The House Buying Criteria That Found Our Forever Home

Today I’m sharing an answer to a frequently asked question: how did we know the Peppermint House was our forever home? I’m sharing our list of house buying criteria, what we looked for in terms of location, layout, and the home’s structure, questions to ask before buying a house, and what led us to choosing this fixer upper.

How do you know a house has forever home potential?

When we decided to move across the country, we knew a different kind of house would help us thrive more as a family.

I believe you can make any house a home. But honestly, some homes make life easier.

Why is that? What specifically makes a house a place where you want to stay and spend time?

When we bought our first home, we were grateful for ANYTHING. Our 1349sqft Texas house worked for us, but it wasn’t an easy home to live in. The small size, funky layout, and poor location created hurdles for us to host people and enjoy our time at home.

But this time around, we had very specific (and maybe weird) criteria. The more boxes we could check off this list, the higher the likelihood we’d stay long-term.

Checking The Boxes of Our Forever Home

This was the list I wrote down at the beginning of our home buying search…

Location Criteria:

  • All four seasons
  • Close to mountains, hiking, open space
  • Zoned for a good public school
  • Close to city and things to do
  • Close to family
  • Neighborhood/Street Needs:
    • Mature Trees
    • Established neighborhood
    • Something unique/character to it

Layout Criteria:

  • 1800+ square feet
  • Music Room/Office for working from home
  • Playroom or 4th Bedroom for hosting guests
  • No crazy high ceilings
  • Lots of natural light
  • Eat-in kitchen, or potential for one
  • Windows in the kitchen – not in the center of a floor plan, looking into the backyard is a bonus
  • Room for a large dining table
  • Real entryway
  • Christmas tree spot (trust me…)

Structure Needs:

  • Good Maintenance/Build Quality
  • Age: Older than 2000 (no new builds)
  • Exterior:
    • Front driveway you can play in
    • Flat backyard
    • Room for flowerbeds in backyard
    • Room for firepit outside

Everything Else We Were Looking For:

  • Budget: Under $500,000 (for context, this is low in the Colorado market)
  • Front porch
  • Like the look of the exterior
  • No popcorn ceilings
  • No major renovations needed
  • Spot for future built-in shelves for library

Location: Choosing Our Lifestyle

You can change a lot about your house, but you can’t change your surroundings.

  • All four seasons
  • Close to mountains, hiking, open space
  • Close to city and things to do
  • Close to family
  • Zoned for a good public school

The primary reason for our cross-country move was to live somewhere that fit the lifestyle we wanted for our kids. Somewhere that facilitated spending time outside, but also wasn’t too far from a downtown. Growing up in the midwest, there’s something restful about having all four seasons and marking time through the year this way. It felt important to have that again.

The Right Neighborhood For Us

  • Mature Trees
  • Established neighborhood
  • Something unique with character

Landscaping takes time to establish, so we hoped for this to already be in place around us. We wanted the beauty of old trees, plus the shade. You never know what your neighbors will be like. But I think you can tell a lot by how well someone takes care of their home and their yard. When we drove through our neighborhood for the first time, I could see people cared about their yards and homes. I had a feeling there were families who had lived on our street for a long time, and it turned out to be true.

Growing up in a victorian home taught me character in a home matters. I knew we wouldn’t be buying the old home of the dreams, but I still wanted something unique and different. For us, it was the funky color and the story of the home itself.

Layout: The Most Important Aesthetic In A Forever Home

More than (almost) anything, layout mattered most to me!

When people say a house has good bones, I think layout falls into that category. Sound structure first, good layout second.

The layout of a home impacts how we host people, how we interact together, and how we spend our time.

I can replace and update plenty, but I don’t want to move walls, plumbing, electrical, etc. Rearranging a layout can be expensive and sometimes just not possible. We wanted to enjoy a functional home right away. We can address cosmetic updates over time.

Room For Hosting, Working, and Playing

  • 1800+sqft
  • Music/Office Room
  • Playroom or 4th bedroom
  • Christmas Tree Spot

Our Texas home was 1349 sqft exactly. After 3 years, we felt crowded. To make a house our forever home, we needed extra room! A guest room, an office, and a second living space. As we looked for homes, our realtor pointed out that homes under 1800 sqft felt consistently too small for us. We couldn’t picture ourselves there long-term.

So we expanded our search criteria for larger square footage. This meant looking in a higher price range, OR compromising on how updated the home was.

Our budget was rigid so we compromised on the amount of updating the house needed. These homes are usually priced lower.

Silly as it seems, we needed to know where we’d put a Christmas tree in our living room. We spend a month or more out of the year with a Christmas tree up! This is something we definitely considered as we visualized how we’d arrange our living room before purchasing. More than anything, it helped to think through if this was a home we’d want to be in during a holiday.

Ceiling & Window Details

  • No crazy high ceilings
  • Lots of natural light

I have a thing with super tall ceilings. I hate ’em. Tall ceilings only work when they’re balanced with the right architectural details, decor, and furnishings. I love a big, open room but it needs to feel balanced. Anything that goes past a second floor-height was out for me. I want our living room to feel inviting, cozy, and comfortable and that doesn’t fit for me. However, the more windows the better! I’ve got plants to grow and seasonal blues to keep at bay.

Kitchen, Entry, and Dining Room Criteria

  • Eat-in Kitchen or potential for one
  • Windows in Kitchen – not in the center of a floor plan
  • Room for a large dining table
  • Real entryway

As someone who doesn’t enjoy cooking, I need to love my kitchen if I’m ever going to spend time in there! This is essential forever home criteria. The layout that feels best to me is one that feels connected to the living and dining spaces and gets good natural light. A place to eat in the kitchen, like an eat-in island or breakfast nook, would be a bonus too. I want it to feel easy to host people for meals, so we needed a real dining space. Some where we could put a big table with lots of chairs around it.

As you can see below, our new kitchen is small but it has room to expand. We loved the location of the kitchen, and saw the potential for expansion down the road. Our laundry room will move downstairs and we’ll remove that room (to the right) to add more cabinetry, a bigger fridge, and high end finishings.

Structure: Finding A Forever Home With Good Bones

  • Good Maintenance/Build Quality
  • Age: Older than 2000
  • Exterior Needs:
    • Front, flat driveway
    • Flat, large backyard
    • Room for flowerbeds
    • Room for fire pit

A forever home needs good bones.

Our current home was built in 1994, and thanks to the unfinished basement we got a peek at how the structure of the home was built. It looked solid and good quality.

We wanted usable outdoor space for our kids to play soccer and to add a swing set. As you can see, our backyard needed so much help when we bought it, but had potential for everything we wanted. We hadn’t found another house with a yard this large in our price range.

I love to garden, so finding space for life-giving hobbies like this were definitely top of mind. We wanted a fire pit in the backyard, with a patio or deck (or potential for one) for entertaining too. Little things I know we’d love to have long-term!

Having a front-facing driveway would allow us more opportunities to connect with our neighbors. I also wanted a flat driveway that serves as a play space for our kids.

We unfortunately discovered a foundation issue a few weeks after moving in. But we’ve learned this is because of how the home was not maintained, not because of how it was built. Our home inspector missed this, otherwise we would have asked for it to be fixed by the sellers.

We’re getting our foundation fixed in a few weeks! See the leaning concrete wall above.

Everything Else We Wanted In A Forever Home

  • Front Porch
  • Like the look of the exterior
  • No popcorn ceilings
  • No major renovations needed
  • Spot for future built-in shelves for library

The home of my dreams includes a front porch. It wasn’t necessary, but I’d love to have it. The exterior was important but with such limited options on the market at the time, I was willing to compromise on some aspects of the exterior if needed.

After living in home with popcorn ceilings and trying to DIY removing them myself, I really didn’t a home with this ceiling texture again. They’re such a pain and an eye sore I wanted to avoid.

We spent 3 years updating our Texas home, and we knew we’d be tired after moving across the country. We questioned if we’d have the energy for a home with major renovations needed. And although we ended up in a home that needs a lot of cosmetic help, we prioritized the layout and location and future potential of this home instead.

But also made sure we could picture ourselves living here without updating anything for a while.

The house of my dreams also has a library. I think we’ve got plenty of space for this here!

  • Budget: Under $500,000

We put a lot of sweat equity into our Texas home and bought/sold at the right times, so this price didn’t scare us. This is pretty low for the Northern Colorado market around us. We expected to pay more in a house, knowing the location would change our lifestyle and fit our values as a family better than our previous home. We were willing to work harder to pay for it.

Forever Home Criteria: Questions To Ask

Finding for a forever home takes intentionality. Thanks to our super specific list of criteria, I think we found ours.

Think about your values first, and then find a home that allows you to live them out. If you find a home you like, but you aren’t sure it’s really the one, ask some important questions.

Do you have room in your budget for updates?

Home updates cost money. Would you rather spend more on a house that already feels finished, or spend money out of pocket later to update it?

Do you have time for projects?

DIY’ing or hiring out remodel work takes time and energy to coordinate. Are you in a stage of life where you have the time for updating a home?

Do you host people?

If so, you need to focus on getting the right layout. A good flow from the kitchen, dining, and living room is vital to hosting people comfortably. Make sure you have room for a big table for people to gather around. If you want to easily host overnight guests, look for room to set up a guest space.

How do you want to spend your time?

Is there room to work on your hobbies, indoor or outdoor? If you work from home, do you need a separate space to work in? Can you picture your favorite furniture and important items in here?

Would you enjoy being stuck inside here on a rainy/snowy day?

A few weeks ago we had our first snow, and watching how we used our main floor filled me with joy. We had a cozy fire going in the fireplace, Mario Kart in the living room, with a puzzle on the dining table, and Nathan in the kitchen cooking dinner for us. It was an easy, intentional flow that allowed us all to be together even though we were doing different activities. This was a true test for our home.

Can you picture yourself here in 10 years?

You have to think long-term. Can you picture this house being functional and big enough for you in the next season of life, and the next?

Making The Decision To Buy A Fixer Upper

Buying a home is a huge investment.

Give yourself time to find the right one. In today’s market, you could lose a lot of money buying/selling too quickly if you end up not liking the home you chose.

One of the biggest stresses in buying a home for us was doing it across the country.

We really didn’t want to buy a house sight unseen, because the details of the house really mattered to us. Thankfully we didn’t have to. Even though our moving deadline was approaching, we were willing to rent a home for a while until we could find just the right house that would work.

Take your time, be picky with the things that matter.

Figure out what’s most important to you, and WHY – and don’t budge on them. This is the key to finding the right next house to you.

A Fixer Upper with Potential For A Forever Home

Our list of must-haves let us ignore a lot of the cosmetic issues of our home, and focus on it’s potential instead.

There’s a lot you can change about a house, but you can’t change the neighborhood. And it’s expensive to move walls, build porches, or regrade a yard.

If you are in a season of life where DIY’s are too much, you may need to adjust your expectations and rearrange your list. We looked at a handful of homes that were slightly cheaper with less cosmetic needs, but the trade-off was those homes were half the size.

We knew we’d outgrow a smaller home in a few years.

Instead, we signed up for a home in poor shape, but in the best neighborhood, with the right layout, good bones, and the right size that fit our needs.

We weren’t looking for a project house, but we’re already seeing the fruits of our efforts. Our family is thriving, and despite the expensive foundation issues we’ve uncovered, we are so happy here!

4 Responses

  1. I always felt crazy for having the Christmas tree criteria in mind when looking at potential homes. I feel vindicated and affirmed haha. Love all the questions and info you shared!

  2. I really love our home that we purchased from an 85 year old — fruit border in the kitchen and all — but didn’t appreciate how much having a home that you can age in place is no matter how old you are. That is, until I broke my ankle and sprained the other one… while 8 months pregnant. I was able to navigate our home easily in a wheelchair and only having one step at our entry meant that we could use a ramp. Glad that you found a home that you love, too!

    1. How comforting that you could still be home and it wasn’t a burden to navigate during that season!! I’m sure it made your home feel even more like a safe place to rest.

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