House Hunting: Find Your Just-Right Size Home

Learn the reasons to go bigger or smaller and how to decide how much space you’ll really need in your next home

By Laura Gaskill / Courtesy of Houzz.com

The size of your house can have a huge impact on your cost of living, comfort, ability to work from home and much more. If you are house hunting, or plan to house hunt in the near future, consider assessing your current living space first to better understand your needs. Here you’ll find the how-to, as well as things to mull over as you prepare for the hunt.

Assess your financial picture. The first step in house hunting should always be to figure out what you can comfortably afford. And remember, this figure may differ from the loan the banks say they will be able to offer you. To be sure you are taking on a mortgage that works for your family, take into account how much you would like to be saving for retirement and future goals, above and beyond your current living expenses.

Think about your needs now and in the future. Selling one house and buying another is not easy — consider your plans for the future, and you may be able to avoid needing to move again in a few years. Do you have (or hope to have) kids? Expect your parents or in-laws to move in with you at some point? Do you work from home, or might you at some point need a separate home office? Take your answers to these questions into account when you begin looking at homes.

Assess where you currently live. You may know the finished square footage of your current home, but most of us are less familiar with the sizes of all the individual rooms. So pull out a measuring tape and start measuring. Getting to know your current space will help you make better comparisons when viewing new potential homes.

Alongside the measurements of each room, note your impressions of the space and whether or not it meets your needs. Consider how each room feels to you — is it too big, too small, or just right? If it is a good size but awkwardly shaped or situated in a way that makes it difficult to arrange furniture, note that too. Also consider what storage you really need in each room. Measure your current storage space and note whether it is adequate.

Also measure the size of your front and back yards and other outdoor spaces. Also note how private (or not) your outdoor space is and how you feel about it. Would you prefer a home set farther back from the street, or do you wish you didn’t have that big expanse of lawn? If you have a porch or deck, measure those too and note what you like or don’t like about them.

Once you are done assessing your home indoors and out, you should have a much clearer picture of just how much space you need — and where you need it.

Reasons to go bigger:
 

  • More bedrooms for current or potential future children
  • Parents or in-laws are moving in
  • Working from home
  • Flexible, creative or hobby space
  • More storage space
  • Space to entertain large groups or host meetings
  • To avoid moving a few years later

Reasons to go smaller:
 

  • Lower purchase price
  • Lower cost to heat, cool, furnish and decorate
  • Less time to clean and maintain
  • Easier to “close up” the home and go traveling

Look at homes of all different sizes within your price range. Look back over your assessment of your current living space, paying special attention to how big you would like each room to be. When you visit open houses, look at a range of home sizes — the particular layout of a home and the size of the rooms can have a huge effect on how big itfeels. A home with fewer square feet but a lovely open plan can feel far more comfortable than a larger home with an awkward layout.

Outdoor space and closeness to neighbors can also have a big effect on how a home feels, so remember to carefully tour the outdoor areas as well.

Put “big” and “small” in perspective. In the midst of house hunting (particularly when things aren’t going well), it can be easy to get frustrated. When that happens I find it helps to remember that for many people in the world, an entire family fits in a home the size of one room in the typical American home. 

And then, of course, there is the tiny-house movement, which is gaining steam worldwide — compared with a 196-square-foot home, like the one shown here, just about any home seems enormous.

Tell us: How much home do you need? What other factors do you consider when deciding on a home size? What size is your current home, and are you comfortable in it (or not)? Please share your thoughts and stories in the Comments.