What To Look For
Choosing a place to live can be one of the most exhilarating experiences of a lifetime. I’ve learned through the home seekers I have helped that the best approach is to be prepared. Literally, to do some homework. Our observation is simple. Your move can be an improvement if you duplicate what you like in your present community and avoid what you dislike.
House Hunting Begins At Home
The search can begin in your present home so I’ve developed some questions to stimulate your thinking and help you identify your needs and preferences. Once you’ve clarified what you like in your present community, you will have a better idea of what you want to find. Plus, you will be able to express your preferences clearly.
One hint to keep in mind as you go house hunting is an old wisdom: “The best time to think about selling your home is when you’re buying it.” In other words, what appeals to you as a buyer today will probably also appeal (or what turns you off will be a turn off) to buyers tomorrow. A careful house hunter will benefit years from now when it’s time to sell to an equally value-conscious buyer. Build your buyer savvy by viewing real estate Websites, reading newspaper classified ads, homes-for-sale magazines, and visiting open houses.
County and City Questions
Would you characterize your present area as urban, suburban, semi-rural, or rural? Is the population density low, medium, or high? Is the population decreasing, stable, or increasing?
What natural features are the most significant? Woods? Hills? Flat land? River? Ocean shore? Man-made lakes? Streams and ponds?
How do you commute to work? Do you walk? Drive? Car pool? Taxi? Bus? Train? How far must you travel and how long does it take morning and evening? Do you use available public transportation for local trips or to visit close-by communities? Can someone reach your home on public transportation?
Where do you do your shopping? Central commercial districts? Shopping malls? Supermarket shopping clusters? Community shops or home delivery? Imagine a list of typical stops in one week . . . how many miles and how much time would visiting the entire list require. Do you want greater convenience?
What types of schools does your family attend now? From grade school to graduate school, and from day care needs to special vocational training, what facilities will you require in the next few years? Are there any special needs or plans? Although it’s extremely difficult to compare quality of education, especially when the most important ingredient is the relationship between teacher and student, some statistical indicators can be helpful. Average class size at grade level. Comparative standardized text scores. Average salary of teachers. Percentage of high school graduates who go to college.
What does the area offer for recreation and entertainment? Music? Movies and live stage? Sports arenas? Museums? Nightlife? What types of indoor and outdoor sports facilities are available? Are there public parks, country clubs, athletic clubs, fraternal groups? Do you require any special facilities?
Choosing A Neighborhood
After you take stock of the larger view of the county and city, this section helps you zero in on your neighborhood preferences. In real estate, an old maxim says there are three criteria that determine market value: “location, location, and location”.
The concept of neighborhood isn’t as precise as county or city. Some people consider the boundaries to be the district around a grade school. Others consider it “walking distance”, more or less within a half-mile radius. Wherever you draw the line, a neighborhood is the immediate area around your house.
Every neighborhood can be described from three standpoints: its people (your future neighbors), what it looks like, and where its services are located. Yet any neighborhood description is highly subjective, which brings up another observation from our experience.
No matter how much hard data one gathers about a neighborhood, nothing compares with information that local people provide. Whether it’s fellow workers, letter carriers, or people at a bus stop . . . neighbors are the best observers of a neighborhood. Talk to as many people as you can, and ask them the following questions:
Do neighbors socialize regularly, or hold block parties, picnics, holiday parties, organize sports teams? What are the ways they have met their neighbors? Walking a dog, commuting, PTA, parties, little league, gardening?
What types of dwellings: high-rise or low-rise apartments, condominiums, multi-family structures, single-family houses, mobile homes? How much do the neighbors care for lawns and gardens? Are the houses maintained “like new”, adequately, poorly? Is there a Homeowners Association?
Are cars parked mostly in garages, driveways, in the street? How old are the houses? More than 30 years old? 15 to 30 years? New? How far apart are the houses? Are property upgrades common? Swimming pools, tennis courts, fences, walls, patios, extensive landscaping?
For convenience, how does the neighborhood rate? Can you walk to shopping or is a car necessary? List your five most frequent destinations. Are they clustered in one stop-and-shop location? Two stops? How much time is required for fire, police, or ambulance services to arrive in an emergency? How close are cultural centers, parks, restaurants, theaters, playgrounds?
How do the children routinely reach their schools, play areas, friends’ homes? By walking, bicycle, bus, or do parents drive them? Is public transportation available for commuting or shopping? Do any local ordinances affect pets, parking, lawn, etc.?
What are the disadvantages of the neighborhood? Freeway, railroad, or airplane noise? Factory pollution, heavy traffic, exposure to heavy storms, possible flooding?
Area House Styles
This section is designed to introduce some of the basic styles most frequently found in the area. Numerous variations and other unique styles not mentioned here are also available.
Cape Cod. A symmetrical peaked roof often with dormer windows which creates a one-and-a-half story design with living space upstairs in an “expansion attic”.
Colonial. A two-story design with center hall or side entry, often with basement. Variations often feature double or single wings with garage. Numerous styles include New England, Federal, Plantation, Dutch Colonial, Georgian, French Colonial.
Contemporary. Modern and non-traditional creation of living spaces using a spectrum of shapes, materials, and designs. An “open” use of space is characteristic. May be single or multiple stories.
Hi-Rise Condominium. Multi-story building with elevator access to owned apartments; monthly fee usually pays for use of recreation facilities, maintenance and utilities.
Low-Rise Condominium. A cluster of attached units, four stories or less ranging from converted garden apartments to ramblers and two-story townhouses. Resident owns title to living space while jointly owning public areas; condominium fee often covers maintenance, amenities, sometimes water; other utilities may be individually billed.
Rambler. A single-story house with all living areas on same level. Variations include L-shape or U-shape plan, perhaps with basement. Sometimes called “ranch”; if it is small, a “bungalow” or “cottage”.
Split Foyer. Entry is between floors. Makes use of slope by placing basement partially above ground level on uphill side, thus basement becomes livable space. Also called “split entry”.
Split Level. Side wing has two levels off main ground floor; designed for maximum living space while occupying the least land. Garage and sub-basement are frequent options.
Townhouse. A row of two-or-three-story dwellings sharing common walls, also called “row houses”. Wide range of styles from contemporary to colonial. The term “semi-detached” describes a pair of townhouse end units; similar in function to a duplex.
Choosing A House
In many ways, finding a home is easier than choosing a county and a neighborhood, because you are considering tangible details. Yet my experience suggests that many people “decide” with emotion and “justify” with facts. This section will help you find a better balance.
First, one should realize that thousands of houses are sold in the area every year. Inspecting the thousands of houses on the market is obviously impossible. But you can turn this overwhelming selection to your advantage. If you can clearly describe the features you require, I can make a preliminary screening for you. After you select the best houses, you can concentrate on inspecting your top choices. The key is knowing what you need.
How many people will be living in the house? Do you prefer a new or resale home? What is your preferred housing style? Townhouse, colonial, contemporary, split level, split foyer, Cape Cod, rambler, or something else?
How many total rooms do you need? Bedrooms, bathrooms? How strongly do you require features such as: separate living room, dining room, laundry room, basement or attic, family room, fireplace, workshop area, garage? How much property do you require? Do you have preferences for any particular natural features?
House Hunting Many of my customers find it helpful to keep a record of the houses they inspect. A notebook is handy with pages large enough to record vital information, as well as hold stapled pictures of attractive houses and neighborhoods or clipped advertisements.
Is the asking price comparable to other houses in the neighborhood? Higher or lower? However, when carefully comparing properties, be sure to take into account unique features and improvements that vary house-to-house. I can help you by providing a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA).
Is the existing mortgage assumable? Required down payment amount? What financing method is acceptable to the seller?
What are the annual property taxes? Will the taxes increase with the transfer of deed and a new market price? Any local bonds or assessments?
Physical Details Outside.
Address of property? House style? Lot size? Landscaping details? Degree of grounds maintenance required? Age of house? Structural condition? Are any major repairs or improvements necessary? Maintenance of building?
Inside. Make a sketch of floor plans. Total number of rooms and baths on each floor? Any extras such as intercom, fireplaces, phone jacks? Built-in appliances: dishwasher, garbage disposal, trash compactor? Adequate storage space?
Construction. Inspect quality of materials, present condition, craftsmanship both inside and outside. Insulation? Weather stripping or storm windows?
Major Systems. Plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling. What type of fuel does the heating system use? Approximate annual cost? A professional inspection of the major systems is recommended for a house that you are interested in purchasing.
House Hunting on the Web
When a house is listed for sale by any area broker, the home’s vital statistics are fed into the computer: the lot size; the age and kind of home (condo, townhouse, single family); style (colonial, contemporary, Cape Cod, etc.); material (brick, stone, wood); the number, size, and use of rooms (4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, kitchen, living and dining rooms, family room, finished basement and attic, foyer, utility room, garage).
Also included are features (fireplace, walkout deck, patio, wooded lot); equipment (stove, dishwasher, carpeting, etc.); the heating and/or cooling systems; the water and sewage systems; the annual taxes; the mortgage balance, monthly payments and the amount of cash a buyer would need to assume the existing mortgage (if it’s assumable), or the amount of cash required if the seller offers to take a second mortgage; and, finally, the price.
Finger-Tip Home Search
A buyer’s requirements can be fed into the computer by a Long & Foster Sales Associate: particular neighborhoods, styles of homes; the number and kinds of rooms, and the price range. In minutes, the computer makes a quick search among the houses listed, and prints out all the houses that meet the buyer’s criteria.
The computer also helps buyers determine which home sellers will offer seller financing. It can calculate the amount of mortgage payments at various interest rates, under various financing plans. It can also help evaluate the investment and the financing that is right for the buyer. Plus, it’s updated each morning, as houses enter and leave the market. In short, it’s the only way a buyer can check out almost everything that’s “out there”.