When it comes to buying a home, there’s nothing but decisions, decisions, and more decisions.
What town is best for me and my family? Are the schools good? Can I walk to a good restaurant and stores? Is it too far (or too close) to extended family?
And of course: Can I afford it?
Buying a house is always a difficult decision, a tug-of-war between the hard logic of a small house with a fast commute time balanced against the emotional appeal of the spacious house and large yard far from the highway.
To help people decide what communities they might want to consider, the Globe has developed an online tool, called Dreamtown Finder, using a wide variety of data.
Using the tool, users can decide how important various factors are to them, and the Dreamtown Finder steers them to a set of options. Everyone has a different set of criteria, of course, but the factors we chose for the tool include the following: schools (SAT scores), people similar to you (age, education), fun (movie theaters, restaurants), hipster (number of colleges, Starbucks, hybrid cars, for example), location (crime, public transit, grocery stores), and housing costs (assessed values).
For Katie Casavant, the reason she’s looking to buy is a commute that’s too long. Four days a week, she drives from her home in Hyannis to her job in Norwood doing technical support — 150 miles a day, three hours of car time.
With three young children, it’s too much. She needs to move closer to work. But with her parents and those of her husband, Jason, also in Hyannis, it can’t be too far away. Her husband works in Hyannis, too, as a small-engine mechanic.
So she and Jason are looking to buy somewhere off Interstate 495, possibly Middleborough or Lakeville. She also searched recently in Hanson, although it’s not her first choice because the commute would be “a bit of a reach.”
“We need a four-bedroom. With two baths — for survival,” she joked. Her children are Kyle, 11; Janie, 5; and Tyler, 3. She’s not looking for a fantastic kitchen but something that works.
The two oldest are in school, so she wants to move at the end of the school year. Schools are obviously important, as is a nice neighborhood.
“We want to fall in love with a town, so as we outgrow the house, we will still stay in the town,” said the Leominster native.
For the Casavant family, the Dreamtown Finder tool picked Plympton, Rochester, and Marion. Plympton is nice, said Katie, but she has ruled out Route 3 communities because of traffic worries. Rochester and Marion? A bit too rural. She’s sticking with towns closer to I-495.
Using Dreamtown Finder, we tried some other examples, too. Take, for example, a married couple with young childen. They are very interested in schools, and have a modest home-buying budget. The top Globe South towns for them, according to Dreamtown Finder: Plympton, Rochester, and Avon.
Or a 23-year-old single person might not be interested in schools but is very interested in the categories we called Fun and Hipster. His top towns, according to the Dreamtown Finder: Cambridge and Boston.
Maybe a retired couple is interested in Fun and People Similar to You. Top picks: Cambridge, Marion, Boston, Mattapoisett.
Other home buyers, such as Rachel Robinson and her boyfriend, Richard Roberts, have developed a step-by-step strategy for picking a home.
They each listed Globe South towns on separate pieces of paper, then rated them from 1 to 10. They put the lists together and came up with a short list of top towns: Marshfield, Pembroke, and Kingston.
It was a simple plan that worked. Now they have an accepted offer on a two-bedroom, one-bath ranch house in Pembroke.
The 29-year-olds wanted a place that felt like a small town, like the communities they grew up in — Sagamore Beach in Bourne for her, Duxbury for him. Location was not a big deal for her, since she is in sales for Metro PCS and drives all over, but her boyfriend works for Red Cross in Dedham. The location works for both.
“I wanted something safe,” said Robinson, who has been renting for seven years. “I didn’t want to go into the city.”
Aidan J. O’Donoghue, a manager for Verizon, and his wife, Danielle, a nurse, want to move from Quincy to a larger house, perhaps in Marshfield. They are also considering Hanover, Canton, and Norwood.
With three young children — Gavin, 6; Parker, 4; and Cooper, 3 months — the couple want to buy a four-bedroom.
“We’re growing out of our house in Quincy,” said Aidan O’Donoghue.
Complicating the situation is location. Aidan works in Plymouth, while his wife’s family is in Burlington. The new town has to be not too far from work or relatives.
“You try to please yourself and your family, too,” said Aidan. “It’s not easy.”
A nice, kid-friendly neighborhood is a requirement. “We want a neighborhood with good schools and lots of yard.” He wants the kind of neighborhood where his kids can just walk out the door to play with other neighborhood kids.
Jessica and Heath Luedde of Stoneham know what’s most most important to their family — schools. The pair, both 35, have two young boys, 5 and 2.
So they’ve sold their house on a busy street and are looking for a new home in Bedford.
“It’s a very good school system for the money,” said Jessica, a public sector lawyer. “We can’t do Wellesley. This is a good balance. And we also have friends in town.”
They’ve also done the city, living in South Boston before moving to Stoneham. Both still work there, Jessica part time, and Heath full time, selling rare coins for Bunker Hill Sales Associates.
As for many others, the appeal of city life lost some luster as her kids neared school age.
“Before, proximity to the city was more important. Now it’s not so important,” said Jessica, who grew up in rural Pennsylvania.
With their Stoneham house sold, they’ hoping to buy quickly, if not in Bedford, then perhaps Andover or Carlisle. There’s also the possibility of renting in Bedford until the right house pops up and their son can start kindergarten in the fall.Let us know what you think of the Dreamtown online tool. You can find it at boston.com/dreamtown and you can reach Matt Carroll at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globemattc.