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Needs vs Wants vs Must-Haves Home Buyers Checklist

A millenial couple with an agent to consult about homebuying and make their house checklist

Struggling to find the perfect home within your budget? It’s perfectly normal to have difficulties finding the right home. When purchasing a home, you’ll need to create a home buying needs vs. wants checklist to distinguish between what is necessary and what isn’t.

For example, everyone needs a roof over their head, an air conditioner and heater unit, and running water. But homeowners won’t need lavish amenities such as a pool, white picket fence, four bedrooms, and tile floors. There are actually many ways to decorate your home on a budget.

Keep in mind that a needs vs. wants checklist is only one aspect of the entire home buying plan. Many other steps are required, such as understanding the home buying timeline, finding a good real estate agent, and choosing a mortgage.

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Here’s why differentiating wants and needs is important: 

  • Prevent emotional buying
  • Eliminate homes that are a bad fit
  • Find the best house that fits your needs
  • Make appropriate compromises
  • Act swiftly when the right house comes along
  • Make the job easier for the buyer real estate agent

Difference between a “need” vs. “want” vs. “must-have” when buying a house

Although very similar, each of these checklist items are distinctively different. For example, everyone needs a roof over their head, an air conditioner and heater unit, and running water. But many homeowners won’t need, or even want, lavish amenities such as a pool, white picket fence, four bedrooms, or renovated bathrooms. Let’s do a quick review to understand how each is different and how it affects your home buying journey.

What is a home buying must-have

These are items you cannot live without under any circumstance. Of course, obvious items like decent plumbing, electricity, and heating / air-conditioning fall into this group. But get more creative and also include concerns like safety and accessibility. These items are non-negotiable and should easily be checked off your list early in the process. Having a safer and more secure home is definitely a must-have.

What is a home buying need

The “need” items on your checklist are more forgiving than the “must-have” items, albeit only slightly less. These are items that you need to have, like location, parking, schooling, etc. We go into more details below but suffice it to say, these items fall high on your priority list when shopping for a home.

What is a home buying want

Lastly, there is the “want” category in your checklist. You should have flexibility around these items. You want them, or really want them, but you are willing to compromise if the property doesn’t have exactly what you want. For example, you would really love high ceilings and exposed brick… but you are happy to forego these two requirements because the house has literally everything else you are looking for. There are many ways to breakdown your wants into smaller categories but keep reading below to learn more about this group in your home buying checklist.

Questions to ask yourself before buying a home

If a home doesn’t meet a specific need, is remodeling possible? If there isn’t a garage, is there any possibility of building one? Always ensure that building codes are being complied with before making any remodeling plans. Every homebuyer should review the costs it would take to complete the necessary remodeling. 

Are expectations realistic? Many first-time homebuyers look to find everything they want in one house. It’s often very unrealistic. When buying a home, it’s all about tradeoffs and compromises. It’s best to begin visiting open houses to better understand the types of homes available for a particular price range. 

How long does a homebuyer plan to live in their new home? According to the National Association of Realtors, the average homeownership is about 13 years. However, every homebuyer has a different goal. Some people may want to live in a home for a few years before trading up to something with more rooms. Consider your long-term goals before buying. 

What are some likes and dislikes about the current living situation? There are things that every person loves and hates about their current living situation. For example, common issues might be lack of a modern kitchen or not enough bedrooms. On the positive, there are aspects homeowners may like about their existing situation, such as their location, windows, or closet storage. Figuring these details is crucial to creating a home buying checklist. 

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Needs & must-haves in a home 

Ultimately, “needs” and “must-haves” are things that every homebuyer needs when deciding on their new home. If a home doesn’t meet these needs, it’s automatically a bad fit. 


Consider the commute times of the job location. This can save people hours of driving back and forth. Each home buyer will have different priorities when it comes to location. Some may prefer a further distance from work but closer to their child’s school district, where the neighborhood is much safer. Evaluate what locations are livable and which ones aren’t.  


Always consider the space needed in a new home. There are also many types of homes to choose from, such as single-family homes, townhouses, condos, and duplexes. Depending on how long a person plans to live in their new home, they’ll need to think about their future family’s size. Consider the number of bathrooms, bedrooms, storage rooms, and yard space needed. 


Always have a budget ready before shopping for houses. A home must fall within the price range of a home buyer; otherwise, it’s a waste of time to even look at it. The budget should be a home buyer’s first deal-breaker. Every home buyer should evaluate how much they qualify for a home mortgage from a lender. This usually comes down to their annual household income, credit score, and total down payment they’re willing to put down. 

Wants in a home

Wants are things that a home buyer would love to have, but it won’t deter them from purchasing if the home matches their needs


Some homeowners tend to confuse the amenities that they need versus the ones they want. For example, the type of HVAC system, garage, and home office space could be in the needs category. Wants may include a hot tube, landscaping, and pool. 

At first glance, some of these amenities may seem like a need, but often there are many ways to work around them. 


As a home buyer, never pass up on a home solely on aesthetics. The looks of a home can be easily changed and updated. For example, here are parts of the home that homeowners typically change after purchasing their home: 

  • Carpet
  • Paint color 
  • Fireplace 
  • Hardwood floors 
  • Open floor plan
  • Style of appliances 
  • Fixing bathroom or kitchen 
  • Built-in garage space 

Home buying checklist

Here’s a comprehensive home buying needs vs. wants checklist to help any home buyer find the right house.

Type of Home

Single family detached
Multifamily with rental units 
Single story or no stairs
Co-op apartment


Public Transportation
Restaurants and Shops
Recreation, playgrounds, parks
Quiet street
Walking neighborhood 





Room Features

Formal living room
Eat-in kitchen
Walk-in closets
Home Office 
Finished Basement
Open plan
Formal dining room
Laundry room
Screened Porch
Master suite with bath 


Bamboo or cork
Manufactured wood 
Wall-to-wall carpet


New appliances
New or remodeled cabinetry
Breakfast bar
Stone countertops 


Low Maintenance 


Off-street or Driveway

Outdoor Space 

Fenced yard
Automatic sprinklers
Covered porch
Gardens, landscaping or trees 

Energy Efficiency 

Programmable thermostats 
Dual or triple pane windows 
Solar panels 
Solar ready
Air sealing and insulation 
Energy star appliances 
Heat-pump water heater
Low-flow toilets 
Tankless water heater 

Heating and Cooling 

Radiant heat
Central air
Propane or natural gas
Pellet stove or wood
Fireplace with insert

Other Design Features 

Walk-in tub or shower
Accessible kitchen 
Extra-wide doorways
Grab bars

Final Thoughts

Remember that every home buyer won’t get everything they want. Managing the expectations and creating a needs vs. wants checklist will ensure a more productive home shopping experience.

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Disclaimer: The above is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered tax, savings, financial, or legal advice. All information shown here is for illustrative purpose only and the author is not making a recommendation of any particular product over another. All views and opinions expressed in this post belong to the author.

Scott Teesdale

Written By Scott Teesdale

I use data and technology to help Millennials navigate the ins-and-outs of buying or selling a home in today's market. From appraisals to mortgages to zoning, I cover it all with the goal to teach others. Connect with me on social via the icons above.