There’s something magical about house hunting. As a military spouse, I end up shopping for a new home every four years or so. That season of moving and home shopping is always chaotic and more than a little stressful. But it’s also brimming with possibilities.

With every home we consider, there’s an undercurrent of questions. How will these walls shape our next several years? Who will we welcome in, what mouthwatering dishes will we cook (or attempt to cook), and what will the holidays look like in this kitchen? Because as in many of your homes, I’m sure, most of my family’s life and memories tend to happen in my cooking space.

I’m not a great cook, but I have high aspirations–and high expectations for kitchens in any house I live in. These are the top features I look for in a home that revolves around meals, whether I’m cooking for my kids or entertaining a houseful of family and friends for the holidays.

1. In-Kitchen Seating

When you’re spending a significant chunk of time in the kitchen, people tend to follow you in–and unless they have a place to land, they’re going to be in the way. Plan for the inevitable and facilitate culinary bonding experiences with your friends and family by ensuring that non-cooks have room in your kitchen space.

Thankfully, most newer homes are built with in-kitchen seating in mind, whether it’s a breakfast nook, a spacious bar with bar-height seating, or an open connecting great room. That extra space also comes in handy for cooling cookies, decorating gingerbread houses, overseeing homework completion, or prepping for a big holiday meal.


2. Big, Deep Kitchen Sink

I’ve learned the hard way to make sure my kitchen sink is large and deep (or at the very least, located in a space where it can be upgraded relatively easily).

If you’re not planning a kitchen remodel in the near future, think about what the messiest cleanup will look like in a potential kitchen. Envision the flow of dishes, pots, pans, and people. For me, that requires a roomy sink flanked by a decent chunk of counter space on each side. If it looks like a train wreck in your mind’s eye, think long and hard before you give that kitchen a thumbs-up.


3. Appliances, Appliances

This is a highly personal choice and much of it probably goes without saying. But you need appliances that work for you–and if you’re planning to replace your new home’s appliances with beefier, more updated options, you’ll also need to make sure the cabinetry in the home’s kitchen will allow for the size of appliance you want.

If a gas stove is a must for you, you’ll need to know if there’s a gas line in the house–and if not, how much it will cost to get one there. If you’re bringing along a commercially adapted range or another specialty appliance, you’ll also need to make sure the floor is strong enough to hold it.  And if you want to install an additional wall oven or a wine cooler, making sure that the wiring can handle the extra load is a crucial but often-overlooked step.


4. Cleanability

An easy-to-clean kitchen is worth its weight in gold. If you find one, consider foregoing the rest of your house search and make an offer ASAP.

Really, though. The materials used in a kitchen design can make your life as a cook 100x easier or that much more difficult. Look for stainless steel sinks, smooth, wipeable countertops and backsplashes, and a minimum of tiles. Tile floors in a kitchen can be a bear to clean; wood strip flooring or even a high-quality, nonslip laminate is a nicer choice. Some cooks prefer to have heatproof ceramic tile surfaces near their range or a butcher block section of counter in a strategic spot too; keep an eye out for those features.


5. A Functional Layout

The most efficient kitchens just flow with the way their chefs operate. Every pan has a place, everything is within easy reach, and one twirl takes you to just the thing you need from the refrigerator so you can toss it in a pan with the same nonchalance as anyone with their own Food Network show.  Unfortunately, we don’t all operate in a Food Network kitchen.

The crucial kitchen triangle–the shape created by your sink, range, and refrigerator–covers the most frequently-traveled paths in a cooking space. Conventional kitchen design wisdom ways that no leg of that triangle should be less than 4 feet or more than 9 feet, and that the sum of all three sides should fall somewhere between 13 and 26 feet, regardless of how spacious or cozy your kitchen is. It’s a good rule of thumb as you evaluate how well a potential kitchen’s layout will work for you.

Keep in mind that every real-life kitchen also has its limitations. Unless you have an unlimited budget to remodel, your best bet is to figure out what your non-negotiables are, think about the things you cook the most and the way you typically use your cooking space, and then find ways to make a new kitchen your own. Because the kitchen is where the magic happens. (Related: Five Clever Ways to Help Your Home Sell Fast This Fall)