We were in the exact same position. He works pretty far up into Maryland and any job he gets will always be in that area. I work in Virginia, but may end up downtown sooner than later. I want to metro to work and he wants a reverse commute. Our budget was around $400k, which doesn’t give a lot of choices in the area. He values space and safety, and I value walkability and neighborhood charm. We also wanted a decent public elementary school.
In other words, quite a challenge.
We did a LOT of research on Redfin and Zillow, just scoping out commutes, schools and prices and trying to identify any little pockets where the three came together. We started off thinking big and creatively, and then whittled down to the most realistic options.
Once we had broad areas identified, we started going to open houses casually, casting a pretty wide net. It was a LOT of back and forth and discussion (sometimes pretty heated discussion) as we came to terms with the reality of the compromises we’d have to make (he wasn’t getting five bedrooms and I wasn’t going to be right next to metro). But eventually our ideas of what was acceptable started to converge and some middle ground started to appear-- even if it was mostly “I guess I don’t hate that.”
After a few months of that, we got to know the target areas pretty well, and had a good feel for what the options were in our range. We then got an agent and started looking. And we seriously looked- 5 or 6 houses a weekend, every weekend, pretty much all summer. Even so tightly narrowed down, the range of options we looked at was huge and it was so helpful to know the area inside out. Without that knowledge, we could have easily made some bad choices.
We found a house that was acceptable-ish, and mostly out of exhaustion put in an offer. Then we got cold feet and pulled out (thank goodness- it would have been a huge mistake). We found another house that was GREAT, but got outbid by a cash investor.
Eventually, we toured a house at the top of our price range in a much nicer neighborhood than we expected to be in. It was older and compact, but well constructed and spacious enough thanks to a large ground-level walkout basement. Good commute for him, and not impossible for me. We put in an offer that morning, before the open house even started. The seller was motivated and wanted to sell to a family rather than a flipper, and we got it. It probably helped that the open house was on a holiday.
It’s worked out well enough. My commute sucks-- more than an hour-- but I deal with it, he puts in more work on chores, and hopefully I get downtown soon (where it will be a much easier 45 minutes). His commute is much easier and we are near family.
Our finances are more stressed than I was hoping (though we have raises coming up that will make things more comfortable). But the house next door (same build, just updated) just sold for $80k more than we paid, and unless something crazy happens I suspect we got very, very lucky with value.