Shop Neighborhoods First, Houses Later
It’s better to buy a smaller house in a good neighborhood than to buy a larger home in an iffy area, even if the larger house is cheaper. You can always trade up into a larger home when you can afford more, but your chances of getting decent resale value for a home in a neighborhood with rotten schools, public infrastructure problems, or high crime are not very promising.
That said, don’t buy a home that feels too small for your family since your needs for space will almost always increase, not decrease. Buy the most suitable home that you can afford, and keep in mind that as long as the home is in a decent neighborhood with good schools, you can always move into a larger home later.
Before you buy, be informed about things like lead paint hazards, the quality of the local drinking water and soil, and other health-related concerns. If the house has a pool, make sure it’s completely enclosed by a sturdy fence. Even if your own children know how to swim, an open pool can become a temptation to other neighborhood children, which can lead to tragic consequences.
If you’ve found a house that interests you, check out the surrounding area. Are there businesses or schools close by? How far is the nearest firehouse or police station? Is the home on or near a busy street, or is it located at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac? Are there factories in the area that might be the source of contaminants or pollutants? Is the home located in a good school district? All of these things could affect your family’s lifestyle and might even affect the resale value of your home.
If you have young children, consider who your neighbors will be. Are there other families with young kids in the area, or will you frequently have to drive your child to playdates? Are there playgrounds nearby? If you buy in the country, consider the isolation that accompanies the beautiful pastoral setting. Who will your children play with while you are renovating that old farmhouse?
Consider a House's Features
While you may not be able to find every feature you desire in a house, it’s crucial you think about what aspects of the house will strongly impact your family now and as it grows. The following few suggestions may help you start thinking about what is needed in a family home.
For instance, a single bathroom might be suitable for a couple with one small child, but if your family expands by even one person over the next few years, you will probably want another bathroom to accommodate your potty-training toddler, older sibling, Mom and Dad, playdate kids and their folks, and visiting Grandmas and Grandpops. When it comes to resale value, homes with only one bathroom tend to sell slower and for less money than their better-outfitted counterparts.
If you have a messy brood and don’t like schlepping loads of laundry up and down the stairs, look for a home with a laundry room on the ground floor or even off the master bedroom.
If you have infants or toddlers, keep in mind that any open staircases will need to have safety gates attached to keep the little ones from taking a tumble.
Make sure that there are open spaces in the home where children can play safely. If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, consider homes with a playroom or TV room off the kitchen so you can keep an eye on the kids while you make dinner.
Can You Afford It?
One common mistake people make when looking for a new home is underestimating what they can afford. Although it’s important not to overextend yourself when applying for a mortgage, many people base their estimated spending potential on what they were paying for their old home, not realizing that the drop in interest rates over the past several years means that a much more expensive house may carry a lower monthly mortgage payment.
Generally speaking, your total expense for housing should not exceed more than 25 to 30 percent of your family’s gross income, but factors such as your income, outstanding financial obligations, assets, credit, and job history can all play a role in determining how much you will be eligible to borrow. It’s a good idea to get a prequalification from a mortgage broker even before you begin searching for a home.
If you’re willing to wait several months to a year or so, building a new home might be a cheaper alternative to buying an already existing property, while allowing you more choice in the design and style of house. Tales of contracting delays, underestimates on the cost of building materials, and unscrupulous contractors are not unheard of, so if you consider building, do careful research before selecting a builder. If you’re working within a fixed budget and time-frame, buying a pre-existing home may be your safest bet.