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Lesson 5.2

Defining Needs vs. Wants in a Home

Samantha Reeves | Real Estate Expert

Assess Needs & Wants

What do you want in a home? It’s a simple question. But it’s not necessarily the right one to ask when you’re preparing to start the house hunt.

Add a few more words and you’ve got a better question: What do you want in a home, and what do you really need?

Carefully considering your wants and needs is a key early step. You’re not likely to get everything you want in a home, unless you’re building it from the ground up (with the budget to match). Your home search could be a frustrating experience unless you separate the things you truly need from the amenities and features you’d love to have but can live without.

Consider “needs” to be true essentials that aren’t easy (or possible) to change. These are genuine must-haves that leave little room for compromise. Your “wants” are the kind of non-essential things readymade for a wish list.

In fact, making a list – a real, on-paper list – can be a helpful tool and something you can show a real estate agent and reference during the house-hunting experience. It’s helpful to have a starting point.

List Your Priorities

One approach is to compile a list that can help you set initial priorities. Try thinking about four categories:

  • Features and amenities you need
  • Features and amenities you want
  • Features and amenities you don’t want
  • Deal breakers

For first-time buyers, it can be tough to get started. Consider what you like and what you don’t like about your current living situation. Think about the features and amenities you like in other people’s homes. Think about your plans, your goals and your life trajectory in the coming years and how that might affect both your wants and needs.

Here’s a look at some key areas to consider when drafting your list of wants and needs:


This one isn’t exactly easy to change. Do you need to be in a certain school district or closer to work? Are you looking for a more urban setting or would you rather be nestled in the suburbs? Younger buyers without a family on the horizon might want to live closer to city centers. Property taxes and homeowners insurance costs can vary depending on the location, and those can have a real impact on your homebuying budget.

Size and Type

Do you have a family or are you likely to start one while living in the home? Your current or future family size can impact your needs in terms of bedrooms, bathrooms and more. You might need or want a basement or rec room if you have older kids or teenagers. Are you set on a single-family home, or are you open to condos and townhouses? Maybe you’re not interested in two-story homes or large lots, which then fall in the category of “deal breakers.”

Lot Size

Do you need a big yard for kids or pets? Some buyers want room for a garden or to have some privacy from neighbors. Others hate the idea of spending weekends on a lawnmower or with a rake in hand. The average new single-family home is built on about 14,000 square feet (about a third of an acre), according to the National Association of Home Builders. You may want more or less. Hiring someone to mow your yard could be pricey, and doing your own lawn maintenance requires tools and time.


This is usually where the “want” floodgates open. Many buyers want things like a master bedroom with adjoining bathroom; fireplaces; updated kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances; hardwood floors; updated bathrooms; walk-in closets; patio or deck; and so much more. And it’s OK to want all of this and more. But try to prioritize all those amenities and features and determine if any are true needs. If you’re passionate about woodworking or some other hobby, you might need a dedicated workspace in a basement or a garage. Maybe a media room or an eat-in kitchen is a true need for you. On the other hand, some buyers reject outright any property with a swimming pool because of the upkeep and costs.

The key is to be honest and open with yourself. You also have to be flexible. It’s not uncommon for both needs and wants to change as you look at more homes. Amenities you thought were essential might become less so the more properties you see. On the other hand, something that started out as a “want” might move into the “need” category as the home tours roll on.

Time in Home

The average homebuyer expects to live in their home for about 14 years, according to the National Association of Realtors. But everyone’s situation is different. If you’re likely to PCS a few years after purchasing, your wants and needs might be a lot different than someone planning to stay in the home longer. If you’re likely to move in the coming years, schools can be important even if you don’t currently have school-age children. Many future buyers will have good schools high on their shopping lists. Factor in your short- and long-term goals and plans when you’re thinking about wants and needs.


It’s important to understand that different wants and needs come with different costs, all of which vary depending on the housing market you’re in, the price range and more. Sellers want to recoup their investments in things granite counter tops, jetted tubs, three-car garages and more. Newer features and sought-after amenities are likely to drive up a seller’s asking price. Keep your loan preapproval and your housing budget at the forefront.

  • How Much House Can You Afford?

Setting Expectations

Prepare yourself at the outset for the likelihood that you won’t get everything you want. The hope is you at least get everything you need. You may need to make some tough decisions when you start comparing one home to another, especially when you’re considering making an offer.

It becomes more about compromise, trade-offs and finding the best possible property given your priorities. One home might lack an updated kitchen but have a better location. Another might have a great yard and a beautiful master bedroom but force you into a longer commute.

Having a solid, evolving grasp on your true wants and needs can help make sure you get the best possible property given your goals, your lifestyle and your budget.