What I wish I knew BEFORE I started the house hunt…​

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Alison Sherwin and her family are now happily settled in suburbia. After an exhaustive search of towns and, ultimately, houses, her crew found the perfect place to call “home.” So what does she wish she knew BEFORE they started the house search process? To know when to compromise, when to hold your ground and why it’s important to overlook Julio Iglesias shrines…

So you’ve picked your town—or towns—to focus on. Now what? Before you start obsessively checking the MLS listings and pounding the pavement weekend after weekend, here are a few things I wish I had known before the house hunt started…

No house is perfect.

Unless you have an unlimited budget or are designing a house from scratch, no house is going to have all of the items on your wish list. It’s time to think about what items are must-haves and which are optional. For me, a powder room on the first floor was mandatory. It’s a weird thing to insist on but, to me, main floors without them feel unsettling—as if something had been forgotten. I also insisted on a backyard that was big enough for a swing-set. What was the point of moving from the city if I still had to schlep to the park?

After you’ve determined your must-haves, think about what things might be optional or what combination of items might work. At some point during our search, my husband and I realized that a house with three out of the four—a living room, family room, dining room and/or basement big enough to count as an extra room—worked perfectly for us. Four for four would’ve been great, but three worked just fine (side note: we ended up with the first three).

On the other hand, if something is a deal-breaker, just own it. If you are never going to agree to live on a street that has busy two-way traffic don’t bother looking at those houses—why torture yourself?

Be open to possibilities you didn’t even know existed.

We live on a flag lot—a house that doesn’t front to the street. Before starting to look at houses, I didn’t know what a flag lot was. There are many of these in the river towns and I came to realize that, depending on the layout, it might be appealing. That being said, I found some crazy. We looked at one house that had a ridiculously long and steep driveway where the only option seemed to be backing out—this wasn’t going to happen.

Know your baggage.

I grew up on a cul-de-sac, so any house where I saw more than three cars pass by seemed busy to me. Finding few cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets, I had to readjust my definition of busy. Did you grow up in a neighborhood where the streets all had sidewalks? Or where all the power lines are buried? Knowing what you are used to will help you figure out what might be unfamiliar but acceptable.

Attempt to look past the current homeowners.

Other people—not you of course—decorate in very strange ways. Whether it’s a multiple-room shrine to Julio Iglesias, an office safe large enough for a dead body or an ENORMOUS koi pond in the backyard, almost all fixtures and décor can be removed or fixed. 

Sometimes, the current homeowners insist on staying in the house during showings. I toured one house where the homeowner was sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee. This was weird and uncomfortable. I found it difficult to try and judge whether I would be happy in the kitchen while someone was sitting right there, reading the paper. However, it’s your time in the house and don’t let the strange decisions of the current homeowners keep you from exploring every detail.

Finally, just breathe. You will find the “right” house. It’s not going to be perfect and there will be compromises and judgment calls to be made. But in the end, you too will have a house to decorate in any strange way you desire!

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