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Step 5 for Buying a Home: Determine Your Criteria

Updated on July 23, 2010

Home purchasing criteria is different for everyone. Decide what you want before beginning your search. Without strong criteria you will waste time looking at houses you have no interest in. Balance is important when deciding what type of property you want. By narrowing your search you will improve your success rate.  At the same time avoid being too strict. Over-strict criteria might prevent you from discovering properties you would like to buy.

The list below is a starting point. You may come up with many other criteria not listed here.


This is a big one. Whatever you can afford is essentially the maximum price of property you can buy. The price you choose might be what your bank pre-approved you for or you might feel more comfortable making your limit much lower than the pre-approval amount. Be realistic when selecting your price limit and you will eliminate the heartbreak of finding the perfect home only to realize that you can’t afford it.

Decide what type of community you want to live in.
Decide what type of community you want to live in.


Identify the town or city where you want to live. Determine which areas are too far away from your job, your family or your favorite pub. If you need to live by the ocean, in a bustling city or in the forest then take that into consideration when selecting your community. Tolerance for traffic may also determine where you choose to live. I come from the Boston area and a good number of towns and cities made my x-list because I consider the traffic in some locations to be unbearable.

Don't waste your time by looking at houses that are too small for your needs.
Don't waste your time by looking at houses that are too small for your needs.

House Size

How big does your house need to be? The bigger the house typically the more it will cost. Larger houses usually mean there will be more to fix if it needs renovation. Larger houses will also cost more in heating, air conditioning, maintenance and insurance. Consider whether you can afford all furniture necessary to make use all the rooms.

Alternatively don’t go too small if you truly need the space. If you plan on having hundred people family gatherings make sure you have enough space for all those guests. If you already have a house-full of oversized furniture that you plan on keeping, make sure the rooms in your new home are large enough to accommodate all that stuff.

Property sizes are measured in square footage. A simple way to figure out the amount of square footage you need is to measure your current living space and then determine how much larger than your current space you new home needs to. You can calculate the square footage for each room by measuring the rooms width, then measuring how deep a room is. Multiply the two numbers and you’ll get the square footage for that room. For example a 10’ x 12’ room would be 120 square feet. Do this for every room. Then add up all the rooms in the house is the square footage of your living space. Do not include your basement or garage. Real estate listings do not take these into account when stating square footage.

Number of Bedrooms and Bathrooms

You need to determine how many actual rooms your new home will have. A bedroom is defined as a room with a closet. Be careful, that dining room with a closet might actually be listed as a bedroom in the property listing. If you need four bedrooms and another room to be used as an office you will be on the market for a five bedroom house. If you are planning to live alone you might be fine with only one bathroom.


Some houses are ready to move into. Other houses need a complete rehabilitiation before they can be lived in. Your budget for renovation, constuction skills and tolerance for work will help you determine if you are ready to buy a turn-key home or a handyman special. Even a home in good repair will demand enough general maintenance to keep the average person busy year round. Sometimes great bargains can be found if you are willing to oversee a work crew installing a new kitchen or bath. Beware the hell hole that will cost you more to repair than it would to buy the same house elsewhere in perfect condition.


A garage, either attached or detached, is a must have for many home buyers. If you need a workshop or a place to store large items such as kayaks, bicycles, lawn tractors or automobiles then you might choose to make a garage part of your criteria. The garage also serves as raw space to perform tasks you wouldn’t want to do in your general living space. Some examples include, weighlifting, brewing beer, repotting plants or doing a valve job on your motorcycle. Be aware that garage space is considered when your town considers your taxes and will also create a higher maintenance demand.

Lot Size

The size of your property is also an important criteria. If you plan on having touch football games in your backyard, a postage stamp sized lot just won’t do. You might want a large lot that allows a buffer area to give you privacy from your neighbors. Children or pets might need a place to run around outside. Also consider the amount of landscaping that a large property will require as well as additional cost in taxes. If your driveway is particularly long, consider what type of snow removal will be required to keep the place functional after a snowstorm.


Your neighbors are an important part of your home buying selection. Do you want to a live on a quite cul-de-sac or do you want to live in the middle of an active city. Are you the type of person that wants to feel the privacy of the countryside or do you want to live within walking distance of your job or you children’s school. Dog kennels in your neighbors backyards are a good indicators that you may have barking animals in your future. If there are businesses with loading docks just down the street you could be in for some loud road traffic caused by delivery trucks.


This criteria isn’t a concern for everyone, but if you have children the quality of the school system is an important factor. Most people own their homes for many years and even though you may not have children of school age now, think about what your situation might be in five or ten years. Before you begin searching, research the public school quality and identify communities with school systems you want to avoid. You may also consider private school options if the public schools don’t suit you.

Throughout your search you can  and should adjust your criteria. After investigating a few homes you might decide that you don’t need that extra bedroom or the swimming pool you originally wanted. Perhaps you found that one of the communities you had as part of your search has unreasonably overpriced taxes. You will also begin to get a feel of what your budget can actually buy. You may find the need need to increase your budget if you aren’t finding anything suitable in your price range. For many, increasing their budget means postponing their home buying effort until they can save more money. 


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