How to Decide What is Most Important to You in a Home

When meeting with new clients who are buying a home in San Francisco, one of the first things we do is talk priorities. Understanding what is most important to you is the first step towards helping you find a home you love.

I've had this conversation many, many times and I finally broke it into what I call 'The Core 9'. These are the factors that are going to basically determine what kind of home you will be able to look for. Each affects the final selling price and some much more than others. I envision these factors as a sliding scale of levers and always wish I could actually make this into a tool for people. Push the lever on location and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms slides one way. Push the lever on style and charm and the price might slide another. This is too complex to *really* make into a tool as so many of these factors are not actually objective but subjective.

Obviously, location is going to be the biggest determing factor in price. When meeting with new clients, the first thing we work on is beginning the conversation of prioritizing these things. The answers aren't always immediately apparent. It's frequently a combination of practicality (how can I minimize my commute?) and heart (there's something about Edwardians that makes me feel *home*).

The home buying process is about understanding your priorities, now and in the long term, so that you can choose a home that is right for you. While we look at homes together, we'll have this ongoing discussion to narrow down what feels like the right place for you.

1. Location


  • Commute

  • Walkability

  • Neighborhood

  • Weather

Location is the biggest factor that affects price for a home. If you know that you *must* be in a certain location, this will quickly determine a basic parameter of what we will be looking at. In San Francisco, a one bedroom condo in the Castro can be the same price as a house in the Bayview. One thing to discuss initially is what other neighborhoods might have some of the same characteristics as other places you love. I know SF neighborhoods inside and out and can frequently suggest areas that might be a good fit.

2. Size (this includes # of bedrooms)

Obviously size and bedroom count will affect the price of a home. When thinking of how much space you need. One thing to think about about is how you will use this space. For example, what is your 3rd (or 2nd) bedroom going to be used for? Obviously if you have a child the answer is clear. But if you're thinking about things like an office or a guest bedroom, consider how you will use this space. Does all of your computer work actually happen at the dining room table or do you need a dedicated office? Which suits your lifestyle better? Do you need a dedicated guest room or could an office double as this space?

3. Style and charm

This is obvious, yet also very subjective. Some people love the vintage charm of a Victorian while to others modern is the way to go. This factor tends to have the most 'emotional pull' for many buyers. The stylish and charming homes are the ones that for many people create the feeling that this is the home they must have (and therefore are also the most competitive). One thing I love to help buyers with is figuring out how to create this charm yourself. While it's not possible everywhere, this can be easier than you think. Having seen many homes in the 'before' phase, I know how much flooring, lighting, tile, countertops and paint can do to transform a space.

4. Condition

This includes everything from the shape the floors are in to how old the foundation is. How do you feel about projects? Does it sound exciting and interesting to remodel a bathroom or do you want something that is move in ready? One important factor if you are looking at homes that require work/renovation is timelines and practicality. If there is only one bathroom, will this be something you do before you move in? Is it practical for you to remodel a kitchen? If you are going to refinish floors or paint, let's get someone in there before you move in.

5. Housing type (house, condo, TIC)

In order of price, San Franciscco real estate goes in this order: House, Condo, TIC. A turnkey condo might sell for the same amount as a smaller house that needs a kitchen remodel. A 2 bedroom TIC might sell for what a 1 bedroom condo in a similar neighborhood would sell for.

6. Parking

Parking is one of those things...some people absolutely must have it and for some it's negotiable. Many people in SF don't even have cars and it's a non-issue. Interestingly, the city doesn't actually let large new construction buildings build a spot for every unit. The city is increasingly moving towards a more urban take with an emphasis on public transportation, biking, walking and ride sharing. Parking comes in: dedicated, none or leased options. If you are flexible on parking, this can be a really great way to get more for your money. In certain homes, not having parking tends to bring down the price more than others. For example, when we get into 'luxury' homes (a 3 bedroom condo in Mission Dolores) many people would not consider buying a place without parking (unless they don't have a car). In a 1 bedroom starter condo, this matters less as getting your foot in the door can feel worth the compromise.

7. View

View is one of those subjective factors that is worth varying amounts to different people. Some people don't care at all about a view and for some it is one of the most important things. It's also something that can't really be substituted for something else. It can drive up price by tens to many hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you are paying big money for a big view it worth thinking through if that view could be blocked, as views aren't protected in San Francisco.

8. Outdoor space

Another subjective area. A really good outdoor space in San Francisco is very valuable, though it also depends on the neighborhood. Outdoor space tends to be most valuable in some of the sunnier areas of SF as well as areas where lots of families tend to live. Roof decks or decks with views are extremely valuable. Some things to consider: What will you use the outdoor space for? Space for your chld to play? An area for your dog? A place to entertain friends? When buying a condo or TIC, do you need private outdoor space or does a shared yard work for you?

9. Price

Why is this listed as a variable? Because if certain things can't be compromised on, then price is the thing that has to change. Does that mean it can for everyone? Of course not. If it's fixed (as it is for many people) than other factors much change. But if it is an option, many people find themselves compromising on this if other priorities cannot be changed. Real estate in San Francisco is a solid long term investment and maximum budgets are frequently breached for a property that feels like the perfect home.

You don't need to have answers to these questions right away, but beginning to think about them is one of the first steps towards figuring out what is the right neighborhood and home for you. I'm available to help answer questions you have as we move through the process together.