Sunday, May 31, 2015

Buying a House Part 2: Figuring Out What You Want

When buying a house you'll want to be very careful to find a place you can still see yourself occupying several years from now, perhaps even for the rest of your life. Unlike an apartment, you can't just up and move in a year or so once you realize that the location is a little too far away from your job, or perhaps you don't have enough room for your growing family, or you wish you had more/less yard to work with. Selling a house is a lot tougher than waiting out or breaking a lease.

Given that, there are countless things to consider when finding the perfect place or, as is more likely going to be the case, the place that's "good enough." Houses come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of features you may never have considered. To some degree you're going to need to keep an open mind once you start touring actual houses, but you're definitely going to want to have an idea of what you want before you start your search. Just remember that you're not just looking for what you need now, you've also got to keep in mind what you may need in the future.

For the purposes of this step we're going to keep things fairly general.

Laura and I found ourselves looking for a house very suddenly, so we didn't have a very prepared answer when our realtor asked us what sort of house we were looking for. We hadn't spent much time browsing the MLS, so we could only think of some basics:
  • 3+ bedrooms, because we were hoping to get a place big enough to have guests over and just generally have room to expand.
  • 2+ bathrooms, because bathroom traffic is a big concern of mine.
  • As little carpeting as possible, because Laura has a deeply-rooted hatred of carpeting (it gets dirty easily, it absorbs smells, it starts looking crappy quickly, etc)
  • No swimming pools, because pools are a money pit.
  • Spacious kitchen, because both Laura and I like to cook and kitchen traffic is a concern of mine.
  • Central location, because Laura likes to be close to things (grocery stores, entertainment, etc)
  • Quiet neighborhood, because I like unbroken sleep
  • Paved driveway, because rocky driveways look crappy and require regular maintenance
  • Central A/C, because it's the desert and effectiveness is more important than efficiency
Luckily, none of Laura and I's parameters directly contradicted each other, though there were a few compromises. For instance, there were a few nice houses that might have been perfect except for the fact that they had a pool. I personally didn't mind the idea of having a pool, but Laura was strongly against it (for good reason), so we looked elsewhere.

If you're buying a house with a partner, I recommend putting together lists of your preferences and seeing how they match up beforehand. If there are contradictions, you'll probably want to figure out how you're going to compromise as soon as possible.

Location is the most important factor when buying a house. There's a reason why real estate professionals list their three top priorities as "location, location, location." Most everything else about a house (its design, flooring, bathrooms, etc) can be changed and fixed over time, but once you have a location you're pretty much stuck with it until you sell the place. The things around you (neighbors, businesses, etc) may or may not change, but you will have little control over that. So, when choosing a house, always first consider the location: is it near things you want to be near (work, food, etc)? Is the neighborhood quiet, if that's an important factor for you? Do you feel safe walking down the street? Do the neighbors seem to take care of their yards? Are the streets well-maintained? Is there a lot of traffic on the street? Do you prefer a gated community? Do you prefer a place with closer houses and small yards that are easy to maintain, or do you prefer wide open spaces and neighbors so far away you can't see them? You can get a good feel for an area by simply driving by, maybe stopping to walk around the neighborhood for a while.

Here are some other factors you may want to consider:
  • Number of bedrooms: how many dedicated bedrooms will you need in the foreseeable future? Are you planning to have visitors? Grow your family? Rent out a room? Convert a bedroom into a workspace or a den?
  • Number of bathrooms: Seriously, unless you're in a one-bedroom apartment living alone with no plans to invite visitors over it's probably a good idea to have multiple bathrooms. But that's just my opinion.
  • Bathroom fixtures: Do you prefer showers or bathtubs? Do you need a lot of room on your bathroom counter?
  • Flooring: Hardwood floors? Tile? Carpet? Vinyl flooring?
  • Kitchen: Do you need a lot of storage space? Prefer a gas stove over electric? Need an island? Dishwasher? Garbage disposal?
  • Air conditioning: Central A/C is effective, but costly since it affects every room even if you're not in it. Window units are more efficient, but not aesthetically pleasing. Swamp coolers are efficient, but not as effective and requires annual maintenance.
  • Utility room: do you need a washer and dryer? If so, do you want space for side-by-side units, or can you afford stackable units?
  • Yard: how much space do you want? Do you want any trees? Do you require existing garden space?
  • Fireplace, yes or no?
  • Swimming pool, yes or no? Swimming pools don't affect a house's price as much as I thought, but it does mean you'll need to spend a lot of time and money if you're going to maintain it.
  • Parking: Do you prefer a garage? A car port? Simply a drive way? Street parking? How often do you expect visitors?
I'm sure there are tons of things I'm forgetting, but if you look through these considerations and find what what matters most to you, that will be enough for you to move on to the next step: finding an agent. 


  1. Another tid-bit of advice I received from Papa Murphy; Property values rise and fall and its nearly impossible to predict them. However, statistically speaking, most properties see a rise in value after 5 years. So, when buying a house, I was told to expect to live there for, at the very least, 5 years before thinking about re-selling.

    Of course, that's just something to consider based on statistics. I believe what Charlie suggests is a much safer practice. Picking a house you can realistically see yourself living in for the foreseeable future.

  2. Something I'd just add in is that you'll get a better idea of what house you want when you go out and see houses! Then you can imagine what furniture you'll be moving in there too and get a good feel of everything.

  3. Moving out is not a wearisome process anymore nowadays with the aid of professional removalists. However, before we reach that physical stage, it is important to carefully decide whether or not we should be moving out at all. There are many factors to consider before finally deriving with an ultimatum and they consist of finances, location, timing, and so on.