Six years ago, financial planner Michael Knight and his wife decided it was finally time to fulfill their dream of a custom-built house replete with spacious rooms and a waterfront vista.
What emerged from painstaking planning was a 3,600-square-foot French country house on a lake with a roomy kitchen that connects to an outsized family room. Knight conducts his financial-planning practice from a third-floor office suite.
Knight says that an increasing number of adults of all ages -- including singles and those whose children are grown -- aspire to own large houses. Along with home offices, they yearn for large, gourmet kitchens, solariums, exercise spaces, great rooms and master suites suitable for a sultan.
As one who relishes his own large home, Knight is hardly averse to those who hold similar aspirations -- so long as they have the means.
"I do think the ownership of a large home shouldn't be something that requires you to have a big mortgage after you retire. I tell my clients they shouldn't enter retirement with any debt at all," says Knight.
Here are several pointers for those planning to buy a big house:
Place your big-house quest in context with your other major life goals. Ray Brown, co-author of "Home Buying for Dummies," says some people focus on the acquisition of a large and luxurious house as an end in itself, rather than one element in the larger picture of a fulfilling lifestyle. Affordability is one consideration, but there are others: your life's work, relationships and community involvement, along with creative and spiritual pursuits.
Do a "spending plan" before deciding how much to allocate for the house . Perhaps you can afford a bigger house than you have now, but not one quite as large as you had initially envisioned. The key, Knight says, is to determine your spending patterns and priorities before you go to a mortgage lender's office.
He encourages clients to itemize their current discretionary expenses to determine how these might need to be realigned to meet their big house goal. To afford a larger monthly mortgage payment, perhaps you're willing to curtail your restaurant tabs or golfing fees, for example.
One helpful way to realign your discretionary expenditures in advance of a home purchase is to list them in order of importance, preserving those that have the most significance to you, for example, donations to a favorite charity -- and cutting less important items like weekly manicures at a local nail salon.
Put location high on your list of screening criteria. Before they built their waterfront house, Knight and his wife pinpointed an ideal section of the Chicago suburb where they wanted to live. To live in this particular hamlet, they were willing to pay a premium price for a lot with a modest house, which they had torn down to make way for their custom-built place.
"The location made the property well worth the extra cost. We're just two blocks from a four-star restaurant and within walking distance of great train service to the city. Of course, finding a lake location was also very important to us," Knight says.
For most homebuyers, trade-offs are necessary due to the issue of affordability. But Knight says that, usually, the right location should trump the volume of space as a critical criterion for home selection.
Do your big-house planning on a room-by-room basis. In seeking the kind of large house that suits you, remember that your floor plan can be even more important than the total square feet of living space. You'll want your square footage allocated to rooms that provide the maximum utility for your household.
"If it's not mapped out well, a house with 5,000 to 6,000 square feet could be less enjoyable than one with 3,000 square feet and a good layout," Knight says.
Working with their architect, Knight and his wife highlighted their desire for two spacious home offices -- one for him and one for her.
Moreover, they emphasized their wish to have a family room large enough to entertain large gatherings of friends and relatives, and the kind of kitchen where people linger over a late Sunday breakfast.
But they also told the architect that they wouldn't need formal living or dining rooms. In terms of bedrooms, they explained that three would be plenty: one master, one guest bedroom and one for their college-age daughter.
Look for a large house with relatively low maintenance and energy costs. Even people who yearn for huge houses are increasingly fearful of the financial pain that comes with large utility bills. With a high mortgage payment hurdle to meet each month, they're loath to take on big gas, electric or maintenance charges as well.
Brown says one way to find a cost-efficient home is to buy a brand-new, well-insulated place that's constructed by a company known for expert workmanship.
"A new home is probably your most economical choice -- no matter its size. The odds are your utility bills will be lower than for an old house and you won't need a new roof or appliances anytime soon," Brown says.