Never Compromise on These 5 Things When Buying a Home

Even in tough buyer's markets, some preferences should be nonnegotiable. Here's how home shoppers can avoid buyer’s remorse.

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If you’re currently in the market for a new home, you’re probably feeling the stress of being a buyer in a seller’s market. Demand continues to outpace supply and some buyers, worn down after losing out on so many bidding wars, are ready to compromise on their wish lists.

There is, however, a difference between the preferences on your wish list and your essentials—your must-haves. Settling for a house that lacks these non-negotiables can lead to buyer’s remorse. As you consider the pros and cons of different properties, keep in mind these features that you should never compromise on when buying a home.

The School District

If you have kids, the school district is probably among the most important factors you’ll weigh when buying a home. But according to Tyler Forte, CEO of Felix Homes in Nashville, Tennessee, even if you don’t have kids, a well-regarded school district is essential.

“It’s important to choose a home in a good school district to ensure the property’s value will continue to increase over time,” he explains. “Based on my experience, homes located in a top school district maintain their value even if surrounding homes in the area see a decrease.” That’s because homes in a top school district will always be in demand.

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The Location

In addition to the school district, there are other factors that can make the location nonnegotiable. “While you can change the floor plan or increase the square footage, the location of a house is one element that really can’t be remedied,” explains Nicole M. Christopherson of NMC Realty in Orange County, California.

For example, location determines the length of your commute, whether you’ll live in a walkable neighborhood, and other quality-of-life concerns. “It’s vital that home buyers make sure that a good location is on the list of must-haves for their new home,” Christopherson says. She advises against being swayed to move to a community just because it may be more affordable. If you compromise on the commute or surroundings, she warns, it will weigh on you over time.

This view is shared by Michael J. Franco, a broker at Compass in New York City. “In my opinion, location is everything, and I find that when clients sway or compromise on location, they regret it,” he says. “It doesn’t happen on every occurrence, but I have seen it quite a bit.”

The Home’s Condition

It’s important to know your tolerance for disorder, uncertainty, and expense when buying a home that needs some work. As-is real estate might net you a good deal, but if you get in over your head those renovations could turn into a nightmare.

“Know your threshold and allow your agent to explain the value of the opportunities presented, but also understand the importance of not taking on too much in renovation costs and stress,” Christopherson explains.

She admits that the opportunity to choose your own finishes and create your own vision can be exciting. However, you need to clearly understand what renovations are necessary for the home to be livable, and you also need to know the costs of making both necessary and desired changes—and this might entail bringing some reno experts into the loop. “I recommend using your inspection times to ensure that these questions are thoroughly answered,” Christopherson says.

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Your Budget

Compromising on the budget can lead to more than just buyer’s remorse. In fact, it’s one of the signs you’re about to buy the wrong house. In a worst-case scenario, going over budget could eventually lead to losing the home; in a best-case scenario, you could wind up being house poor.

“Home buyers need to consider all of their financial goals—travel, retirement, kids’ college tuition, or a wedding,” Christopherson says. If not, you might find yourself unable to take vacations, fund your daughter’s wedding, or contribute to savings.

If you’re a first-time home buyer, don’t forget to factor in the down payment, closing costs, insurance, and taxes—along with all of your other monthly expenses. “Careful budgetary planning will allow home buyers to find a home they love while living and planning a life they will enjoy,” Christopherson explains.

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Preferences That Are Really Important

We’ve covered the truly crucial features that buyers shouldn’t compromise on. Factors that may be more important to you than to other home buyers shouldn’t be set aside, either.

“If natural light and/or an open view are important to you, do not compromise on this,” advises Parisa Afkhami at Warburg Realty in New York City. “There are many decorating strategies and renovation options, but an open view and an abundance of natural light often cannot be fabricated.”

The concerns about light go beyond aesthetics. According to Harvard Medical School, 1 to 2 percent of the population suffers from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a type of depression that strikes during fall and winter months as a result of a lack of light. A home that lacks sufficient sunlight could worsen this condition.

Franco emphasizes that views are extremely important to many buyers. “My clients who are ‘view sensitive’ regret compromising for a limited or less-than-stellar view,” he says.