Brokers like to say there is a house for every home buyer, especially if you’e just lost one. But what if you see three homes you like equally well?

Since it’s impossible to live in (or afford) three homes at once, learning how to become selective when choosing a home is one of the most important skills a home buyer can develop. It can mean the difference between buying the right home rather than one that wouldn’t work out in the long run.

The process of selectivity, however, can be a painful one. You must understand your needs and wants, and those of your spouse and family. For example, your need to be close to work and public transportation should be balanced with your children’s need for a good school district, and your spouse’s desire to be close to friends and relatives and his or her job.

Another issue that complicates selectivity is affordability. It would be relatively easy to get everything you need and want in a home if money weren’t an issue. Unfortunately, for most of us, it is the overriding concern. Knowing that you must stay within a specific budget means some choices will simply be out of reach.

How do you become selective when choosing a home? First, write out your wish list and reality check.

A wish list is a detailed itemization of everything you’ve ever wanted in a home, including the number of bedrooms and baths, the size yard, and the type of appliances.

You can’t write a wish list that is too detailed. If you love hardwood floors in a home, write that down. If you think it would be nice to sit in front of a roaring fire on a cold afternoon, include a wood-burning or gas fireplace on your wish list.

It’s important to include everything you can, so mentally walk yourself through the house of your dreams and write down everything you see. If you’re still having trouble visualizing, visit a couple of nearby open houses and see what amenities other folks have chosen.

If your wish list includes everything you’ve ever wanted in a home, your reality check includes everything you cannot live without. For example, you may want a 5-bedroom house, but with two children, you absolutely need three bedrooms. Or, perhaps to maximize your resale value, you need two bedrooms in your condominium or coop.

Other appropriate items for your reality check include your proximity to work, house of worship, family, and shopping, your preferred school district, and other necessities.

Once your two lists are complete, it’s time to prioritize them. This is the tough part. You and your spouse or partner should go through each item and list them from most important to least important. Don’t be concerned if your lists end up displaying different priorities. That’s natural. But be sure to talk about the disparities and come to some sort of resolution with which you both can live.

Balancing what you want, need and can afford will give you a valuable perspective when you begin to look at homes. Compare each home you see with your wish list and reality check. You should soon see whether or not you were realistic in constructing those lists based on what you can afford to buy.

Remember, the key to any successful home purchase is compromise. You’re probably not going to get everything you want in a home, especially the first time out. But it’s important to get everything you need. Once you find a neighborhood you can afford, with homes that cover the basics, you can begin adding in items from your wish list.

For example, if the top item on your wish is a wood-burning fireplace and item 20 is a two-car garage, you might be willing to make do with a one-car garage if you can get the fireplace.

The more homes you see, the more seasoned your home-buying eye will become. You will become more finely attuned to what the market will bear in your price range, and more sure of what needs your home must meet. That, of course, is the essence of selectivity.

How do you choose between those three homes? If you’ve followed the course, one of the homes will meet your wants and needs better than the others. That’s the one to bid on.