How To Find Your House-hunting “Sweet Spot”

Posted on May 6 2013 - 8:29pm by Jessica Johnson

Hispanic couple outside new home

I recently went house-hunting and discovered that it is very difficult to resist the pull of appealing elements that ultimately don’t matter to me that much. Ooh, is that a cedar-lined closet? Did you say the coffee shop is only a two-minute walk? Quickly, I realized I needed a little mental discipline in my search.

Though we’d all love to be able to afford any house we want, the fact of the matter is most of us are priced out of a good chunk of our local markets. Sadly, we can’t all have the mansion on the hill, or even the three-bedroom in the nice neighborhood. Or maybe even anything more than a studio with a hotplate.

When looking for your next domicile—whether to buy or to rent—the trick to finding the best thing you can afford is feeling out a ‘sweet spot’ at which you can get the most value for the rent or mortgage you can afford.


The elements that raise the price of a house—the location, the size, the quality of the interior, the amenities, etc.—each have a large range. Before you start looking in earnest, think carefully about where you realistically can land on each of these scales. The idea is to find the lowest level on each scale at which you’ll be comfortable.

For example, you might absolutely need two bedrooms but care little for granite countertops or central air. On the other hand, you might be willing to squeeze into a small space if you can have a five-burner stove and crown molding. Which is a better fit for you—the junior one-bedroom with no bathtub but easy access to theaters and restaurants or the spacious one-bedroom with a Jacuzzi in the exurbs?

It’s surprising how many people embark on their house-hunting adventures without fully thinking through these questions. The best method of sorting out your thoughts is to make a list of essential elements such as your budget, your required amount of space, amenities you can’t live without, and necessary transportation considerations. But be realistic: these should be the things you absolutely need and can’t compromise on, not the things that you’d like to have.

Take this list—either mentally or on paper—with you as you shop around, so you can remind yourself what you’re actually looking for instead of getting distracted by the appealing bells and whistles the realtor is showing off.

Be brutal; if a place doesn’t fit your description, move on, even if you could totally see yourself there. You surely can see yourself lots of places, after all—including in the mansion on the hill—but the place you should end up is the place that hits your own personal sweet spot.

I found mine after a fairly short search. To get a price and a size that were just right, I had to compromise where I knew I could stand it, so the kitchen’s much smaller and shabbier than I’d like and the location is less convenient than ideal. But both those compromises are things I can live with, making the place a great spot for me to live in.

What are the things you absolutely have to have in a house or apartment? What do you refuse to compromise on? And what things can you let go?