How to Tell Your Wants from Your Needs When Buying a Home

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Defining your home wants vs. needs.

How do you know what you really need in a home?

As you’re house hunting, you’re probably running across all sorts of elements that would be really nice to have in your new home. An island counter in the kitchen, a bathroom with a tub instead of just a shower, or a mature garden in the front yard.

But, let's be honest, it would be akin to winning a lottery to find a house that has every single detail you want. There are just too many variables. Not to mention that you have to find this “perfect house” in the area where you want to live.

This is why it's important to differentiate your wants from your needs when buying a home. But how do you do that? Let's take a look!

What Is a Need?

What is the difference between a want and a need? Though most people might use the terms interchangeably, there is an important difference between the two.

Needs are non-negotiable. These are the things that you absolutely must have or you're not going to make an offer on the home. They are different for everyone because they depend on you and your family.

For example, if you're a family with children (or plan to have kids), you need a spacious three-bedroom (or more) home so everyone has space.

However, if you are a pair of retirees with no kids in the home, you might be happy with one- or two-bedrooms.

What Is a Want?

On the other hand, wants are those elements you run across and you say, “that'd be nice to have.” However, it's not a deal-breaker if the home doesn't have it.

For example, it would be nice to have a patio out back or an island counter in the kitchen. However, you could still be content with a house even if it didn’t have those elements.

Understanding the difference between a want and a need is the easy part — the hard part comes when you actually try to define what is a want and what is a need for you.

Defining Your Needs

Start with your needs. These are the things that you must absolutely have in a home. Here are a couple of things which are high-priority for most home buyers.


The home’s location tends to be high on the list of buyer needs. Some people may be razor-focused on a certain neighborhood while others may have a more general search area.

Regardless, the wrong location is definitely a deal-breaker. Even if the commute isn’t a concern (retired, work from home, etc.) the area where you live still has a huge impact on your quality of life.


How many people will be living in the home? How many bedrooms do you need? Are you okay with stairs? Do you require a large property or are you happy with a postage-stamp lawn?

These considerations commonly rank in the dealbreaker category for homebuyers.

Narrowing Down Specific Elements

After location and size, there are tons of other elements that might make or break a home for you. These are vastly different for different buyers.

If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, ask yourself the following questions to help you figure out these elements. You can also ask your real estate agent for ideas. As you chat about what you’re looking for, they can help you define specifics.

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What do you love and hate about your current home?

Think about the things you enjoy about your home and the things that make your life harder. This one exercise does wonders for helping you figure out what you need in your next home.

For example, do you love cooking but hate being stuck in your tiny closed-off kitchen? Then put a large kitchen with an open floorplan on your list of needs.

Or perhaps you dislike living in a two-story home because stairs are getting harder for you or a family member to navigate. Then shop for one-story houses.

Are you being realistic?

Homes are made up of a lot of different elements. Finding a house that checks all of your boxes could be nearly impossible, particularly if you have a lot of boxes. Even when creating a list of needs, you should understand how to be flexible with them.

If the home doesn’t have it, can you add it?

Keep in mind that you can remodel. Just because certain elements aren’t present at the moment, doesn’t mean they can’t be added.

For example, the house may not currently have a patio, but is there space to build one? Maybe you require a vegetable garden. Mature gardens are hard to find, but if there’s space to plant one, you can make it work.

Other things are not so easy to remedy. You won’t be able to add a sprawling vegetable garden to a postage-stamp-sized lot. Or if you need a tub for bathing, adding one in place of a shower might turn into a major (and expensive) bathroom remodel.

Remember, some homes will check nearly all your boxes. If those final boxes can be remedied relatively easily and cheaply, the house might still work for your needs.

Defining Your Wants

After you get done defining your needs, you’re allowed to daydream a little. What elements would be the icing on the cake for you? Write them down and keep an eye out for them as you house hunt. You never know, you just might find a home that checks some of these boxes too.

Finding the “Perfect” Home

Defining your needs is a great exercise to aid in your search. It can also be very helpful for your real estate agent. If they know exactly what you’re looking for, they won’t waste your time with houses that miss the mark.

Be realistic as you search for a home. The likelihood that you’ll find a house that checks every single one of your boxes is quite low, but knowing exactly what you’re looking for can help you find the best home for you.

Now that you know what you need in a home find listings that fit your list