7 Things to Consider When House Hunting
They say you should “never judge a book by its cover,” so why would you judge a house by its curb appeal? It’s easy to get swept up in the external look of a place when house hunting. But curb appeal is fleeting, much like fashion trends and Top 10 song lists. While on your hunt for a new house, focus instead on the internal things you’ll have to deal with if you do buy that house. Do your due diligence and consider these seven things before you make an offer – you may just avoid major headaches in the future
1. Consider the neighborhood
When house hunting, keep in mind that you need to look at the bigger picture. Do your research on nearby schools, transportation options, and crime rate, then ask yourself if you honestly feel comfortable in the neighborhood. Try to quickly familiarize yourself with the new neighborhood, picturing what your life would look like on the block or in the metro area. If there’s any hesitation, move on.
2. Imagine future upkeep costs
A big house can look great (and match the home you’ve always dreamed of), but if you’re not prepared to maintain it, you may end up stressing more than enjoying the new home. Think through how much housework (like mopping, vacuuming, cleaning, dusting, and tidying up) the house you’re walking through will require. And consider the cost of things breaking – are the new appliances under warranty still? Was the roof recently replaced? How new is the exterior paint? If you have any concerns over the amount of upkeep a house may require, it’s probably not the right house for you.
3. Schedule a home inspection
It’s very easy to make the outside of a home look nice, while covering up all the little interior problems that will cost a homeowner time and money down the road. In most home sales, an inspection is required before the sale is complete. Whether your particular sale requires one or not, do yourself a favor and get inspections on the homes you like most. Photo by Peter Burka/Flickr While the inspectors should have your best interest in mind, some just go through the motions. So get referrals from friends and your real estate agent to find a reliable professional who will make sure things like the plumbing, electrical wiring, and foundation are up to code. If the inspector comes across any minor problems, then you can request those problems be fixed before you sign any paperwork or commit to the purchase.
4. Get an estimate on utility bills
If you’re a previous homeowner, it’s risky to assume that the cost of your utilities at the new home will be close to what they were in your previous home. For instance, the average monthly electric bill in Illinois is $87 while Texas averages $148. That’s a big difference across state lines, but the difference between city blocks can be sizable too. And don’t forget – if you’re looking at houses larger than your current living situation, that’s more space to heat and cool. Before you go too far in the home buying process, ask for recent utility bills for each potential home to weigh the cost before making your final decision.
5. Ask about HOA fees
To some homeowners, a Home Owners’ Association (HOA) is a blessing. To others, an HOA is an absolute nightmare. If there’s an HOA for the neighborhood you’re looking at, find out the monthly fee and what services it covers. Ask, too, what restrictions the HOA imposes on the neighborhood – these can range from acceptable house colors to preferred Internet providers and restrictions on fencing, modifications, and exterior décor. If you have time, knock on a few doors in the neighborhood, explain that you’re looking to buy, and ask for opinions on the current HOA. This should help you identify the pros and cons of signing up for an HOA neighborhood.
6. Think about the floor plan
In 2015, the average American single family house was 2,521 square feet. A big home may seem like a rite of passage, but if it’s not absolutely necessary it can lead to money anxiety and excessive maintenance. Before you make your decision on a home, consider the size of the home and the floor plan itself. Is there a place for all your current pieces of furniture? Are there odd nooks and crannies you don’t know how to furnish? Will you need to splurge on new furniture in order to fill every room? Does the floor plan accommodate your entire family? Can you see yourself there 10 years from now? Think through what space you absolutely need and what spaces would be a luxury (let’s be honest – the master bath with a shower and a soaking tub isn’t necessary but sure would be nice). Make your final decision on a house that fits your current needs, but has a little space to expand into.
7. Don’t forget closet space and storage
Have you ever been in a house where you wonder why all their stuff is sitting out on the counters and tables? Or the opposite: a house where you almost have to ask, “Where’s all your junk?” If there’s not enough space for all of your belongings (both what you own now and what you may end up owning in the future), you’re going to be unhappy. But you don’t want a lot of excess space either, so keep these points in mind while you’re looking. Is there
- cabinet space enough to hold what you currently own, with room to spare?
- shed or garage or basement storage areas where you can stash things that might otherwise get in the way (outdoor gear, lawn mower, garden tools, etc.)?
- temperature-controlled attic or crawl spaces where you can reduce wardrobe clutter by storing off-season clothing items?
It’s always easy to fall in love with a home that “feels” perfect for you, so it’s good to keep this list handy while house hunting.