Sara and Jeff are minimalists. It’s an understatement to call their taste spare, because it almost looks like no one lives in their home. They prefer white walls, hardwood floors or white carpeting, and a few pieces of starkly-designed furniture and artwork that is carefully arranged on the wall.

Living in their home is quiet and peaceful, Jeff says. It’s almost a Zen-like experience.

So imagine their frustration when they went house-hunting. Brightly-colored rooms, loud-print wall paper, and more mess and clutter than they’d ever seen. They looked at beautiful homes, but were unable to visualize how a can of white paint would’ve helped a red room become something they would enjoy living in.

Eventually, they ended up purchasing a loft in a commercial building that was being renovated and converted into residential units.

Sara and Jeff found it easier to deal with blueprints than reality. But they’re not alone. Many home buyers have a hard time seeing through the clutter and color of 20 or 30 houses. It’s difficult to find a house you like if you can’t imagine your own furniture in the living room.

But you can retrain your mind to see past rich colors, print block wallpaper, and oversized, mismatched furniture. That’s important, because if you’re going to find a home that’s right for you, you’ll need to step back and view the house objectively.

When you visit an open house, you have to learn to see the property not as a home (where someone has set down roots and perhaps raised a family), but a physical dwelling: Four walls, floor and a roof.

Agents say first-time buyers often get caught up in the moment. There’s rush of attention thrust upon you, with brokers willing to do almost anything to get you to like them and their properties.

But looking dispassionately at various elements of the property can help. When you visit a house, take the time to thoroughly inspect everything, every nook and cranny, every corner of the house. Pick up the rugs to inspect the condition of the floor, she recommends. Open every door. Poke through the closets.

Some agents prefer showing their first-time buyers vacant homes — at least at first — because the buyers tend to be less distracted by antique sewing machines and grandfather clocks.

For some people, seeing through the decoration is the hardest part of buying the right home. If you have an aversion to bright colors, prints, checks or plaids and you see a house with blue, yellow and orange walls, you may have trouble focusing on how beautiful the structure of the home is because you’re repulsed by the decoration. Your emotional reaction might be to turn and walk right out the door and miss a potentially terrific home simply because someone has different taste.

That’s why top agents will often recommend home buyers create a wish list of everything they want in a property, and then a list of items you can’t live without. When you schedule a first showing, pull out your “must haves” list. You’re looking for a home that meets your basic needs.

Ask yourself: Is it within the right distance to work, church, family and friends? Does it have enough bedrooms and bathrooms? Is there enough storage space? Is there parking? Is it safe? Is it in the right school district?

If the home meets the basic requirements, then start to look for how many wish list items it includes: Is there an extra bedroom and/or bathroom? Is there a double vanity in the second bathroom? Is there a garden or deck? Is there a separate laundry room? Is there a basement or crawl space? Is it convertible into usable space? Is the garage attached? Can the kids walk to school and after-school activities? Is there a wood-burning fireplace or a gas fireplace? What is the condition of the house, appliances, roof, foundation, walls, mechanicals, wiring, etc.?

By focusing on the “bones” of the house and ignoring the decoration, you’re much more likely to find a house that will be a great place for you and your family to live.

Published: Aug 20, 2004