas. Or maybe that’s just us. Clearly, we are distractible people, which is why we needed a list to keep
- Buying the Joneses’ Home Making a list of ‘desirable features’ based on the latest design trends and what your friends are Pinning results in buying the Joneses’ home, not yours. Again, this list is about you and your particular needs/wants, not even your best friends’ needs and wants. Your best friends may hate yard work, so they would rather live in a townhome and have a smaller yard (and perhaps pay higher HOA dues to get that work done for them). No probs. They can come over to your place to grill and chill in your lush backyard oasis. Dare to be different. When Chris and I moved to the city, the other grad students were appalled that I chose to live in (gasp!) the suburbs and (horrors!) commute to school/work. I’m perfectly fine rockin’ the suburbs, and while our choice may not have been a common one, it was the one for us. And that’s ultimately what matters.
- Becoming the Joneses The list-making exercise is a great way to identify how your house and your identities are related. Ideally, your house reflects your identities. Chris and I considered looking at homes that were further from the beach because you could get a larger home, but we decided that we would rather have a smaller home and be within walking distance of the beach so that we would actually go to the beach instead of staying home to maintain a larger house. We edited our list to reflect this decision, which meant letting go of some things in order to be beach peeps. Without a good idea of who you are/intend to be, it’s hard to identify what you seek in a home. Without a good idea of what you seek in a home and what you are willing to let go, you may find yourself trying to change who you are to make a home work for you when it really doesn’t, whether aesthetically, financially, spatially, geographically, etc. Stick to your guns, and don’t let other people persuade you that you can make a place work for you if you have any doubt whatsoever. There’s a lot you can do to transform a home to maximize space and aesthetic appeal, but if you feel like you are stretching financially to get a home, walk away. The Joneses are drowning in debt, trust me. Why become them?
Once you’ve created your ‘home shopping’ list, revise until it reflects who you are–your needs, desires, and concerns. After we felt like we had a solid list, we used it to rank the houses we investigated and found it to be very helpful in reminding us about things to look for when doing a house tour and also things to ask the real estate agent.
So what all did we include in our list, and how did our new house (and its competition) measure up? We’ll save that for another post. In the meanwhile, anyone else obsessed with list making? What lists do you find helpful? What items would you consider Deal Makers or Deal Breakers in a home?