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The comforts of home

Shopping for a new home, your brain dictates "3-bedroom ranch" -- but your heart's falling for that old "Victorian fixer-upper." Consider what this article has to say about finding that home matches up with your "self," - your personality, lifestyles and goals - and how you match up with the demands of different homeowning situations.

Do you know what you want?

Two house hunters come into a Realtor's office and say, "We're looking for a three-bedroom ranch with two baths, no higher than $175,000."

After 14 showings during three weekends, with all properties meeting the criteria, the couple still haven't found anything they want to buy. What's going wrong here? If these house hunters could only be flies on the office wall (or have a strategically placed bug), they might hear their agent say, "They don't know what they want!" And truer words were never spoken.

One of the most common errors in home buying is defining housing needs by number of bedrooms and architectural style, without identifying or evaluating individual considerations of comfort. Comfort is the factor that separates home buying from ordinary real estate investment.

Assessing your needs

Should you take it seriously? Time tells. In the vast majority of cases, "how much we like this place" (how comfortable we are) is usually at least as important as "how much we paid" when home buyers talk about whether they got a good deal two or three years down the road.

Identifying your specific needs for comfort is the first step in getting the right house every time you buy. Comfort is kind of a chicken-or-egg problem: The type of home buyer you are will influence your specific needs for comfort, and your needs and resources will determine what type of home buyer you are.

What exactly is comfort?

Are we talking about bathrooms with 12-spigot Jacuzzi tubs? Bedrooms with skylights and three-inch-deep, wool-pile carpeting? Wraparound decks? Computerized kitchens? Fireplaces you could sleep in? A wet bar for the family room?

Not exactly. Those are luxuries, although they may indeed be part of your comfort profile. But comfort need not be expensive. It can, and should, be a factor in housing decisions within almost any price range, at any point in life and within any of the housing gateways described in Part I. What's comfortable, after all, is determined individually from a seemingly infinite number of choices.

Comfort is a feeling of ease and contentment derived from a person's response to his or her physical surroundings. You can feel comfortable because of tangible elements in a home, such as large rooms or extra-thick padding under the carpets. Or you can feel comfortable because of intangible elements, like excellent lighting and ventilation or a traffic pattern that keeps people and pets out of each other's way.

One of the most important factors in choosing a house you will love and consider valuable throughout your ownership is the awareness of what makes you -- and every person who will share the house with you -- comfortable. Just as some people like to sleep on rock-hard mattresses, while others like to sink in and snuggle, there is no right or wrong answer to the comfort-in-a-home question. Instead, the problem is one of identification. Most home buyers, indeed most people, know when they feel comfortable, but they don't always know or can't say why.

If you can identify what it is that makes you feel comfortable, you can evaluate any property against your particular needs and standards. Doing that evaluation will usually keep you from over-responding to charming decorating, carefully targeted marketing techniques or superheated marketplace pressure. You can focus on buying a house that suits your lifestyle.

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