I’ve done it. I’m settled in [sort of]. Cork is now officially, legally and in most other ways, my home. I’ve signed a lease, have an address – and have even started getting robocalls on my local phone. But it has nothing to do with my search for a home.

There’s a big difference between house hunting and home searching. Finding a house is a mechanical process. Is it the right size, in the right neighbourhood, and so forth and so on? Once we’re there, making a home is an entirely different process that goes well beyond hanging stuff on the walls and knowing how to jiggle different doorknobs and toilet levers.

I’ve lost track of the number of people who tell me that they love their house, but really can’t stand where it’s at. Some are disappointed but understanding about neighbourhood changes. Others never did their homework to start with.

So how do we find a home first, then look for a house that happens to be in it? After all, you can decorate and remodel a house, something you can’t do to a neighborhood unless you’re particularly pushy and politically connected.

Are you a city mouse? Walk the streets. Feel with your feet. See if you like the nods and smiles from passersby – or the lack of them. How do they treat each other, as well as you, the stranger? Stop into the smaller stores as a customer, not a researcher, and take part in the small talk that usually accompanies a transaction. Comfortable? Great, now try the same thing in a few nearby restaurants and other gathering places. Uncomfortable? After this happens a couple of times you may want to reconsider your decision and find another place.

What if you’re a country mouse? Do exactly the same thing. Get out of your car and walk and talk in the places where your new but more distant neighbors congregate and shop.

The important thing is to research with your feet, feelings and ears instead of your car, realtor and demographic studies. If your feet and feelings are comfortable, then the rest of it can seal the deal or send you to a similar place.

Oh, and by the way, I know it goes against the American dream as well as the “dream” of several other cultures. But do you really want to own your house/home? In reality, your home will own you, tying you to it with maintenance time and expense as well as the loss of flexibility if you want or need to move somewhere else. When you see all the studies promoting home ownership, follow the money. Look for their source and find out who benefits from the sales process, who benefits from your giving them huge chunks of money – and a near-lifetime of debt – that you could use for other things. Are the bankers, realtors and city planners promoting prisons by calling them castles?