As a kid, my parents moved every two years. I seem to have picked up this habit and have lived in numerous houses as an adult.
One benefit of moving so much is you start to learn a lot about houses and home ownership. Every time we buy, we learn a lesson or two. Would I have liked to have avoided learning these the hard way? Absolutely, but then I wouldn’t have accumulated so much house knowledge.
So, here I will share with you all of the things you might want to consider when buying.
1. Did you get a radon test?
I don’t understand why this isn’t required. Radon is a gas that you can’t smell. It is very common in the Northeast but can still exist anywhere. It leaks from the ground and into your house. The problem with radon is that it can build up inside your house. If the levels get too high, then you are at risk of getting lung cancer among other things.
There are kits that test radon levels. If it is too high, then you must get a radon remediation system, which will run you a few thousand dollars. This is on you if you have already bought the house. Instead, put a radon test into any purchase agreement. Simply state that you want a radon test and if it comes back positive (over the limit), it needs to be fixed by the seller.
2. Have you thought about winter?
The majority of people shop for houses in the summer since moving in the summer is generally easier. Kids are out of school, so it’s an easier transition. Additionally, you don’t have to move your stuff in the snow.
However, even if you are looking at houses in the summer you need to consider all seasons. For example, if you live somewhere where it snows, then be sure to prioritize the driveway. Stay clear of long, steep driveways or you will spend many hours snow plowing or will be dependent on a plow service.
Is the house windy? While a breeze is nice in the summer, it might not be so great the rest of the year. Speaking of the rest of the year, consider what your privacy might look like after the leaves fall. I have lived in a few houses where I have a private backyard in the summer and not a great view the rest of the year. We had to plant quite a few evergreens in our current house to address this problem.
3. Does the house have good natural light?
Another great reason to sell your house in summer is that houses look better in the summer. One reason why is because it is so bright and sunny, making even the darkest of houses seem well lit.
Now, until you have lived in a house that gets crap for natural light, you won’t really appreciate how important this is. Natural light not only makes your house a wonderful place to be, but also can really affect your mood. And no matter how well you decorate or what colors you paint the walls, you won’t be able to fix the problem without adding more windows.
So, be sure the house has a lot of natural light. This means a lot of windows and a sliding glass door in the back. Another thing to observe is the trees around the house. If you are a very wooded area, then you won’t get much natural light. The more cleared of a yard you have, the more natural light you will get.
If you plan to finish the basement, then a walkout basement is better. The basement will get used so much more if it has a lot of natural light. Egress windows are one thing to look for in a basement as well if it isn’t a walkout.
4. How old are different parts of the house?
Let’s say you can afford the house you’re interested in, but can you afford the work the house might need? For example, a roof should be replaced every 20 years and it usually costs around $20,000. How old are the appliances, furnace, water heater, septic system, etc? Find out the answers to these questions!
Now, when you do buy, you can get a home improvement loan, which would cover things like a new roof or some upgrades you wanted to do. However, remember this will up your monthly payment. So when you consider putting an offer on a house, don’t just calculate the mortgage payment. Calculate the monthly payment you would be making based on what you would need to do to the house to make it work for you.
Now, if the upgrades you want to do are not critical, such as a leaking roof, then the house might still be a good fit for you. If it’s in budget and all your projects you want or need to do can wait, that’s when you want to make an offer.
5. Check Insulation
Be sure to find out just how well your attic is insulated. When you get an inspection, be sure to attend and be sure the inspector actually goes into the attic to check this. We have had problems with this before and attic insulation isn’t cheap.
Are the windows and glass door(s) double pane? If not, find out just how much it will run you to upgrade. Heating and cooling can be big costs if a house isn’t efficient. Always ask for previous years of heating and cooling bills. Sometimes houses are vacant before they sell and therefore the bills you see aren’t really true.
This happened to us. One of the places we bought had been vacant for a year, so we thought the heat was pretty good. Turns out it was so inefficient. We were looking at insane heating costs each month. It costed us a fortune; we had no choice but to put money in to fix it.
6. What size house do you need?
I put this in here because I know too many people who didn’t value size as a top priority. Instead of getting the correct size house, a lot of times people go for the nicer house. But remember, upgrading the interior is SO much cheaper and easier than having to add an addition. Or moving again!
My best advice to you is to buy the size you need. We have a friend who bought a house with two bedrooms. They want to have 4 kids. By the time they were expecting their second, they had already outgrown their house. However, they had sunk so much money into it that moving wasn’t a great option. Don’t get yourself into this predicament. Really consider if the house will work for you for many years to come.
This will probably mean your house won’t be your dream house when you buy it. BUT, as the years go by and you work on your house, it can easily turn into your dream house. If you remember anything from this post, size and location are impossible to change.
7. Take a school tour and talk to the neighbors
So now let’s talk location. Really think a lot about your location. It dictates your commute to everything, not just to jobs. It also dictates for the most part your school system. Be sure to check out the local schools. Just call up and say you are looking to buy a house and want to learn more about the school, and could you do a tour?
Go talk to a few neighbors, ask them if they like living there. Ask them questions such as if there are many kids in the neighborhood? Do they have block parties? Try to get a feel before you buy. Is it loud? Are there railroads, highways or airports nearby? For example, the last house we went to look at has a gorgeous view of nature. By talking to a few neighbors, we learned that there is going to be a dog park nearby soon. Hearing dogs all day. No thank you, I’ll pass.
Other points to consider is that corner lots are not as desirable so it will always affect re-sale value not to mention, you might not like being on a corner. If you are at the end of a cul-de-sac, then you will get headlights in your windows. Are there wetlands on the property? This could effect any renovations or additions. Seriously, I know someone who has wetlands on their property. They had to get a permit and go through so much paperwork just to cut down one tree. Plus bugs! Swamps mean bug city.
8. Have you check the neighborhood bylaws?
A lot of neighborhoods are part of an association or at least have rules. Ask to get a copy of these. You also want to check to see if there is an annual neighborhood fee. These rules will also give you an idea of what type of place you are moving into. Are they strict, etc.? Some neighborhoods we looked at had such strict neighborhood bylaws that you had to get written approval to cut down a single tree on your property.
9. Check prices of other houses nearby
You never want to be the most expensive house in the neighborhood. The reason behind this is that any upgrades you do to your house won’t increase the value of your house very much. Price is based on not just the house but the area. It will be hard to convince a buyer that your house is worth so much more than the other houses on the street.
An easy way to do this is to use Zillow to see what the other houses are priced at in the neighborhood. Use the map tool and double click on the area. The view should change to satellite view and all houses (even if they are not for sale) should show their latest sale price, or at least an estimate of what they’re worth.
10. A first-floor bathroom
Depending on the area and types of places you have lived, this might seem like a given. It is not. In the area where we live, there are a lot of old and weird houses. Our townhouse didn’t have a restroom on the first floor. This was an absolute nightmare when potty training time came around. Additionally, it always felt awkward when we had guests over.
I know it’s a weird one, but a very important one. Adding a bathroom is possible a lot of the times but it isn’t a super cheap or straightforward project. Really consider how many bathrooms your family needs to function well. And if you decide you will add one in the future, than determine if there is a space that you could convert to a bathroom and how easy it would be to tie into the existing plumbing.
11. A good entryway can cut down on mess
This is another one that I didn’t really prioritize until I had to go without. Make sure that there is plenty of space for shoes and coats at the door you will enter the most. If there is a garage, then it is probably that one. The best is a mudroom or at least a hall you can convert to a mud area.
We just outfitted our hall from the garage with a built in bench and cubby area for coats. We also put up baskets for keys, wallets, mail, change and sunglasses.
When houses are for sale, they are perfectly cleaned. In fact, a lot of times the sellers rent a storage unit so they can declutter the house. The downside of seeing houses perfectly cleaned is that you might not consider the space when it is truly lived in (i.e. mess).
I can’t tell you how much it bothered me that we had nowhere to put shoes, coats, wallets etc. While there was a coat closet, it wasn’t practical. You always leave out at least one pair of shoes and if you have kids, good luck keeping everything in just a coat closet.
Pursue your dream house Today
House shopping can be a lot of fun, but it can also be stressful if you aren’t finding the house of your dreams. Remember you can always upgrade the inside of a house but changing the size and location is often impossible. With location, consider school choice, neighborhood rules and fees.
Safety first, get that inspection and make a radon test part of that selling agreement.
Keep weather in mind as you consider the age of the house along with how well insulated it is, the type of heat, and the challenge of snowplowing the driveway.
Make a priority list. Consider what you need to live and what might result in the happiest household. Have kids? Make having a bathroom on each floor a priority along with a mudroom or area to cut down on mess.
I hope by sharing some of the things I wished I had put more attention to, you will be able to get closer to the house of your dreams. Good luck!
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