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Separating Needs from Wants

When you’re house hunting in California, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the details of the house instead of looking at the big picture. You see it all the time on house-hunting TV shows when people complain about a room because of its color without acknowledging (or realizing) they can just repaint it. People can get so excited about a house that they start to believe that they need certain bonus features, such as an in-ground pool and hot tub, and the house is unlivable without them.

Needs and wants vary from person to person. When you’re involving your family in the house-buying process, take time to sit with them and list every feature that everyone would enjoy in a house. Then separate that list into needs and wants, understanding that each family member may define needs and wants differently. There will be plenty of room for debate and compromise in this process.

Distinguishing between needs and wants reveals your family members’ priorities and helps you focus on the houses in the Bay Area and beyond that work best for your situation.

Your needs are basic necessities in a house. Here are some examples:

  • A price in your budget
  • Enough bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Specific floor plans for anyone with special needs
  • Good school district
  • Short commuting distance from work
  • Fenced backyard for dogs and children

Your wants are the extras that can be enjoyable and may even bring more value to your home, but aren’t necessary. Here are some examples:

  • Pool
  • Fireplace
  • Specific finishing touches
  • Walk-in closet
  • Recreation room
  • Specific architectural style

Why is this exercise important? Without defined priorities, it’s easy to get caught up in a race against the Joneses to see who can get the bigger house with the most features. Also, breaking down the list of necessities and extras helps you take a more level-headed approach to buying a home rather than reacting to the immediate emotions evoked by a wonderful house that is beyond your budget. Absent a clear strategy, people can make decisions that lead to financial problems when it comes to major purchases like a house.