Requirements Writing at Home

Previously, I’ve discussed how technical writing skills can apply to vacation planning. There are other activities where a technical writer’s skills at organizing information and describing requirements also can apply, especially when you’re buying high-priced items such as vehicle or home. Today I’ll turn the technical writer’s brain on the process of home hunting, which I’ve decided to pursue because I’m losing patience with paying rent.

Unlike vacation planning, which incorporates a lot of intangible ideas regarding what constitutes “fun,” a home is a very tangible object (or place). There are qualitative measurements, to be certain, but a house, flat, mobile home, or other abode has a lot of quantitative or specific yes/no questions you can articulate with a fair amount of certainty. Specific, quantifiable requirements you can use include:

  • Price (down payment, monthly payments, interest rates, insurance, and real estate taxes; what you make and how much money you have on hand will determine how much you can afford)
  • Maintenance costs (utilities, etc.)
  • Size (in square feet/meters)
  • Number of bedrooms/bathrooms
  • Additional fees (e.g., homeowners’ association/HOA fees)
  • Number of basic services, schools, places of worship, or entertainment options within a specific distance
  • Age of the building
  • Size of garage, if available
  • Number of internet/cable providers
  • Postal/ZIP code
  • Availability of specific extras (yes/no)

And so forth. All of those specifics are easily tracked and, in fact, an online real estate application like Zillow will allow you to sort and narrow your home search accordingly.

There are, of course, intangibles or less-quantifiable items that require the ambitious home hunter to go beyond an online search and visit properties in person and talk to a realtor face to face.

  • Does the property require a lot of repair work to make it comfortable (a “fixer-upper”)? I have zero skills when it comes to painting, electrical installation, or cabinet replacement. I’m someone who would prefer to have a ready-to-occupy home to save myself some aggravation.
  • Does the style of internal details (light fixtures, wall molding, wall colors) reflect your personal preferences or will work need to be updated before you can move in? Once you’ve determined that, however, you can turn the changes into a quantifiable item, specifically: how much will the repairs or redecorating cost?
  • Does the area/neighborhood feel welcoming to you? This is an intangible that might or might not be easily articulated. One silly test I apply to new homes is to look at the personal vehicles in the neighborhood and verify if they are in roughly the same price range and condition as my own middle-of-the-road, mostly undamaged Toyota. That probably makes me a class snob (up or down), but everyone has their thing. Another test I apply is the relative diversity of the residents. I happen to prefer diversity. Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that if everyone looks like me, that’s a problem.
  • Will the home match my lifestyle? Can you put up with neighbors right next door, above, or below you, or do you require elbow room in all directions? Do you prefer all of your necessities to be within walking distance or are you willing to drive a few miles? One of my biggest gripes with my current apartment is that I’m three miles from a grocery store or a gas station and farther than that from most services I use. If you have offspring in your home, are the schools within a reasonable distance or is busing available?
  • How much work will it require to maintain (clean the interior, perform lawn maintenance, shovel snow off the driveway)? Lazy fellow that I am, I’m anti-lawn maintenance.
  • How much time do you expect to spend at home? Obviously the pandemic has changed the answer to this question for a lot of people. If you’re working from home, you might want to pay more for comfort or a nice-sized window to look outside to give your eyes a break from the computer screen.

And so forth. Ideally, you have narrowed down a lot of these types of choices and decisions before you speak with a realtor so you can have a fruitful conversation before they help you seek out properties. If you haven’t given any thought to your requirements, the realtor will be asking you these sorts of questions as a technical writer would interview a subject matter expert. After all, YOU are the subject matter expert on what sort of home will meet your needs. The bottom line here is that you can use your interviewing skills to interview yourself and your significant other if applicable to ensure that your requirements are clearly understood by you and the realtor so that you’re looking at homes that meet your needs. When writing down your new home requirements, you must become your best customer!

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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