Home buyers often start their search with a long list of must-haves … only to find they need to whittle it way down once they see what's within reach. Unless you're a bazillionaire, it's impossible to check all those boxes on the wish list. So, how do buyers decide what pieces of their dream (home) they're willing to hack off?
Imagine a triangle with price, location, and size/style/upgrades at each point. In most cases, you will have to be ready to give up on one of those three, says Dana Gonzalez, a Realtor in Denville, NJ. "Expect to compromise. If you get 80% of what you want, you're lucky."
We asked experts to name some common concessions and offer words of wisdom -- or warning -- on how those trade-offs can play out.
Compromise No. 1: Location
It's one of the first thing agents say their clients are willing to budge on.
"While they might want to find a home that is within walking distance to the downtown area with shops, restaurants, and public transportation, buyers do not want to compromise on their living space," says Suzy Minken, a Realtor in Short Hills, NJ. "After all, they live in the home. Sometimes these homes are too small to fit their lifestyle needs, or the larger in-town homes are simply above their price range. So the dream of a walk-to-town location very often will get removed from a buyer's must-have list."
Compromise No. 2: Square footage
But not everyone is adamant about doing everything they can to keep from downsizing. After all, if you're willing to skip that guest room, playroom, or dining room, you may be able to stay within your budget and live in a nicer neighborhood, points out Daniel Blatman, a Realtor in Manhattan, NY.
"Sometimes the reward is not paying long term for family and friends to be able to stay in your home," he says. So, if you're hoping to discourage the in-laws from spending three weeks with you each summer, this compromise could work out for the best!
But, real estate agents warn, if your space needs might grow in the near future -- say, if your family is expanding -- you might want to think twice before moving into a tight squeeze.
Compromise No. 3: Yard size
Plenty of buyers fantasize about landscaping a sweeping garden, or at least having an outdoor pool or hot tub -- until they see what they have to shell out (or give up) to get it.
"When it comes to describing their dream home, buyers frequently say they want a large backyard," Minken explains. "After seeing lots of places, however, buyers realize that the size of the backyard is not as important as the spaciousness of the interior of the home.
"When I ask my home buyers to qualify what they mean by a 'large' backyard, the answer is almost universally the same: 'large enough to fit a swingset.'" And that's not exactly football field-size. "So that means they have more homes to choose from, especially when inventory is low."
That said, house hunters are more stubborn when it comes to the terrain itself.
"They prefer a flat backyard to enjoy with their family and friends," Minken says.
Compromise No. 4: Awesome garage
"For the first-time home buyers who are moving from an urban area to the suburbs, it often comes as a surprise that not all homes have a two-car garage," Minken says. "Older homes, built in the early 1920s and 1930s frequently do not. While there are homes that do not have a garage at all -- and these homes are a much harder sell -- buyers will compromise and buy a home that has a one-car garage if the home meets the other items on their must-have list."
Buyers are often flexible on the type of garage as well. Some garages are detached, which means that buyers can't enter directly into the home from the garage -- helpful during inclement weather. And some single-car garages are attached to the house, but -- surprise -- there is no entry from the garage into the house.
Compromise No. 5: Specific architecture
So, you've always pictured yourself in a Craftsman bungalow, until you saw the asking price. If you suddenly find yourself smitten with a Cape Cod, it's OK; you're not alone.
"Whether it be the architectural style of the house or type of kitchen counters , those things are one of the first things mentioned when clients tell me what they want," notes Amber Dolle, a Realtor in Sherman Oaks, CA. "But when compromises have to be made and they've had time to look at homes for a bit and consider their budget, the home's aesthetics usually are the thing they choose to overlook."