It’s Complicated: The Home Search for Parents with Children

It’s Complicated: The Home Search for Parents with Children

Real estate professionals know that with school letting out for summer, the scramble is on for many families seeking to buy their first home or move into a larger one before school resumes in September.

Having children changes people, and for home buyers that translates into vastly different wish lists and budgetary constraints.

Shopping for and buying a home is a daunting process for anyone, but Zillow® research shows that for parents the stresses are magnified. To get into their new home, parents living with children under 18 are more likely to go over budget and make smaller down payments. They’re also more likely to end up with longer commutes and smaller homes than they wanted.

While those without kids might begin their search in the more walkable, trendy parts of town, parents’ neighborhood needs weigh more heavily on safety, enrichment and community. They also place a higher importance on having the preferred number of bedrooms and bathrooms, private outdoor space and community amenities. Often, school boundaries come into play, and tech platforms are emerging to support this process.

In short, parents of children face an arduous search process. They are more likely to experience an offer or mortgage financing falling through and they attend more open houses. Despite the extra effort, two thirds of these buyers with children say they ultimately made sacrifices to stay within their initial budget. Of them, about a third each sacrificed a shorter commute (34.1%), a larger home (31.2%) or their desired finishes (32.7%), according to a nationwide survey of recent home buyers.

But the effort is worth it: When all is said and done, 94.6% of parents who recently bought a home say they love it — slightly higher than those without kids.  

“Having kids is a major destabilizer in life – their needs are constantly changing and seemingly impossible to anticipate,” said Skylar Olsen, Zillow’s director of economic research. “Combine all that uncertainty with a massive financial decision that inevitably requires tough tradeoffs among a limited set of options and has to be wrapped up in time to move before school starts and you’ve got one of the biggest challenges around.

As markets cool, parents will have more time to breathe and reflect on what tradeoffs they’re willing to make. With interest rates back down, they’ll be more able to lock in an affordable monthly payment that will last through college. The trick is finding the home that still fills the family’s needs as toddlers turn into kids, kids into teenagers, and teenagers into the young adults in your basement. Luckily, most buyer parents end up with a home they love.”

Zillow notes that renters with children also have it tough. They fill out 1.9 times as many applications as renters without kids at home, and it takes them a month longer to find their home. Many renters with children also are financially vulnerable, with more than half (54.1%) saying in a survey that they couldn’t afford a $1,000 unexpected expense.

The Experience of Recent Home Buyers

Children at

Children at

Went over budget



Compromised to stay within budget



Put down less than 20%



Were initially denied a mortgage*



Had a successful first offer



Purchased in the area they initially considered



Placed high importance on potential home value growth



Placed high importance on commute



Placed high importance on being in a racially diverse neighborhood



Placed high importance on being in a politically diverse neighborhood



Said they love their home



*among buyers who financed their home with a mortgage