Deciding on the bells and whistles
Julie Garton-Good, GRI, DREI

Q: Is there a checklist for prioritizing which amenities you want in a home?

A: Here's a rating system that you may find helpful in determining the features that are really important to you in your next home. By the time you complete the system, you'll know which items you absolutely must have (top priority) and which you'd like to have but could live without.

First, jot down the following six categories with various selections you'd consider: (1) type of home (townhouse, detached single family, condo); (2) architectural style and design (single level, tudor); (3) neighborhood features (close to shopping, preferred school districts, proximity to major highways); (4) interior features (number of baths and bedrooms, formal living room, island in kitchen); (5) exterior features (half-acre lot, storage areas, carport); and (6) other features you feel are important (like appliances included.)

The first time through the list, mark a "1" next to all of the items you'd like to have in a home. Consider this your ultimate wish list. The second time through the list, concentrating only on the items you checked before, add a "2" next to each item that you must have. Take some time here and choose only those items that you feel you can't live without. Each item that warranted a total score of "3" becomes a mandatory feature (based on your budget, of course.) The balance of the amenities are nice, but not necessary.

Your final step is to prioritize all the number 3s. Go back through the list and arrange each "3" in order of priority. This will help you focus on the houses that contain the majority of your top-rated features and you won't be as likely to be swayed by Italian tile or other nice, but not necessary, amenities.

Keep in mind that there are very few perfect homes that contain all the amenities you're after (especially if you're on a budget.) Ultimately, home selection is about tradeoffs.

Q: We're purchasing a new home and it appears that there's less "flash" and more square footage in homes than when we first purchased a new home in 1975. Is this a national trend?

A: What you're seeing is, in fact, a strong national trend. The median size of new houses nationwide today is 2,100 square feet, up nearly 500 square feet from 20 years ago, according to a 1995 survey by the National Association of Home Builders. More of today's homes are setting aside elegance for comfort and economy in amenities like fireplaces, two-car garages and central air conditioning. Sacrificing luxurious appointments helps keep down the cost of the additional square footage.