Home Buying: Determining Your Needs vs Wants

When we first start thinking about buying a home, many of us get caught up in how great it will be and all the features we want it to have. Things like tall ceilings, 5 bedrooms, a dedicated office space, a 2-car garage, a pool, etc etc.

Unfortunately, unless you are building your own home, the available homes in your market may not have every single thing you are looking for. Or maybe there are homes that fit all of your criteria, but are way out of your price range. What do you do now?

You know you want to buy (whether you’re tired of renting, or if just makes more financial sense to buy in your market), but you know you’re not going to be able to get everything you want. It’s looking like you may have to compromise on some of the features you want. Maybe a home fits 75% of your criteria, but it’s missing some of the upgraded features you were hoping to have. Should you settle? Or should you keep looking? When is it ok to compromise and when should you stick to your guns and keep looking for a better home?

Needs vs Wants

Today, we want to talk about needs vs wants. Unless you are independently wealthy, you likely have a strict budget for your next home purchase. This means that you will have to distinguish between must-haves and nice-to-haves and prioritize them by importance to you. This will not only help you recognize the right house when you see it, it will also help you narrow down your search.

It’s important to consider your needs and wants before you start looking at properties because you may find yourself “needing” some really cool features of the latest home you saw, when in fact, it’s not a “deal-breaker” for you. Looking at homes can be fun and it’s easy to get swept up into all the possibilities for your next home. But continually adding “needs” and “wants” to your list will only frustrate you as it becomes harder and harder to find your “perfect” home.

So how do we stay focused during your home search? Let’s start building your home buying list.


The very basic need of a home is a safe and sufficient shelter for you and your family. That may mean:

  • Adequate square footage for your family size
  • Sufficient amount of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Kitchen/dining room to prepare and share meals as a family
  • Storage space (Basement and/or garage)
  • Outdoor space
  • Easy access to work/school/etc

Some things that could be considered “needs” to your family beyond the basics listed above:

  • Type of home (detached, condo, loft, etc)
  • Neighbourhood (we wrote about finding your perfect neighbourhood here)
  • School catchment area
  • Distance to work (and children’s school)
  • Public transportation nearby (if needed to get around)
  • Off-street parking (driveway, garage, etc)
  • No carpet (allergies)
  • Amount of bedrooms
  • Amount of bathrooms
  • Office (if working from home)
  • Heating/cooling (natural gas/central air)
  • Fenced outdoor space (for kids and/or pets)
  • Accessibility features (ramps, wide doorways, grab bars, etc)
  • Considerations for pets (yard, fence, traffic concerns, etc)

Other “Needs” to Consider

Another thing to remember when evaluating homes is to look past the fun or initial “wow” items and look at things that add value (or will cost you a lot of money to repair/replace). Sure those granite countertops and stainless steel appliances are everything you dreamed of, but what if the furnace, roof and windows all need to be replaced? Perhaps that other house with the “less-than-perfect” kitchen and new roof, windows and furnace might be a smarter choice for your family.

Some things you may “want” or “need” that you may not be thinking about include:

  • Newer roof
  • Upgraded (new/energy efficient) furnace and a/c systems
  • Preferred heat source (Natural gas/geothermal/solar/fireplace/woodstove)
  • Dual-pane windows
  • Energy efficient appliances
  • Upgraded plumbing systems
  • Upgraded wiring and electrical panel
  • Additional insulation

These all add value to your home and are harder to replace than personal choice finishes.


Things you want but can either live with, live without or possibly add to your home later:

  • Age of home
  • Style of home (ranch, colonial, bungalow, two-storey, etc)
  • Size of home (square footage)
  • Size of lot (small yard, large yard, established gardens, etc)
  • Finishes (paint colours, hardwood floors, marble/granite/quartz counters, stainless steel appliances, etc)
  • Open-concept living
  • More natural light (huge windows, bay windows, skylights, etc)
  • Additional rooms (formal dining room, great room/family room, office, additional bedrooms/bathrooms, etc)
  • Finished basement
  • Pool, hot tub
  • Quiet street (minimal traffic, far from highways, trains and planes)
  • Gated community
  • Garage/workshop/man-cave
  • View
  • Waterfront property
  • Close to amenities (grocery store, recreation, hospital, etc)

When thinking about the differences between needs vs wants consider what is a “deal-breaker”. Your “needs” are those things that if they are missing, you will absolutely not buy that specific property (e.g. # of bedrooms, location, etc). Wants are things you can live without, or possibly add to your home later (e.g. hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, pool, etc).

To repeat: needs are things that are usually difficult or impossible to change (location), whereas wants can usually be changed or added (new appliances, paint colours, flooring).

Don’t Care/Doesn’t Matter

Now that you’ve got that down, let’s throw a wrench in the plans. We have another category we like to add in when we talk to clients about their future homes.

We call it the “don’t care/doesn’t matter category. This category is for any of the features that don’t affect you either way. Maybe you only have one vehicle and don’t care if there’s extra parking or not. Maybe you don’t feel strongly about the type of flooring in your home or whether or not it comes with a pool. This is the category for things that don’t matter whether your next home features them or not. By having a don’t care category, it really helps your Realtor understand your priorities in your next home.

Let’s Get Started on Your Home Buying List

Some questions to help you determine what you need in your next home.

  • How long will you live in your home?
  • Do you want a move-in ready home or are you willing to do some renovations (or have someone do some renovations for you)?
  • What do you love about where you live now?
  • What do you hate?

Speaking on that last question, sometimes clients find it easier to start with a “don’t want” list than a need or want list. This is helpful in the sense that we all usually have strong opinions on what we don’t like. Maybe you know that 1 bathroom just doesn’t cut it for your family of 5, so you write that you don’t want less than 2 bathrooms. Or if you know you don’t want to live in your current neighbourhood, that’s another “don’t want” for your list.

By listing out what you don’t want, it’s easier to nail down your actual needs and wants. So in the above scenarios, you would flip your “don’t want” to the positive version (e.g. your need/want list would include 2+ bathrooms, or a specific neighbourhood you want to live in).

Getting clear on what’s important to you will help both you and your realtor have success in the house search. And while it’s fun to dream of all the pretty things that are important to you, don’t forget about the practical things you need.

We’ve created a home shopping checklist to help start you off. If searching with a partner either fill it out together or try filling it out separately by printing off two copies so you can each rate what is important to you. Then come together and talk through any differences you have to come to a consensus.

Or if you prefer, print a couple of blank copies here and create your own.

Related Posts:

Michael Murphy, Ottawa Realtor

Hi, I'm Michael

Thanks for stopping by! Here, we talk about everything real estate; buying, selling, investing and everything in between. Get the Inside Scoop by joining below, or follow along on your favourite platform for the most up-to-date information on real estate.

The real estate information YOU want, delivered straight to your inbox every month.

Most Popular: