Updated on 05.14.07

Setting Up A House Buying Worksheet

Trent Hamm

My wife and I are looking at about three houses per night this week (on average), and because of the sheer volume of houses, we’re concerned about recalling all of our reactions to the houses as well as their primary features. As a result, last night my wife designed a house buying worksheet in order for us to standardize our thoughts on the houses we’ll visit.

What’s a house buying worksheet? It’s a short document that enables us to mark off the specific things we’re looking for in a house as we observe them, as well as record our individual reactions to the house as soon as the visit is over. We printed off a big pile of these blank forms before we even started on the house selection process so that we could record our reactions to all of them.

Why? Once we’re done looking, if we haven’t reached an immediate standard consensus, we can use these forms to quickly go through all of the houses we visited and isolate the ones that meet more stringent criteria, such as only ones with four bedrooms or only ones that elicited a particularly strong response from me. In other words, these sheets will provide the supporting data as we move from canvassing for houses down to selecting one.

What’s on the sheet? Our sheet lists the things that we’re specifically looking for in a house – a large kitchen (but not necessarily a newly-finished one), a bedroom easily accessible from the master bedroom to use as a nursery, and so on. These things will vary a lot depending on what your needs are – our needs reflect the fact that we have a son less than two years old and a daughter on the way and plans for potentially more children, so we are looking for things that will work well for children. We also try not to include things that we could trivially change ourselves, such as installing a “false wall” in a family room in order to turn a corner of it into a writing nook for me (something I’d like very much). We also include a section that has all of the standard house stuff, as well as a place to list what rooms can be found on each floor of the house.

How do I design my own sheet? It’s easy – just fire up your handy word processing program and make a list of all of the things you are really looking for in a house. Think about your needs – what do you really need from your home? Are you into cooking like I am? Then you may be looking for a large kitchen. Got young kids? A nursery room (a bedroom close to the master) might be good. Got teenagers? Bedrooms on opposite ends of the house (giving them breathing space and some noise isolation) might be good. Entertain a lot of guests? A formal dining room and living room might be good, with a separate family room elsewhere. From there, simply make a checklist or some other method of recording this data, then print off several copies and take one to each house you visit.

The only standard features I would recommend on such a sheet is a spot for the address and contact info for the agent, basic statistics on the house (square footage, rooms, etc.), and a spot for each buyer to record their thoughts immediately after the visit. I would also highly recommend a clipboard with an attached pen for the visit itself.

Is it worth the effort? The only real effort is during the preparation of the sheet, and that – for us, at least – encouraged us to talk at length about what exactly we were looking for, which was a very worthwhile use of time. After the house hunt, having all of these sheets will also be very useful as we deliberate – the ones we already have have been thumbed through a lot.

Tonight, we visit four houses. It should be interesting.

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  1. Ted Valentine says:

    Good idea. We did that, but then you still need to process the data. Otherwise you just have a stack of papers.

    Because I’m a nerd and like to quantify things, I made a spreadsheet with everything we wanted in our house. Then I would score the house with by giving a +1 for each category it had that we wanted. Use a default of zero if a house doesn’t have something you want. You can even adjust the scoring a little with a +2 or -1 if a category was substantially better or worse.

    To set it up, put the address at the top of each column and the rows going down for each category. Do an easy “sum” function at the bottom for your automatic score total.

    Categories could include price, # of bedrooms needed, neighborhood good/bad, move in ready, sidewalks, good kitchen, close to work, fenced yard, etc etc.

    You can then sort the sheet by score and it quickly eliminates some houses and brings others to top.

    Of course buying a home is also an emotional process and that is usually what the wife is good at. If you do it right her top pick will also be the top score!

  2. avlor says:

    Take a camera with you too!

  3. Jason says:

    My wife and I did this too for our last househunting experience. In addition I made a simple spreadsheet with properties we were interested in for rows and features in the columns. I also weights for each feature so I could keep the scale the same for each feature (1 thru 5 i think) but still have some features more important than others (simple weighting factor, like .25 for wall color which didnt matter to us since we like to paint, and .75 for whether the garage was drive under or not which we hate, etc). It wasn’t perfect and I dont remember if we actually bought the house that rated highest or not, but it was definitely a good exercise in showing ourselves what was important to us. I’m sure we eliminated quite a few that way though.

  4. donna jean says:

    We used a similar sheet for the first few houses, but they included lots of technical stuff that would normally be addressed in a house inspection.

    After needing to see one house more than twice before deciding to put an offer in, we realized we needed a better system for making sure we were really looking at the houses. When you’re hitting one up after another, it’s easy to just breeze through after the first one.

    Also, since the houses were all older and in need of repair, we really needed to take stock of those repair concerns upfront. I find it amazing that an offer gets placed on just the few minutes spent looking at a place — well our few minutes were always 60+ per house unless it was just terrible (even then the partner still wanted to fine-tooth comb it while I just wanted to get on to the next possible contender).

    less than a month till we close.. tick. tock. tick. tock.

  5. Andamom says:

    This makes sense if you are in a market with options of places that actually contain homes with features you want. Here in NYC, if a place is financially within my means, I’ll know before I visit whether I like the street/area, if I can stomach the square footage, and so forth. It is either an a) I can live with this or b) no way. There are people who buy apartments here for around 100 square feet (yes you read that correctly) — and I don’t think that they’re looking at many details at that size.

  6. Robert says:

    I would encourage anyone not to let one thing distract you. When we were house shopping, my wife and I would go to a neighborhood with our bikes, and ride around looking at the outside of houses to get an idea about what was around there.

    I saw a house that looked nice and was at a good price. Only problem was that we were looking for a brick house and this one had vinyl siding. We almost wrote it off for that one reason, but decided to schedule a visit anyway. We fell in love with the inside of the house – it had everything we wanted besides the brick outside. We almost didn’t even look at the house because it didn’t meet all of our predecided criteria – and that one minor at best.

    Ted is right – buying a house is also a highly emotional process and the wives are usually much better at that part. Sometimes our hearts will tell us something that our minds can’t. And sometimes the numbers say buy a house that your emotions tell you not to – and listen to your emotions on that one.

    We got the house 3 years ago at a good price and love it.

  7. Dawn says:

    We did this as well, but even more helpful was if a house had all the features we agreed were musts, upon getting in the car, each of us would rate it without showing the other with 1 being I’d hate it, 5 being I love it and others being in between.
    Then, at the end of a day, together we shared rates (anything a 1 by either person was automatically out) ranked the ones we saw that day, discarded the ones that were not 1 or 2 ranked, and then ranked them against other days we’d already done, and after we had 6 we would discard the lowest two. Some days this was easy, others we had to talk a lot. This forced us not to have too many houses in consideration at once

  8. Jim says:

    If you’re looking at that many houses, some method of photo / video recording is going to be extra-helpful. We used a small camcorder the first time we went house-hunting, and it was perfect for capturing our first impressions as well as for remembering which house had the rose pink tile in the master bathroom and the sliding glass door inside.

  9. !wanda says:

    My mom made a sheet like this for me and my friend when we were looking at colleges (with different categories, obviously). It’s a good method for making a choice among complex objects.

  10. Lisa says:

    I suggest lots of space for additional comments as there will be unique things about house designs you will discover that are very neat. The kind of stuff you never could have thought of that as important that make you fall in love with a place. A certainly agree with the idea of a spreadsheet and a digital CAMERA to help you make comparisons and recall specifics.

  11. Mohammed (UAE) says:

    Also worth noting that a house is a long term investment, so the design/layout/space etc should be defined on the worksheet for now and for the future. This obviously depends on how long you intend to remain in the property before moving on again (not forgetting that the next move will cost!).

    So, for example, a nursery may be necessity now, but in a couple of years time? Is there a plan for future children, so the room is reused? Or is there a plan for alternative uses for that space (e.g., as an office/walk in wardrobe…).

    By including current needs, future needs and “not a future need” you can modify the overall idea for the place you intend to buy. Perhaps making do without a certain feature for the short term in order to satisfy a longer term need.

    Also, agree that viewing a house TAKES TIME. I am amazed at those who can make such a HUGE financial and life changing decision in a few minutes!

  12. This is an EXCELLENT idea and one I definitely plan to use when I start looking for my home.


  13. stacey says:

    i have a big question
    my dad bought a house about 5 yr ago and i have been living it for that long and now he wants to put it in my name(and i have been paying rent) what happens when that happens?? do they do a credit check?? i am really really scared what do i tell him??

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