Your Guide to Moving and Buying a Home: Part 1

My wife and I are strongly considering moving out of our current detached, single-family home in the Washington D.C. Metro Area. We purchased this home in November of 2020, so we haven’t been here for very long. I move my home base relatively frequently – since graduating from university in 2015, my “permanent” address has changed six times. On average, that’s one big move every 1.1 years!

I am very grateful: Each time I’ve moved, my living situation has improved for various reasons, and I have learned immensely from each unique moving process. I’d like to share with all of you what I’ve learned about moving, generally. I’d also like to share with you some techniques and tools I’ve gained over the years which have helped me make the best decision about where to live. Lastly, I’d like to share my knowledge specific to buying a first home.

In this multi-part guide, I will share the knowledge above in addition to answering the following questions:

  • How do I decide where to live, generally? Which areas of the world should I consider?
  • How do I decide where to live, specifically? How do I find out which specific homes or apartments are available to me?
  • How do I get a home loan?
  • I’ve decided on a new home! What’s the best way for me to get all of my stuff there?

This guide will include exercises that I highly encourage you to complete; your unique exercise results are the most important part of this guide. You may find these exercises difficult, mentally taxing, and time-consuming. Stick with them – I guarantee that they will help you in some way. It’s all part of the process.

In addition to helping you, lovely reader, my goal with writing this post is to help organize my own thoughts about moving. That way, I’ll also be able to make a better decision about my next permanent address.

The decisions involved with moving and the moving process can feel challenging and overwhelming at times. That’s okay! By breaking down the process into smaller, easier-to-accomplish tasks, you will soon find yourself sitting comfortably in your new home. Let’s do this!

Before We Begin

This Google Sheet is a template sheet you can use to complete the exercises below. The template contains all of the special formatting and conditional formatting rules used to optimize the appearance of your data.

I encourage each individual involved with the relocating process to make a copy of this template Google Sheet and use that copy to complete the exercises.

If there are two people involved with the moving process – a couple, for example – each individual should have their own copy of the sheet.

Deciding Where to Live – Generally

The world is a massive place. There are virtually unlimited places around the globe where you could live, thrive, and be happy. This can be both encouraging and overwhelming! We have to figure out a way to narrow down this possibility space from “virtually unlimited places” to “a small handful of places.”

Exercise 01: Needs and Wants

Our first step in reducing the possibility space is to come up with a list of things you need and want out of your living situation, such as “I need my monthly mortgage/rent to be less than $2,000/month,” “I need my living space to be dog-friendly so I can bring Pipsqueak with me,” “I want to be walking distance from a grocery store,” or “I want to live in a city.”

Don’t worry about thinking of everything while you fill out this list – this list will grow and change over time, and we’ll come back to it.

Even if you have already decided where you want to live generally, do this exercise anyway! The results of this exercise will come into play later.

To complete this exercise:

  1. Open up the “01: Needs and Wants” spreadsheet in a browser tab.
  2. In the “Needs” column, make a list of all of the qualities that your next living situation must have, without compromise.
    • These do not have to be in any particular order.
    • Remember – you can change your mind later!
  3. In the “Wants” column, make a list of all of the qualities that you’d like your next living situation to have, but aren’t requirements.
    • These do not have to be in any particular order, but ordering your Wants may come in handy later.

Here are some examples of questions you can answer for yourself to help inform this list of wants and needs:

🏡 General

  • What is the maximum amount of money that I am willing to spend on just rent or just a mortgage payment?
    • One common rule-of-thumb you might employ is to spend between 20% (very comfortable) and 40% (stretching) of your gross monthly income on housing.
      • If you are salaried, divide your yearly salary by 12, then multiply the result by a number between 0.2 and 0.4.
  • Do I want to rent or buy my next home?
    • I could write a whole blog post about answering this question. Leave me a comment below if that interests you!
  • If buying, how big of a down payment am I able to make?
  • Am I comfortable sharing any walls with strangers, or do I need to live in a detached home?
  • How sensitive am I to noise? Do I need my sleeping area to be quiet enough such that I don’t need a noise machine or earplugs?
  • Does my new living space need to be pet-friendly?
  • How long do I want to live in my next home?
  • Do I want roommates?
  • If I decide to have children, do I want this next home to be suitable for them?

🛏️ Bedroom

  • How many bedrooms does my home need to have?
  • What size bed does the main bedroom need to fit?
  • What type of closet space does the main bedroom need to have?
  • Do I need any dedicated guest bedrooms?

🪞 Health & Beauty

  • How many bathrooms does my home need to have?
  • Do I need a full-size tub, or would I be comfortable with just a shower?

🔪 Kitchen and Dining

  • What features does my kitchen need to have?
  • How many people do I want to be able to cook for and feed comfortably?
  • How far away from my favorite kind of takeout food do I want to live?

🏃 Lifestyle

  • What hobbies do I have that have specific space requirements? What are those requirements?
  • How close to a gym does my home need to be? Do I need or want a home gym?
  • How far away from existing family and friends do I need to be?
  • What kind of community do I want to have or build in my new living space?
    • This question is extremely important. I could write a whole post about this one…

🚄 Travel and Transportation

  • What everyday transportation infrastructure do I want to be accessible to me? (i.e. subway, commuter rail, car, bike lanes)
  • How close to a major airport do I need to be?
  • Am I comfortable driving a car to run errands?

🚰 Utilities

  • How fast does my Internet download speed need to be? What about upload speed? Would spotty Internet service be acceptable to me?
  • Do I need a laundry washer and dryer in my unit? In my building?
  • What heating and cooling systems am I comfortable living with? Do I need central heating and cooling?

🏢 Work

  • If I can’t work from home, how close to work do I need to be? How will I get to work?
  • What sort of space requirements do I have or amenities do I need for times where I work from home?

Exercise 02: Identifying Geographical Areas

Now that you’ve come up with a preliminary list of what you need and want out of your next living space, let’s identify some geographical areas on Earth which can meet all of your criteria.

This exercise can be challenging, because you may still feel like the number of areas which meet all of your criteria is very high. That’s okay. The geographical areas you identify during this exercise are not set in stone.

To complete this exercise:

  1. For reference, open up the spreadsheet containing your list of preliminary needs and wants in a browser tab.
  2. Open up the “02: Geographical Areas” spreadsheet in another browser tab.
    • Did you know? You can middle-click on the refresh button in your browser to open the current page in a new tab.
  3. Open up Google Maps in another browser tab.
  4. In Google Maps, zoom out all the way.
  5. With a mind toward “deciding where you want to live,” spin the globe and notice where you are inclined to stop. Did you find your mouse cursor hovering over familiar areas?
  6. As you spin the globe, make a list of all of the areas that appeal to you in the first column of your “02: Geographical Areas” spreadsheet.
    • These “areas” can be as general or specific as you want. More specific answers tend to be more helpful later.
    • Examples: “Washington D.C. Metro Area,” “Brooklyn, NYC,” “Tokyo”
  7. Supplement your list in Column A with answers to “Why Here?” in Column B and general comments in Column C.
    • “I don’t have a good reason why this place appeals to me” is a perfectly valid reason.

After you have finished the above steps, you’ll need to do some research. For each unique place you’ve written down in this spreadsheet, you need to figure out if that area can actually support all of the needs and wants that you identified in Exercise 01.

Some search queries which may help you answer that question are:

  • “Average rent in <area>” or “Average home value in <area>”
  • “<area> census”
  • “<area> wikipedia”
  • “arcades <area>”
  • “movie theaters <area>”
  • “coffee shops <area>”

As you do your research, feel free to add or remove areas from your spreadsheet as you see fit. And remember – whatever you decide to keep on this list in this moment is not set in stone. The output of this exercise will serve as input to the next exercise.

And if, after all of that, you ended up with only one area on your list: I’m jealous. How did you do that? 😅

Deciding Where to Live – Specifically

Exercise 03: Giant List of Current Home Qualities

In this exercise, we’re going to create an exhaustive list of qualities that your current living situation offers. We’ll assign scores to each of those data points, sort that data, then use the sorted list to make better decisions about specific prospective homes. To complete this exercise:

  1. Open up the “03: Current Home Qualities” spreadsheet in a browser tab.
  2. In Column A, write down any quality about your current living situation.
    • Example: The area is very quiet.
  3. In Column B, assign a “sentiment score” to that quality, from -2 (very negative) to 2 (very positive).
    • “Quiet area” example: I’d give that a “2”.
  4. In Column C, assign an “impact frequency” score to that quality, from 5 (daily) to 1 (monthly or less).
    • “Quiet area” example: I’d give that a “5”.
  5. Column D will automatically populate with an “Impact Score,” which is the “sentiment score” multiplied by the “impact frequency”.
    1. “Quiet area” example: The “Impact Score” would be “10”.
  6. Continue to fill out Column A through Column C with as much about your current living situation as you can.
  7. Select Column D (“Impact Score”), then click Data -> Sort Sheet -> Sort Sheet by Column D (A to Z).

Once you have completed this exercise, you will have a list of qualities intrinsic to your current living situation, sorted by “impact score.”

  • The qualities with the highest impact score are qualities you’ll want to actively seek out when searching for your next home.
  • The qualities with the lowest (most negative) impact score are qualities you will want to actively avoid when searching for your next home.

Compare your results from this exercise to your results of “Exercise 01: Needs and Wants”. Are there any needs or wants from that exercise that you need to add, subtract, or modify?

⚠️ Stop: Compare Exercise Results! ⚠️

After the above Exercise, it’s time to compare your results to those of your moving partner(s) – if that’s applicable to you!

Set aside at least an hour to discuss the contents of your three spreadsheets with your moving partner(s). During your discussion, you may find it helpful to answer the following questions together:

  • Were there any needs/wants on your “01: Wants and Needs” sheets that feel incompatible?
  • Did you identify any areas of overlap on your “02: Geographical Areas” sheets?
  • Are there areas of the world that one of you considered for moving that others did not?
  • Are there any “Current Home Qualities” that someone else thought of that you missed?
  • What surprised you the most to find on someone else’s spreadsheets?

Exercise 04: House/Apartment Hunting!

Finally, an exercise dedicated to finding individual home or apartment listings. Yay! 🎉

In the modern real estate market, there is so much home-seeking data available to us from the comfort of our computers or phones. Sites like Redfin, Zillow, Trulia, Craigslist, StreetEasy, HowLoud, and WalkScore are all invaluable tools which we can use to make informed decisions about our next home.

During this exercise, we’ll make use of some of those tools to fill out another spreadsheet – which may help you exactly pinpoint your next house or apartment. Let’s get started!

  1. Open up the “04: Home Prospects” spreadsheet in a browser tab.
  2. Note the following about various aspects of this sheet:
    • Feel free to add or remove columns as you deem fit.
    • This sheet makes heavy use of conditional formatting to best visualize your data.
    • If a given place is a rental, use “–” for “Asking Price” and “HOA Dues”.
    • “Total Monthly Cost” for a given address is:
      • If renting: The amount a property owner will charge you for rent per month.
      • If buying: The monthly loan payment, plus HOA dues, plus taxes, plus homeowners’ insurance.
    • “Neighborhood Vibe”: A Tweet-length description of how you felt about the neighborhood when visiting that property.
    • Obtain Sound Score data from https://howloud.com.
    • Obtain Walk, Transit, and Bike Score data from https://walkscore.com.
    • Obtain Travel Time data from https://google.com/maps.
    • Give each property a “desirability” score in the second-to-last column. Use data in this column to figure out how excited you are about a given property relative to other choices!
    • Use the “Ranking” column late in the search process to choose your top few properties.
  3. In the first 1-3 rows of the sheet, fill in the data associated with your most recent 1-3 permanent addresses. You will use this data for comparison purposes later.
  4. Begin your home search using any one of the following tools (or one not listed):
  5. As you search, make use of the filtering features built into these tools to narrow down your search based on your Needs/Wants list and your Home Qualities list.
  6. When you find a home that meets your criteria, populate a new row in the “04: Home Prospects” sheet using data associated with that home.
    • You may not be able to fill in all of the columns until you’ve visited a given location. That’s okay!

This exercise is hard and time-consuming. Don’t expect to finish this one quickly. The goal of this exercise is to provide you with one place that you can use to compare properties quickly and directly – which will get you closer to a final decision.

What’s Next?

Once you have completed all of the above exercises, you will be in an extremely informed position. You’ll have some idea of where you want to live, what’s important to you about your living space, and what compromises you may be able to make when searching for your next home.

Now, it’s time to get out there and tour some homes! If you’re using a tool like Redfin, you can often make an appointment to tour a home directly from the tool’s website. Other times, you may have to coordinate via email or phone to tour a home.

Use the spreadsheets from the above Exercises as you tour, ask more questions than you initially think appropriate, take plenty of notes (either within or outside the “04: Home Prospects” spreadsheet), and take tons of pictures.

In my experience – especially in hot real estate markets – the buying and moving process quickly follows the touring process. Before you tour homes, ask yourself: Am I ready to move now if I find a place that works for me? Or, am I touring homes to get more information?

Should I Use a Buyer’s Agent when Purchasing a Home?

Short answer: Probably, yes.

But – wait to find one until you’ve done some of your own research!

There are significant pros to using a Buyer’s Agent, including:

  • A good buyer’s agent knows the area and can tell you things like:
    • “People with families are likely to live in this neighborhood.”
    • “The schools in this district are very good.”
    • “This property is on a road which leads to a garbage dump, which means loud trucks frequently pass by.”
  • An agent can alert you to any red flags about a particular property.
  • The agent will probably have home recommendations for you that you didn’t find in your own searching.
    • Additionally, well-informed agents may learn about certain properties before they go on the market.
  • An agent can help answer specific questions you have about the purchasing process.
  • Your agent will help you make informed decisions during closing.

In most cases, the sellers will pay the buyer’s agent’s fee. However, this fee is usually already factored in to the purchase price of the home. This means you’re paying at least some of the buyer’s agent’s fee. While there’s no guarantee that you could negotiate a lower home purchase price if you didn’t use a buyer’s agent, that possibility does exist.

End of Guide Part 1

Whew! You made it! That was a lot of work! I’m proud of you. ☺️

I hope you learned something by reading this Guide and working on the exercises within.

In Part 2 of “Your Guide to Moving and Buying a Home,” I’d like to write about the home loan process and the process of physically Moving Your Things.

Is there anything else that you’d like to learn in this multi-part Guide? Please leave me a comment below.

Best of luck to you – you got this.

2 Comments on “Your Guide to Moving and Buying a Home: Part 1

  1. As someone with a potential move always around the corner, I appreciate all of these steps written out for me the next time I’m taking the plunge!

Have a comment?