Brian and I are both obsessive researchers and generally prefer to do things ourselves – both because we enjoy rolling up our sleeves… and to save money! For our very first home, he even studied for months to obtain his real estate license so that we could have direct access to the Multiple Listing Service and have a wealth of data that regular consumers do not have. This worked out to our advantage and ultimately saved us thousands. (Should everyone do this? Definitely not! It requires a lot of time but he always had an interest in real estate so it made sense for us.)
Our first home
We LOVED and lived in that home for seven years… it was where we expanded our family and where our two girls grew up for their infant and toddler years. With #3 on the way and our oldest, Ellie, about to start Kindergarten, we knew that the time was right for us to move. So, what did we look for in our “forever home”?
Our Must Haves:
- Mostly move-in ready (open to fixer upper but we need would still need to live there)
- Ideally 5 bedrooms, 4BR minimum with space for guest bed/room (e.g. finished basement)
- Prefer new construction or newer/renovated/open concept (rather than many smaller rooms as we’ve seen in a lot of older homes in Bergen)
- Spacious/cook’s kitchen a high priority (or lower priced home with ability to renovate)
- 9′ Ceilings
- Decent sized yard for kids to play
- Strong school system (Elementary through High School)
- Located in Bergen County, NJ (proximity to our family, friends, work, and church)
Nice to Haves:
- Bonus room / Home Office (I work from home)
- White kitchen if already updated
- Closing date before baby due date
- Easy access to highways / commuting to NYC and airports
- Not on a main road (quieter for young kids to be able to play outside)
- Close distance to a charming/vibrant downtown area with good restaurants
Using that criteria, we worked with an agent over a period of about two months (it was fast!) before we found our ultimate home sweet home:
So, how did we fare against our wish list? We were able to check off all boxes except the last three “nice to haves.” Our new home is the first on the block of a side street – so it can get busy at times … and our town is a tucked a little further in that we would have preferred… but what ultimately drew us here is that most of the hundreds of listings within our budget that we looked at were missing more critical things… AND Brian’s sister’s family is basically our backyard neighbor! It is so wonderful to have family nearby that we’re happy without the nice to haves.
For any current or future home buyers out there, having clear criteria was so, so helpful. The list above is what I shared with our agent from day one. Of course, you can adjust as you see more homes in person and get a better feel for what you value and don’t… and what’s available on the market.
This was the advice I used to give to wedding planning clients and I still believe stands true: Whenever you need to make big joint decisions with your partner, each person should name their top 3 must haves… and that becomes your shared list. Commit to being flexible on other, less important things.
Brian and I had many discussions about what was important to each of us and aligned on the core set of must haves. Doing this homework made the search process MUCH less stressful, especially because every open house meant dragging along our two little kiddos.
*Note: We know nothing is forever, but we do intend to stay in this home for the foreseeable future at least until our kids graduate from high school… they are 7, 4, and 2 right now so that does feel like forever from now!