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When I was a young teenager my southern grandmother gave me some dating advice that has stuck with me all these years later - Don’t listen to a word men say, but watch everything they do. While I may not have followed that advice as closely as I should have in my dating history over the years, I have found it invaluable when helping my clients find the right home.

When you are house shopping, you make a list of your must have features and preferences. No brainer right? The more difficult part is prioritizing and getting real about what you really, truly want.

Case in point, early in my real estate career I had a couple who reassured me that they were flexible on yard space, it wasn’t really a big deal to them. Yet after viewing at least a dozen houses, the word I kept hearing over and over was “yard.” I asked them if they minded letting me take a shot at picking out a few houses for them, and they agreed. I found one that had their high priority checkboxes, plus a sprawling, fenced backyard and we were under contract in less than 24 hours.

I don’t know why they continued to stick with their “yard doesn’t really matter” stance, but the fact is we all sometimes have trouble connecting with what really want. Whether we get something stuck in our heads or we fear what others will think about our opinions we all have those “what was I thinking” moments because what we really wanted and what we thought we should want didn’t line up.

So while I can’t tell you how to figure all this out in your personal life, I can give you some tips as it applies to buying a house:

1. Get real - Not kinda real, not well maybe I want this, but what will my husband/wife/mom/dad/hairdresser/Patty from PTA think kind of real. We are talking sitting alone in your room thinking deep thoughts about what I want my life to be like, writing it all down, and then tearing up the piece of paper. This may not give you total clarity, but it will definitely start you moving in the right direction.

2. Pick 5 houses - This is my tried and true method for helping homebuyers focus in on what they really want. Go to your favorite home search website and come up with top 5 houses based on the information you have so far. Schedule some time with your favorite buyer’s agent to go look at your top 5 choices. Be ready to snap some pics with your phone and have your notepad app open to make notes or go retro and bring an actual notebook. One with pockets is always a good choice because you can keep up with flyers and any other useful info sheets you acquire along the way. This will help you get a real world feel for what you want and will give your highly skilled buyer’s agent a chance to get to know what you are looking for. And I know you are using a highly skilled, competent buyer’s agent and not your cousin’s girlfriend’s yoga teacher who just got her license and needs a side hustle because you read my column and understand the importance of working with a great real estate agent, right... right?

This process may or may not lead you directly to the perfect house. In my experience, there is about a 50/50 split between people who end up buying one of those first five houses and people who end up somewhere totally different. It’s more about being clear on what you are really after, so you’ll know it when you see it.


Melanie Coker is a real estate broker and owner of Property Sprocket. She can be found on Twitter, @melanie_larae; or via e-mail,

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