Last Updated on March 23, 2022 by Luke Feldbrugge
The Homes for Heroes house hunting checklist is a simple tool to help home buyers determine the absolute must-haves for their new home, and what are the extended nice-to-haves. Some checklists are a home buying wish list. But as this post will illustrate, the key to this exercise is to actually narrow down your wish list to the true essentials (Must-Haves). Everything else is gravy (Nice-to-Haves)! This checklist will define your targeted house search criteria and help streamline your house hunting experience.
House Hunting Process Briefly Explained
Buying a house is a big decision. No question. It’s one of the largest purchases you’ll make in your life, and it will cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Please use the content in this post as a helpful guide to do the proper prep work to purchase the house you want to call home.
- Step One: Begin the process of getting pre-approved for a mortgage. All buyers should do this first. Repeat, all buyers should do this first. This will give you a competitive advantage over other buyers who will want to buy the house you want. The National Association of REALTORS® claims the first step taken in the home buying process by 41 percent of recent homebuyers was to look online at properties for sale, while 19% of buyers ﬁrst contacted a real estate agent. That means 60 percent of the home buyers out there took the WRONG first step, and it gives you a leg up on them. Be sure to consider signing up to use a Homes for Heroes mortgage specialist where you can save an average of $500 on lender fees.
- Step Two: Estimate a home price range by using our home affordability calculator. This will be a temporary ballpark figure to get you started looking at homes and give you an idea of what’s currently available in the market. Use this ballpark estimate until your mortgage loan officer gives you a pre-approval letter that outlines how much house you can actually afford based on your finances. The pre-approval letter ultimately gives you the power to make a legit offer on a house when you find what you want.
- Step Three: Following pre-approval, and when you’re ready to start attending home showings, open houses, and making an offer on a home; you’ll want to hire a good real estate agent who is licensed and experienced in the market. The agent will know the current market trends and offer insight on the home you want. Be sure to consider signing up to use a Homes or Heroes real estate specialist and you could save an average of $2,400 when you purchase a new home. They will help you negotiate with home sellers on a purchase price and terms you can afford on the home you want.
Importance of this House Hunting Checklist
The Homes for Heroes house hunting checklist helps to narrow down your house search so you’re not wasting time looking at homes you actually do not want. This is a great exercise for people who plan to purchase a home together. It will assist in getting each of you on the same page about the most important things to have in a new home before your house search begins.
There are two important steps to the Homes for Heroes House Hunting Checklist:
- Step One: Go through the list and Identify everything you want in your ideal home
- Step Two: Narrow down everything you want, to a short list of Must-Haves.
Getting to the Must-Haves ultimately provides you with the home search criteria you will use when it comes time to start shopping for homes, attending open houses and making an offer.
House Hunting Checklist Helps Identify Your Ideal Home
House searching is not easy. It’s time consuming and it can be nerve racking; especially in the current market where available home inventory is lower than usual and bidding wars are crazy. Also, when there’s more than one person deciding on whether to make an offer on a house, things can get hairy if priorities are not established up front. Enter the House Hunting Checklist.
We understand your time is valuable. So here are two options to consider before you proceed:
- Option 1, Short and Sweet – This approach allows you to begin your house search as soon as you knock out the four bullets below:
- Estimate how much house you can afford using our home affordability calculator worksheet
- Download a printable PDF of our House Hunting Checklist and complete it
- Save your Must-Haves in your cell phone to reference anytime
- Begin your house search using the Must-Haves as your main search criteria
- PLEASE NOTE: We highly recommend you begin the pre-approval process with a licensed mortgage loan officer or originator before you start looking at homes. Sign up to speak with a Homes for Heroes mortgage specialist today.
- Option 2, Gain More Insight – Continue reading on and gather more insight regarding options outlined in the House Hunting Checklist that will be available for download throughout this in-depth post.
House Hunting Checklist Expanded Insight to Consider
The house hunting checklist begins before you even set foot in a house. It all starts with the neighborhood. You probably know the communities where you want to live. But you should also know what you want the neighborhood vibe to be. When you start shopping for a home, you will want to drive through the neighborhood. What do the surrounding homes look like? Is it active with neighbors engaging with each other? Are kids playing outside? Is it quiet with privacy fences around every yard? What do you want the vibe of your new neighborhood to be?
Type of House
The house hunting checklist will ask you to determine the type of house, and the ideal style of the home you want to purchase. According to Trulia, ranch homes (or single story homes) are the national favorite, with 34 states claiming them as the most popular. The top 5 different types of houses to consider for your new home are:
- Single Family
Interior House Hunting Checklist
The interior of your new home is where you will spend most of your time. This is where many memories will be made. Regardless of what you purchase, you will make the interior of your new home your own. It will suit your style and it will fit your personality. That’s why it’s important to start with your core Must-Haves so you can build the rest around it. Here is the list of interior items the Home Hunting Checklist will ask you to prioritize:
- Number of Bedrooms: You’ll need to know if everyone gets their own room, or if some members of the household will share a room. Additional things to consider for bedrooms would be do you need all the bedrooms on the same floor? Does the master bedroom need to be next to the baby’s room? Make sure your House Hunting Checklist reflects what you want and what you need.
- Number of Bathrooms: Do you want a master bathroom? Do you need at least one full and one half bathroom, or will one full bathroom be enough? There are 4 primary items that make up a bathroom: toilet, sink, shower and bathtub. A full bathroom has all four of these items. A half bathroom is typically a toilet and sink. How many bathrooms does your new home need?
- Basement or Cellar: Some people really want a basement or lower level to their home. Finished basements can be an extension of your main level living space for game rooms, kids play rooms and entertainment rooms. If it’s not finished, it can be a primary location for storage or a great place for children to burn off their energy during rainy days. Basements also serve as shelter from tornadoes.
- Laundry: Considerations for laundry must be taken. Do you need a washer and dryer in the home or do you use the local laundromat? Does the laundry room need easy access on the same floor as all of your primary rooms to avoid going up and down stairs? Is it too close to bedrooms causing limited working hours due to noise? These are important questions to ask yourself as you define your Must-Haves.
- Open Floor Plan: This is a big one for my wife. She loves her space and her ability to see what’s going on around the house. Closed off rooms in a home can feel claustrophobic or too isolating for some people. Open floor plans tend to brighten rooms due to shared light from multiple windows and offer a more free-to-move feel.
- Main Mechanicals on the House Hunting Checklist:
- HVAC – The heater, vent system and air conditioner (HVAC) are the beating heart of the house. They keep the home’s temperature steady and comfortable during mother nature’s highs and lows. Do you require central AC or will a window unit suffice? I’m a guy who sweats every minute of his life, so a window AC unit will not cut it, but others may not mind. What type of heat do you want in your home; radiators, floor boards, or circulated air? Having these items in working order is important, and when you begin conducting your house search, be sure to note how old these items are in the house. They do not last forever and they’re not cheap to replace, so keep that in mind as your house shopping
- Water Heater – Another important work horse. Cold showers are a healthy trend these days, but most people prefer to bathe in warm water. Look at the water heater from the same perspective as the HVAC system.
- Water Softener – Some homes must have one due to the hard water in the area. Not only is soft water better for bathing and the feel of your clothes, but untreated hard water can cause minerals to build up in the home’s pipes. This can cause all kinds of problems from leaks to clogged pipes. If you know the water is hard in the area, make sure the homes you look at have a working water softener. It’s also important to know if the homeowner owns their water softener or if they’re renting it, because you’ll need to decide your plan if you buy the home.
- Fireplace: A fireplace can be a room’s focal point or it can just sit in the corner unused collecting dust. I personally enjoy the crackle and aroma of a wood burning fireplace, but many prefer the ease of a gas fireplace. A home with a fireplace can be a decision-maker for some folks. Whether you want a fireplace or not, the home you want may come with one, so it’s important to understand they do require maintenance. So, not having a fireplace might be important to you. At a minimum, when you’re looking to purchase a home with a fireplace it’s a good idea to have it inspected. You’ll want to know if it’s in working order, clean and critter free.
- Floors: Hardwood or carpet? Carpeting can be replaced or installed when you move into your new home, and you can make it whatever you want. But, that takes money so you’ll need to consider the condition of the floors when you’re house searching. If you prefer hardwood floors, installing those is more costly. There are benefits to both carpet and hardwood floors when it comes to maintenance and appearance, and everyone has their preference, so it’s good to know what’s preferred up front.
- City Water: Do you want city water or do you prefer a well? This will depend heavily on the property’s location. More rural homes or cabins may have a private well and require additional work to maintain safe and usable water.
- City Sewer: Do you want city sewer lines? Again, this will depend primarily on the home or cabin’s location. Many rural homes may not be connected with city sewer lines and instead would rely on a septic system to maintain waste water.
- Crawl Space: Many split-level homes will have a crawl space. Crawl spaces are not a love or hate thing. Instead they are hated by 99.9 percent of the population. Why? Because they are not convenient. But, they can be tolerated by most people. They typically provide storage space and that’s welcomed, but it is not easily accessible. You’ll likely need to “crawl” under some steps and pull everything out to find the one thing you need, then put everything back. Not ideal, but can you tolerate a crawl space? That’s the question you need to answer. If not, add “no crawl space” to your Must-Haves.
- Ceiling Fans: Air circulation is a big deal for some people and having ceiling fans already installed is a big plus. Especially if the home you’re considering has vaulted ceilings. Installing a ceiling fan onto a vaulted ceiling is not easy. It may require a professional unless you have access to a sufficient ladder and the will to do the job. Ceiling fans probably are not a deal breaker for most home buyers, but it’s good to have the conversation about who wants them and who doesn’t.
- Dishwasher/Garbage Disposal: At a minimum you’ll want to agree on if these items are wanted. That way if the house you want to buy does not already have these items, you size up the cost to install them.
- Size of the Rooms: The size of the rooms matter. If you have a large dining room table, then a small kitchen cove will not work for you. If your 17 year old is 6’ 7” and 280 lbs, a 7’ x 10’ bedroom probably will not work. Try to establish guidelines for the size of rooms you will need to accommodate you, your family and all you plan to move into your new house. If necessary, add minimum sizes to your Must-Haves.
- Accessibility (Easy Access): This gets to be more important as you age. A home is often a long-term purchase. Most people choose a 30-year mortgage. So keep in mind as time passes and the body begins to not function like it did before, these accessibility questions may become more relevant to you and your family. Depending on your circumstances, some of the items below may need to be added to your Must-Haves.
- Can you easily access the garage from inside the house?
- Can you easily bring in your groceries and get them to the kitchen?
- Can you easily take off your coat and shoes and have a place to put them?
- Can you get to stored items easily?
- Is everything you need on one floor?
- Is there a bathroom close to all bedrooms?
- Is there a bathroom on every floor?
- Do you need wheelchair access?
I’M READY – DOWNLOAD FREE PRINTABLE HOUSE HUNTING CHECKLIST
Exterior House Hunting Checklist
- Size Matters:
- Square Footage: Determine the minimum amount of square footage you need and the maximum amount of square footage you want to maintain and clean.
- Lot Size: How big of a yard do you want? How close do you want neighbor homes to yours? If lot size matters to you, try to define the minimum lot size for your Must-Haves.
- Garage: Does your garage need to be attached so you can avoid dealing with the weather? Do you need two or more garage stalls for your cars, other toys or additional storage? Does your garage need to be insulated or even heated because that’s where you plan to work on all of your projects? Do you need a second garage? If any of these are important to you, be sure to note it on your Must-Haves.
- Fenced: Fences typically serve two purposes: keep things in or keep things out. If you’re a pet owner or you have younger children that need to be contained, a yard with a fence may be a Must-Have. Maybe you really enjoy your privacy and a privacy fence is something you Must-Have in a new house. This may not be a deal breaker when considering a new home because you can always install a fence. Then it just comes down to cost. But, if fences are your thing and it needs to be strongly considered for your new house, be sure to include the details as a Must-Have.
- Tree-Covered: Some people love their trees, and some people prefer to have the sun everywhere! Trees provide shade to a yard or your house and they provide homes for critters if you’re a nature lover. They do require ongoing maintenance like pruning, picking up leaves/sticks, fallen branches, and managing potential critter infestations. When considering a new home with trees in the yard, you’ll want to note the health of the trees. Do the trees have bare or dead branches, woodpecker holes, shedding bark, or lop-sided growth? These can be signs of tree health issues that you’ll need to manage or remove at some point.
- Garden: If a house doesn’t have a garden, it’s probably not a game changer because you can always till up a patch of the yard at any point to have a garden. But, having a yard with the space to accommodate the garden you want is what needs to be considered. If the home you’re interested in already has a beautiful garden waiting for you after the purchase, bonus!
- Deck or Patio: How important is it to have an outdoor space, connected to your home, where you can enjoy the scenery or view? It’s almost like a little getaway when you can retreat to the deck or patio to grill or sip a few drinks while enjoying the outdoors. There is typically maintenance involved whether it’s cleaning or resurfacing your deck or patio, but if it makes the Must-Have list, it’s clearly worth the effort.
- Shed: Sheds are great for storing all of your outdoor equipment, tools and seasonal yard fixtures like patio furniture. If the garage can’t hold your two cars, riding lawn mower, snow blower, ATV and trailer; then a shed might be a Must-Have.
- Swimming Pool: If you’re in the southern states this might be an absolute Must-Have. Whereas folks in the northern states may not deem having a pool as a Must-Have as often. Swimming pools are a lot of work to maintain, but having the flexibility to take a dip in the pool whenever you want is a nice perk.
- Waterfront Property: For you water lovers, what are the Must-Haves for your new home? Do you need a beach? What about private access or is public access acceptable? Do you need easy access to boat storage? Try to identify these needs up front and whether they need to be on your Must-Haves.
Parents (or soon to be parents) want their children to have access to a good education. Schools are typically rated on how well students progress, how well they test, and the equity or diversity of a school’s student body. Take a moment to learn about the schools your kids will attend before you make the move to a new home.
- Parks and Recreation: Every parent needs a place where they can take their kids or send their kids to play. Often this is a win-win for both parties. Having a neighborhood park, playground, basketball court, baseball field, soccer or football field easily accessible (a walk or bike ride away) is a must have for some home buyers. Also, when considering your neighborhood it might be a good idea to check out the community programs offered by the city or other community organizations your children may enjoy.
- Child Proofing: Can you easily child proof the house, stairways, etc. Back in the day, some older homes had stairway banisters with large enough spaces between the spindles for children to crawl through or get stuck. There are some decks that may have this same issue. Again, in older built homes some stairway entries were really wide. It can be challenging to find a gate wide enough to keep children (or pets) off those stairs. Bottom line, it’s important to know if you can easily (without incurring too much expense) child proof the house you want to buy.
We need to mention our heroes. All of our heroes (firefighters, EMS, law enforcement, military personnel active and veterans, healthcare workers and teachers) play a role in the community whether keeping the people of the community safe and healthy, or providing educational services. For many of our heroes, being close to work is important. You may know if you’re close to work, but what about the other community emergency services like the police station, fire department or hospital? If close proximity to these services is important be sure to add them to your Must-Haves.
Convenience – Close to Amenities
- Commute to Work: If you have a commute to work, the distance and time of your commute are probably important to you; especially with gas prices on the rise. Also, having easy access to the main highways or travel route to and from work is probably worth considering when evaluating new home locations.
- Public Transportation: If you rely on public transportation, having pick up and drop off locations within walking distance of your home is probably an important Must-Have.
- Shopping: If you enjoy the experience of visiting local retail establishments versus ordering online such as the grocery store, liquor store, or hardware store; then having a home in close proximity to these shopping retailers is probably important to you.
- Restaurants or the Nightlife: If you enjoy the nightlife and going out to restaurants, bars or clubs, then maybe having a home close to these establishments is worth adding to your Must-Haves? Or, maybe you want to be as far away from the nightlife as possible. Either way, it’s good to know where you stand (or prefer to live).
Other Potential Must Haves
- Private Master Bath: This is nice to have but is it a priority and potential deal breaker if a new home prospect doesn’t have a private master bathroom? Might be to you. I can confidently tell you this, it would be great to share a bathroom with only my wife, and not my kids. Just sayin.
- Foyer, Entryway, Vestibule or Mudroom: Or, whatever the kids are calling it today! This can be a big deal for some people. Having a place where outdoor attire, sweaty work clothes, dirty uniforms, shoes, boots and other not so pleasant items can reside away from everything else is important to some people and could legitimately make it to a Must-Have list.
- Walk-in Closets: If you can fill one, you probably need one. Add it to the Must-Have list. Or, you can always consider downsizing your wardrobe? (my wife just gave me the look)
- 3 or 4 Season Porch: Many people use the porch as an escape room, where relaxation is eminent and quiet time is preferred. Often surrounded by nature or overlooking a great view, the porch is a long-standing favorite for many people. But, is it a Must-Have for your new home?
- Extra Parking: How many cars do you own that handle the travel needs for all the drivers in your house? What about your boat or the RV that’s used three months out of the year? The new home will need a place to store those items during the off-season.
- Sauna/Hot tub: Everybody wants one or both of these at some point. But, is it a must-have knowing most homes will not have these luxury items? That said, if it is important to you, at least have the debate on whether to install one yourself after buying your new home. That way you can envision where you’ll put it as you’re searching for your new home.
I’M READY – DOWNLOAD FREE PRINTABLE HOUSE HUNTING CHECKLIST
Prioritize Must-Haves versus Nice-to-Haves for Your New Home
Now that we’ve covered all the options your ideal home can have, and you’ve gone through the free printable house hunting checklist, you need to add each of the items you checked into two buckets:
- Must-Haves: These are items your new house MUST HAVE. There is very little wiggle room when it comes to not having these in the home you want. If a home becomes available that does not meet these criteria, then the general rule is you do not spend any time on it and look for better options. The only real exception would be if one of your Nice-to-Haves is available to replace the Must-Have, and all parties involved agree to it.
- Nice-to-Haves: These are the gravy I referred to at the beginning of this post. If any of these come with your new home it’s a bonus and should be celebrated.
Many times a new homeowner will describe their new home as “it checked all the boxes.” The Homes for Heroes house hunting checklist helps you define the boxes you want checked.
Bring House Hunting Checklist Must-Haves to Homes
When you’re attending an open house or walking through a home, make sure you’re armed with your helpful checklist of Must-Have priorities and your Nice-to-Haves. And, evaluate the home on whether it has what you’re looking for. It’s also good to know important details that may be available for the following:
- Recent roof, siding, HVAC, water softener, water heater updates
- Get a copy of the public record so you’re aware of any updates made
- Attempt to find out what is causing any unpleasant odor (mildew, smoke, etc)?
Additional Things to Note When Home Shopping
- Nice Curb Appeal: How does the house present itself when you drive by or walk up to it? Picturesque or not so much? What about the neighbor homes to the right and to the left? Eye sores or do they make your future house look good? Granted you can put your own spin on how things look, but it always helps to look good out the gates. It shows the current home owner took pride in maintaining their house and lot.
- Different Times of Day: Take a drive around the neighborhood at different times of the day; primarily when work or school starts, around mid-day, and after dinner in the evening. This will give you an idea of what the neighborhood is like and how the home looks at different times throughout the day.
- Take Notes, Photos and/or Video: When you’re inside a house, document all you can so you can review it later. Create a digital archive so you have everything to remind yourself when 2-3 homes are in the running. After home shopping for a while, things can start to blend together if you’re not documenting what you’re seeing in the homes you visit. This practice will also help remind you if the house actually covers all of your Must-Haves.
We hope this post and the Homes for Heroes House Hunting Checklist provides valuable insight so you can make the best decision regarding a new home for you and your family. You deserve to find what you want. Taking the first few steps to speak with the right people and determine what you actually want will help streamline the search and help you purchase the ideal home.
Save an Average of $2,400 on New Home
When you decide to start the house hunting process, take a moment to sign up on our website to speak with our local Homes for Heroes real estate and mortgage specialists. They are experienced real estate and mortgage professionals who specialize in serving heroes like you to find your dream home. They will contact you to learn how they can best assist you and explain how our Hero Rewards savings works. There’s no obligation. We would be honored to assist you in finding that perfect home.