I’ve moved 27 times in my life. That’s a lot of box toting. It’s also a lot of house living which is to say, I have an intimate knowledge of 27 homes on this planet and let me tell you, they are not all created equal. (But I’m grateful for all of them.)
Suffice it to say, I’ve got a good idea about what’s nice in a house and what’s not. Also, I’m particular and observant. (That’s a nice way of saying I’m picky and critical.) I notice stuff and make lists.
A house doesn’t make a home, but I can assure you, a well-chosen house does make a home more comfortable.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing your next house.
1. Don’t buy on a “T.”
In other words, don’t be the house into which a road ends. Not only do you run the (admittedly slim) risk of a runaway car, but you’re also much more likely to get headlights in your windows constantly.
2. Take note of what’s adjacent to (or nearby) the property.
In our area there are many new communities being built. Don’t be wowed by the glossy neighborhood maps in the sales office. They usually don’t indicate things like major thoroughfares, railroad tracks, monstrous power lines, shady back alleys behind strip malls or other less-than-desirous properties that might be right next to yours. Same goes for established homes. I recommend checking out Google Maps. Type in the address of the house you’re thinking about buying and take a look at what’s surrounding it. Be sure to look at both the street map view as well as the satellite view. Maps show things like railroad tracks and that LOUD rock quarry 1/4 mile down the road.
3. Look out all the windows of your potential house to see what you see.
If you can see into your neighbor’s windows, they can see into yours. And what about that brick wall two feet from your kitchen window? Or the drive-in movie screen visible from your child’s window that will be playing R-rated movies in the summer? It could happen.
4. Make sure the bulk of your windows face south, southeast or east (friends in the souther hemisphere will have to flip this around)
Particularly if you live where it’s hot. You won’t get baked in the hot afternoon sun therefore you’ll save on cooling costs. Also, if you live super far north where it’s colder, you’ll get more sun if you face south which will save on your heating costs. Besides, it’s just my opinion, but morning light is so much more pleasant than late afternoon light. But you may feel differently.
5. Buy on a street that isn’t a convenient pass-through road.
These are the streets–all neighborhoods have them–that everyone uses to get in and out of the neighborhood. Cul de sacs are ideal of course but short streets without a lot of connecting streets are second best. Avoid long, straight streets or you’ll have cars whizzing by constantly.
6. Beware the corner lot.
It’s common to see house listings touting “Corner lot!” all the time. Quite frankly I’ve never understood what’s so great about the corner lot. True, it might be a bigger lot, but very often the extra space comes in the form of more side yard and is not very functional. As I see it, unless the extra space can be utilized, it only adds up to more lawn to mow, more hedges to trim, more property tax to pay and another traffic-producing street adjacent to more of your windows.
7. Visit your potential house at several different times during the day.
You might find out that your next door neighbor’s dog barks incessantly after dark or the house next door has 4 extremely LOUD children who all come out after 3pm. And maybe they fight a lot. (Ahem.)
8. Always, always, always keep resale in mind…even if you plan on dying there.
Even if you do die there, chances are someone in your family will be responsible for selling the thing eventually. Buy or build a house that has good bones and express your creativity through things that can be easily changed (like paint or maybe landscaping). You may love the idea of an ultra modern-looking house which sits in the middle of the country but to others it might look exactly like a prison.
9. Find out about the school district…even if you don’t plan on using the schools.
In my experience, good school districts generally indicate a healthy community. Plus, a good school district boosts your resale value. GreatSchools is a place to start. You also might check the testing results in your state.
10. Don’t buy the biggest/most expensive house in a neighborhood.
Instead, go for a smaller/lower-valued home in a nicer neighborhood. The nicer homes are more likely to bring your home value up instead of the lower-priced homes bringing your home-value down.
11. Do a little research about the community.
Are things being built up or torn down? Are people moving in or out? Does the town receive good press or bad press? All these things will give you a clue as to where things are headed in the future. The place may be booming now but is the trend likely to continue into the future? Another thing you might want to check out is the National Sex Offender Public Registry if that sort of thing is important to you (sorry, I know this is US-centric).
12. Find out about the house’s history.
Zillow has some useful information, particularly about past sales and surrounding home values. Find out if the seller is asking way too much (or if it’s an absolute steal). You can also get an idea of what kind of property taxes you’ll be paying. You can check with your County Clerk about what the house sold for previously too. (Many County Clerks now have this info available online.)
13. Don’t forget about furniture and stuff.
As so many painfully realized in the last 10 years or so, sometimes it’s easy to get sucked into the “How much can we afford” mentality and push it to its limit. It costs A LOT of money to move into a new house and get settled, even if it’s brand new and you don’t have a lot of fixing up to do. The little stuff (a chair to go there, a new gas dryer because our electric one won’t work, a few landscaping updates, etc.) all add up quick. If you go big, remember you’ll have to fill it. Unless of course empty rooms are your thing, in which case, do not listen to me.
14. Consider renting.
No really. Owning a home isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. It’s a lot of time, money, maintenance and hassle. Sure there are benefits–that’s why people own them–but it really isn’t the pinnacle of American Dream-hood in my opinion. In our case, we own a home, but I’m really beginning to believe we have no business owning a home. We are not handy and we don’t like paying others to do handy things for us because, well, we’d rather spend our money on, say, food. Thank goodness for my handy father who lives not too far away. Maybe the moral of the story is to live by your parents?
What would you add?