Buying a House: Needs vs Wants

When searching for a new home, it’s difficult to weigh what’s essential against what you really, really want. You may feel like certain things are non-negotiable in your new house, but in reality you could live without them, given a lower price or location trade-off.

For example, let’s say you want a garage. You love cars and it’s a lot of extra storage room. Do you need the garage or just want it?

Weigh the necessity of the garage by asking yourself questions like this: Is it needed for your career? How often would you realistically spend in the garage? Do you need to shelter your car in the garage or do you just like doing that?

Really, the only people who need a garage are ones who repair cars or work on cars as a hobby, and need an indoor space to do either. If you just enjoy having an extra space for your car, is a garage still worth it if it comes with a significant price tag?

It boils down to a price trade-off. How substantial must the savings be for you to remove something from your “needs” list?

Each additional home feature—from an extra bedroom to a view of the lake—comes with an extra cost. Speak with your agent to determine what those costs are for the area you’re looking in, as they vary by region and neighbourhood.

Here are the common elements of a home, showing the needs and wants of each.

Enclosed, big backyard

Needs Wants
You have a large dog who needs to be let out into the backyard often. You want to do some landscaping and build a vegetable garden.

(Solution: Build a window-ledge or balcony-size garden, and put greenery around your indoor space.)
You have five children and need a lot of space where they can run around and play sports. You want an outdoor area to sit and unwind.

(Solution: Balcony or small backyards can be placeholders for this too.)

Rapid transit nearby

Needs Wants
You have a long commute every day and have no access to a vehicle. You enjoy taking the subway to the mall on occasion.

(Solution: Take an Uber.)
You take transit to work but your office is central, so you could take the bus or streetcar.

Private driveway parking

Needs Wants
Your family has three vehicles at all times and street parking won’t accommodate them all. You like to have your car in off the street because you’re worried about parking on the street.

(Solution: Get advanced security for your vehicle.)

A portion of the home you can rent out

Needs Wants
You can’t afford all expenses without a tenant. You want the extra income to go on an elaborate trip every year.

(Solution: Increase your income or scale back the trip.)

Two-bedroom condo for one couple with no children

Needs Wants
You plan to have a child in the near future. You like having a separate home office.

(Solution: Buy a 1-bedroom condo with an alcove/den, or access to a great condo library during the day.)

It’s okay to have very strong wants and stick to them. That said, if you’re not flexible on some of your needs, you may not be able to afford a home. Determine what you can live without and what needs to be part of your future home. Unless you have an unlimited budget, it all comes down to trade-offs.

Let your agent know at your first meeting what your priorities are, and rank some of the serious wants. You may find exactly what you’re looking for, but be willing to compromise for a home that is almost perfect.