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How to find suitable homes you can afford

When you make the decision to buy a home, it's as if blinders are lifting. As you drive to work, or the store or the gym, you notice all the realtor and FSBO ("For Sale by Owner") signs that are all over town.

The prices, the options, the floor plans and everything else can make you dizzy, so refine your wants and needs and what you can live without before you actually start looking. And this is NOT Valentine's Day, so don't fall in love with a particular house.

Be especially careful if you are working with a realtor, as they have a tendency to "up-sell" you into a house that you may love but can't really afford. There's nothing for them to lose by this endeavor, because the higher the house price, the more they make in commissions.

Just remember: You will be the one paying the mortgage and the associated bills.

What do you really want in a home?

When house-shopping, must-haves are all well and good, but don't get too picky. While it is fine to reject the house with the orange shag carpeting, you can't expect everything to be exactly the way you want it. Make a list of what you are looking for and consider these issues as you work on it:

  • Number of bedrooms

  • Number and type of bathrooms

  • Size of yard

  • Style

  • Overall floor plan

  • Garage

  • Finished or unfinished basement

  • Porch

  • Closet space

  • Laundry area

  • Size and style of kitchen

  • Special features such as fireplaces, wood floors, vaulted ceilings, etc.

Location, location, location

Don't neglect the type of neighborhood you're looking for — if you've got small kids and end up in a subdivision with older folks, your kids will be bored and your neighbors less than tolerant of their youthful antics. Think about how long a commute you are willing to put up with and how convenient grocery stores, schools, gyms, parks, etc., are to the home.

Be as specific as you can with your preferences

If you're working with a realtor, you're paying him or her to find you suitable homes. So the more specific you are in articulating your wants, needs, and overall lifestyle, the better the job the realtor can do in matching your personality to the appropriate house.

If you are on your own, the Internet is a great place to start looking, as is the local paper's weekend real estate section, and any for-sale homes you notice in neighborhoods that you like.

Dive Deeper: Buying your first home: What you need to know

This content was created in partnership with the Financial Fitness Group, a leading e-learning provider of FINRA compliant financial wellness solutions that help improve financial literacy.

Read more information and tips our Buying/Selling a home section

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