In 1750, Samuel Johnson wrote that “to be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition.” And there’s truth to this; for most Americans, our homes are our launch pads for being and doing our best in the world, and the places where we live out our most precious, private moments. So, if you follow our most important dreams to their logical conclusions, they almost all boil down to having a happy home, where we and our families can thrive and enjoy happy, secure lives.
Fortunately, dreams do come true – and dream homes can become reality. Here is a short list of musts for developing the vision, strategy, commitment and effort it will take to make your dream home your actual home.
1. Know what a dream home is and is not. Like anything else in life, you can’t realize your dream home if you don’t know what it is – and isn’t, definitionally. For purposes of this conversation, our definition of a dream home is closely related to our aspirations and our visions in a couple of key ways. Aspirationally, dream homes take some work and effort to achieve – they aren’t usually handed to us on a silver platter.
And our dream homes are related to our holistic visions for our lives, as well. By that I just mean that our dreams of home are less about owning a particular building, and more about creating a vision for our whole life as it will be impacted by our choice of home. We want a home that will allow our children to flourish, that is safely located, that allows us to personalize it and either does or doesn’t require much work, depending on our personal preferences. By the same token, our dream home is also one that doesn’t create problems for our lives or prevent us from doing the things we want and need to do.
If a given home is beautiful, but owning it requires us to work overtime at a job we hate, causes relationship problems, or simply requires too much repair or work for the time and resources we have, then that home is – by definition – not our dream home.
Here are some other concepts of home that are often confused for dream homes, but don’ fit the bill. Your dream home should not be defined by:
- the over-the-top fantasy mansion you saw on TV (if it’s bizarrely unattainable, in other words, it’s a fantasy home – not a dream home)
- some antiquated notion of the biggest, flashiest home with the most amenities
- the most expensive home you can afford
- your mother’s, sister’s or best friend’s dream home.
Understanding what makes for a dream home – and what doesn’t – can help you avoid the common pitfalls of being upset when your dollar doesn’t stretch to get you a home like the one you saw on Million Dollar Listing, overextending yourself, or assuming that the types of homes your friends and relatives think are ideal for you are the same as your dream home. While they might overlap, they don’t always – and trying to fulfill someone else’s idea of what your dream home should be is the fastest way to create a nightmare home buying experience.
2. Get and stay clear on your personal vision. There are various tools you can use to create a clear vision of your dream home, to avoid the above pitfalls. The most important of these is to sit in a still and quiet place and literally start writing down what you want your life to look like after you’re in the home of your dreams.
Don’t start with the technical characteristics of the building: you’ll get there soon enough, and the reality is that your co-buyer’s wants and needs, your budgetary limitations and the inventory available on your local market at the time will all impact the granular details of the property you end up with.
Instead, start with big picture life objectives, like who lives with you; what activities everyone does in the home that may require dedicated nooks, crannies, whole rooms or outbuildings; where and how much you work (at home? 3 towns away? around the clock?); how you get there and home every day; and what you do in your down time – be it hiking, home fixing, entertaining or strolling to the corner cafe.
3. “Be stubborn on the vision and flexible on the details.” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos delivered this one-liner in explaining his philosophy of creative problem-solving. And it applies just as powerfully to the creativity that is essential when hunting for your dream home. Compromise is unavoidable. Whether you’re spending $25,000 or $2.5 million on your next home, you will be required to compromise in order to reconcile your dream with your financials, the dreams of any co-buyers you have and realities of the real estate market, the inventory of available homes and geographic and other realities.
You may want a water view, but your wife wants to walk to the shops – and no home exists with both of those things. Or maybe you want to keep your payment below $2,500 per month, but you also want to buy a move-in ready home in The Best School District Ever. And all of those things are simply not possible with the down payment money you have in hand.
Bottom line: you’ll need to be somewhat flexible on the precise specs of the home you end up in as your ‘dream’ home – and the only way to do this is to ensure that you know what your whole-life vision is. Once you have your vision of life/home document ready, then you can get granular about the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and square feet you need, as well as location specifics, brushing your absolute must-haves and absolute deal-breakers in the most minimalistic of strokes.
Adopting this Amazon-style ‘flexibility on the details’ empowers your experienced local agent/partner to suggest creative solutions for homes that will allow you to create the happy home life you’re trying to achieve, despite the circumstantial limitations.
In any event, hold onto your vision of life vis-a-vis your home journaling document for later. If you end up in contract on a home and have second thoughts, it’s a powerful document to revisit before you finalize the deal, to make sure the inevitable compromises haven’t completely wiped out all traces of the life you hoped to create in this dream home.
4. Communicate your dream vividly to those who need to know. A frequently expressed dilemma of wanna-be dream home buyers is that their agent is not showing them homes that fit the bill. In my experience, this issue often arises when buyers’ champagne tastes and beer budgets don’t align, and their agent is trying hard to show them the best they can afford, but it still disappoints.
To make sure that you are communicating your vision and dream to your agent with crystal clarity, consider doing some or all of the following:
- Send your agent the Trulia listings for homes that reflect features of your dream home – or the whole enchilada, if you can find it.
- Attend Open Houses and save flyers of homes months, even years, before you start house hunting in earnest, to share what you loved about them with your agent when the time is right.
- Ask your agent to show you at least one home that reflects what they *think* you want in your dream home – regardless of price. You might be stunned and astonished at what your dream home really costs, but the experience can help you manage your own mindset, and expectations, back into the realm of reality.
5. Mind your business. Dreams may seem fluffy and soft, but the dream of a home is one which requires you to click into hard-core numbers mode in order to make things happen. Don’t fall into the trap of fixating on images of wainscoting and tree-lined streets until your money matters have been fully handled. I’m often surprised at how many buyers believe their dream home is just out of their financial reach, but have so much fat that can still be cut from their monthly budgets: money they spend on things they would say are much lower than their home on their priority list.
Sit down and comb through your existing spending patterns with a fine-tooth comb and ask yourself whether your fantasy football habit is truly more or less important than getting closer to affording the home of your dreams. Talk with a financial planner and your mortgage broker about putting an action plan in place to eliminate bills that are impacting your ability to afford and/or qualify for your target type of home. Get clear, in your own household and spending plan, on what you can truly afford to spend on housing every month, versus looking to your mortgage broker to tell you what you can afford.
Making your dream home come true involves some heavy duty bookkeeping and an intense commitment to managing your finances in a way that lines up with your values.
6. Get uncomfortable. Being a grown-up is full of paradoxes, isn’t it? A few of my faves:
- Living an easy life takes a lot of hard work.
- With fashion and food, often less really is more.
- I get younger and younger with every day that passes. (Humor me, please.)
Here’s one more to keep in mind as you pursue your dream home: creating a comfortable home might require you to do some uncomfortable things. Writing – and sticking to – a spending plan, is one. Reading eye-glazing contracts and hundreds of pages of uber-boring HOA disclosures is another. Having frank conversations with your partner, negotiating, managing your emotions around affordability and the like – there are loads of uncomfortable moments that take place in and around the process of buying your home.
These discomforts are temporary. But avoiding these uncomfortable moments can get you into some long-term un-dreamy drama: surprise HOA special assessments, a decade of living in a home you (or your partner) truly despises and years of living paycheck-to-paycheck from having overextended yourself are a few that come to mind.
So, dive on into being uncomfortable for this short period of time, with the knowledge that doing so will set you up for long-term success in your dream home.
7. Know the difference between your vision for “this” dream home, and your long-term vision. The home you buy now might not be your forever home. It’s essential that you feel comfortable with the prospect of staying put for at least 5-7 years before you buy, in most areas. But don’t feel like this home must have every feature you’ll ever want to have in a home. Especially if you’re buying your first home, the reality is that you’ll likely move up several times in your future, as your career, earnings and savings grow over time.
Also, if your ‘dream’ home features list is particularly aggressive and/or your budget is particularly tight for your area, you might have to exercise serious visionary powers to visualize how you can develop the home you can currently afford into your dream home over time. Focus on location, expandability, and these other characteristics of a hidden gem of a home, and find someplace that is livable right now, but has the potential, with your hard work, to become the home of your dreams down the road.
Thanks for reading!