It was an “L.A. miracle” when Chelsea Schreiber and her husband bought their small, yet suitable, home in Hermosa Beach, Calif., last September thanks to realtor tips and timing.
“It’s the first house we saw and the first house we bid on,” she said. “(Our realtor) is fierce, and wonderful, and incredibly smart about buying.”
Other homebuyers seem to be holding out for a huge home. In fact, nationwide the percent of new homes constructed with fewer than 1400 square feet – the size of Schreiber’s home – was cut in half over the last 15 years while the percent with more than 4,000 square feet doubled in the same time frame, according to U.S. Census data.
But space is relative, said veteran realtor David Rosen, and defining “dream home” isn’t necessarily always about square footage for all buyers. Often it can be in the amenities and layout. So, don’t discount the smaller, quainter homes just yet!
“There are lot of people under 40 who look at size in a different way,” he said. “And size doesn’t always equate to preferable. Things like school districts and hip neighborhoods, those can really influence a decision.”
If you’re looking to buy an affordable home with the bare necessities, keep reading for expert realtor tips to determine what size property will work for you and your budget.
Make a List of 5 Amenities You Want in Your New Home
There’s no magic equation for the square footage a buyer may need. Get a ballpark size by first itemizing the amenities on your wish list; factor in your budget and check in with your realtor (and other resources) to better understand the prices where you’re looking. That way you’ll be ready to balance how many square feet you’d like and what you can afford before you start hunting.
“No matter what price point you’re at, you’re going to have to make some compromises,” said Rosen.
So having a wish list will quickly help you determine what those are and prepare you to place a bid on the perfect home before it’s too late.
“It could be things like what side of the street the house is on, the proximity to the freeway, neighborhood quality, condition of the property. All are important, but people start to whittle out the things that become less important.”
Schreiber, her husband, their two cats and a dog named Morrison, wanted to stay in the same neighborhood. They found their new home only three blocks away from their last apartment. They may have sacrificed space but found they preferred the close quarters. It means they pay less for utilities and property taxes, and they spend less time cleaning!
“I do not want anything bigger,” she said. “I grew up in a gigantic house and it wasn’t homey. I would hate something bigger.”
Keep Your Future Goals and Budget in Mind When House Hunting
Whether you want kids or to start a home business, knowing your plans for the future will help you decide how much space you will need, or how much money you can save by downsizing, said Rosen.
“Don’t overbuy,” he said. “Don’t be forced to leave a property because you miscalculated your budget or were overly optimistic.”
Schreiber and her husband got an affordable deal on their three bedroom, two bath house because the second story of their home needs to be remodeled to pass a city inspection. It was a compromise, along with a few others, they were happy to make in exchange for a large yard with an affordable price tag in a Southern California beach community.
“I wish the third bedroom was bigger,” she said. “It’s very cramped for sure, and I wish the bathrooms were set up differently. But, to us, it’s the outdoor space that matters, because it extends our living space. Our last apartment, we didn’t have any outdoor space, and we went insane.”
Buying a home in need of repairs is just one way of finding more space with a smaller price tag.
“Many people will decide to fix up a home and make the changes when they get settled to afford the space,” said Rosen. “But when making compromises, don’t forget that things like freeway noise and cell towers can’t be changed.”
Don’t Compromise on What’s Most Important to You
You want to love where you live, so don’t make too many concessions just to buy a house.
“Buyers are frequently rejected in this market. They can get beaten up in the process and sometimes can lose sight of their major goals,” said Rosen. “It’s an emotional buy, because there’s a need there, and people can get lost in the process.”
Instead of competing with multiple people for hot properties, the one’s where you may get excited and compromise too much, look for homes that have been on the market for more than 60 days, said Rosen.
“Properties can go cold and old,” said Rosen. “Go after properties where buyers are waiting for someone to come along and force a price reduction.”
Those houses aren’t necessarily bad houses, Rosen added. Initial bidders may have just moved on to newer properties, leaving others behind.
This way, you’re more likely to come out with the space you want, with the more of the comforts you need and no buyer’s remorse.
“Stay as true as you can to the amenities that are important to you, so you like where you are living,” Rosen said.
Photos by Chelsea Schreiber