According to conventional wisdom, buying a home is the biggest investment that many of us will ever make. For that reason, the process is typically stressful, as you’ll have a long time to regret your decision if you make a purchase based upon impulse – or without having known the important points to consider.
From neighborhood and school district to features, size and price, the list of must-haves for a homebuyer is a long one. Many first-time buyers, especially, need guidance on where to start and what to look for before finally taking the plunge. We at The Paint Manager want to be sure you’re an educated consumer able to make an informed decision – which is why we have put together this guide of what to look for before you buy a home.
Consider Your Lifestyle and Needs
We each have different requirements of a home, depending upon our situation and stage of life. Obviously, a young family and empty-nest couple are unlikely to have the same requirements. House-hunting TV shows typically feature homebuyers who make a list of “must-haves.” While perhaps some of the desired features are played up for the sake of drama – as some are patently unrealistic (a gourmet kitchen on a starter-home budget, for example) – writing down such a list is actually a good start in organizing your priorities.
- What lifestyle do you want?
- Imagine your ideal yard
- What matters most in a neighborhood?
- Be realistic about home repairs
- Separate needs from wants
Returning to our theoretical young family, such factors as school district, safety of the neighborhood and an overall child-friendly environment would be high priorities. An ideal yard would be large enough to accommodate children playing, space to romp with the dog and gatherings of family and friends – but low-maintenance enough to be easy to care for. As for home repairs, the homebuyers may be into DIY projects, or too busy to want a “fixer” for the family homestead.
Consider the lifestyle you want now and 10 years down the line, then choose the features you would like to have in your home. Think about how you would commute, carry out daily errands, and factor in how you will spend weekends and holidays. If you want a house in the city but your ideal location is beyond your budget – or will only buy you a house with less square footage or property than you want – how far from that area are you willing to consider to get more house for your dollar? This would also be a good time to make a list of the features you’re willing to compromise on.
Also think about your plans for family. A young couple looking at two-bedroom homes may need to sell in a few years and look for a larger house as they have children. And remember that not all decisions in this area are in your hands! Being blessed with twins or triplets will quickly make you outgrow that first cozy cottage! If you can afford a little more house than you currently need, the investment may be worthwhile in the long run.
Before you start your search – online as well as in-person – make sure you have answers to the following questions:
- Do you have to travel often, or would you stay at home most of the time?
- Would you be hosting parties or large gatherings?
- Will guests come to stay with you often?
- Will you and your spouse own separate vehicles?
- Will you be using public transit?
- Do you or your spouse work from home?
Once you have answers to questions such as these, you will have a good handle on establishing your priorities.
Look Beyond the Curb Appeal
In today’s age of online house hunting, savvy home sellers play up the curb appeal of the exterior and even go so far as to stage interior rooms to make them more appealing in online listing photos and videos. But that makes it even more important than ever to look beyond the curb appeal and take stock of the home’s condition and state of repair.
- Roof – If you’re still in the “hunting” stage, look at the roof to make a quick visual assessment of its condition. Shingles should be even, and not showing signs of wear; gutters should be sturdy. Ask the real estate agent or seller about its age. When you’re ready to make an offer, of course, the home inspector will conduct a thorough assessment.
- Foundation – Foundation problems can cause a lot of heartache in the form of thousands to tens of thousands of dollars to repair. To spot a bad foundation, keep an eye out for cracks in the walls (particularly those around doorways or windows). Doors and windows that stick or jam are another warning sign. Ultimately, you’ll want to get a professional to sign off on the state of the home’s foundation.
- Siding – Check out the exterior walls for any obvious signs of damage or disrepair, including peeling paint, rotting wood, cracks or other signs of decay.
Although not on Quicken Loan’s list, the condition of the home’s HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system is vitally important. This is included in home inspections conducted in Florida, so be sure to read the report carefully. If the system is in poor condition or is near the end of its average life span, you may want to reconsider putting in an offer.
However, don’t write off a property that doesn’t look Instagram-perfect. As Zillow advises, “When you attend showings and open houses, or even when you’re just browsing photos and floor plans or taking 3D tours, it’s easy to get distracted by clutter. Try not to see beyond the seller’s stuff since it’ll all be removed by the time you move in. Picture the house as a blank canvas for your belongings.”
Zillow provides the following additional factors for homebuyers to consider:
Budget – Every homebuyer has a budget to adhere to when they set out to buy a home. Budget is the first thing homebuyers need to plan before they buy a house. Regardless of your desires, most homebuyers have to stick to a budget. That is why you should start your search only after you have planned your finances. According to Zillow, 27% of homebuyers exceeded their initial budget, and only 17% of homebuyers spent less than their budget. The prudent advice is to look for a house that is within your budget and has most of the amenities you want.
Commute – 53% of home buyers look for optimal commute time to work or school. And 58% of home buyers weigh proximity to shopping, services or leisure activities (Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2020). Generally, the ride from your home to your workplace and places you frequent often is a major consideration. If you and your spouse both work away from home, discuss the commute issue so that neither one ends up with an onerously long daily drive.
Neighborhood safety – According to Zillow, 83% of homebuyers say safety is a high priority. If you’re moving to a new town and are unfamiliar with its neighborhoods, look into crime statistics, conduct online searches and check out social media groups to gauge the safety and overall quality of life in the areas in which you plan your home search.
Local public schools – Whether or not you have – or plan to have – children, neighborhoods with a highly rated school district are overall desirable places to live. If your home is in a good school district, it adds value, which can help you when you’re ready to sell it in the future. According to Zillow, 44% of home buyers want to move to a preferred school district.
The Inside Story – What to Look for When You Tour the Rooms
Once inside the house, look closely for telltale signs that repairs may be needed. Cracks in the wall or ceiling could indicate foundation issues. Check the condition of baseboards, interior doors and other woodwork for signs of wear. Check flooring for condition issues as well. Cracked tiles in a bathroom or hall – as well as damaged hardwood flooring and worn carpeting – may not be deal-breakers, but will need to be addressed sooner rather than later. If possible, use them to negotiate for a lower selling price.
Also pay attention to how the rooms “flow.” Open floor plans are typical for newer homes, but older homes tend to have separate, defined rooms cut off from each other by walls and doors. If the latter is all that’s in your price range, consider if it can still be functional for your family. You may want to plan and budget for renovations in the future to open up the interior spaces.
Living room – The amount and flow of space in the living room is especially important in houses that lack a family room. Mentally arrange your furniture to visualize how the space would work – including where the TV will be placed. Consider the location of the coaxial cable outlet, as well as the number and location of electrical outlets. Overlook such minor cosmetic issues as paint color that may not be to your taste. Walls can easily be repainted.
Bedrooms – It is crucial to consider the number of bedrooms you need now and for the future. According to Zillow, the number of bedrooms is a high priority for at least 77% of home buyers. If you anticipate adding to your family or eventually moving in an elderly parent, the home should have enough bedrooms to accommodate everyone. Or, you may plan to use one of the bedrooms as a home office, fitness room, etc.
Bathrooms – While the popular tendency is to look for stylish, upgraded bathrooms – particularly the master bath – making sure the plumbing and fan are functional is more important. With the permission of the real estate agent, run the faucets and shower, and flush the toilet. Keep your eyes open for mold, which indicates an interior pipe leak.
Kitchen – Look for cabinet space, counter space and condition of the appliances. If the cabinets aren’t damaged and can store all of your dinnerware, pots and pans – and the countertops and appliances are in good shape and you have adequate counter space to prepare meals – don’t be too picky about their style. If you can move around and work comfortably, you can remodel later.
Storage – Older homes in Florida are notorious for their lack of storage space. This is often an unpleasant surprise for Northern transplants, who are accustomed to homes with a basement and/or attic. If you’re looking at homes that don’t have walk-in closets or a garage, decide how you’ll store clothing, toys, sports/fitness equipment and miscellaneous household items.
Stairs – A house with a second story isn’t practical for everyone. If you plan to age in your home or a member of your household has mobility issues, you should limit your house hunt to single-story only – or, at least, to a house with one bedroom on the first floor. Also keep in mind if the house itself is accessed by steps – either to the front door or patio. Some outdoor decks have steps, which can make them inaccessible to those with limited mobility.
Privacy and noise – Take note of the location of the house on its street, as well as its orientation. Is there a fence or tall shrubs separating the home’s property from the neighbors? Is it on a cul-de-sac where the neighborhood kids gather to play? Is the school bus stop in front of the house? Would you hear traffic outside your bedroom window? Is it in the airport’s flight path?
Be observant as you tour the house and ask the real estate agent questions about conditions and situations you can’t readily observe. Experienced home buyers recommend driving around the neighborhood at different times of day – including evening – to see if there’s increased activity that you may find annoying. You just might hear the next door neighbor’s garage band practicing!
Energy efficiency – According to Zillow, 35% of home buyers consider smart home capabilities very important. Consider how much you want to spend on utilities every month. Ask the real estate agent or current owner about the amount of their average utility bill. Newer homes with low ceilings, energy-efficient windows and a smaller footprint can allow you to save money on utilities. Keep in mind that homes with high ceilings and open vertical spaces look contemporary and luxurious, but cost more to cool and heat.
The Take-Home Message
Your home isn’t only your most important investment – it’s where you make a life for yourself and your family. Choosing the right house enhances the quality of your life and allows you to create wonderful experiences and memories. Hopefully, we’ve given you the information and advice to help you make the best possible decision!
We also hope you know that The Paint Manager is here to help you maintain, repair and improve your home! We have been serving Central Florida homeowners for 20 years with experienced, dedicated and professional services that include exterior and interior house painting, roof repair and cleaning, drywall repair, popcorn ceiling texture removal, cabinet refinishing and so much more!