Buying a home is a big decision, and not one you want to rush into. Admittedly many people move for reasons beyond their control – a new job, needing to care for elderly parents or maybe you want to move closer to grandchildren so you can see them more often. You still have many choices in where you decide to buy a house, and in our last article, Finances and Making Sure You're Ready to Buy, we reviewed the financial questions to answer, to prepare for this purchase.
Here we're looking at more questions, or really key decision factors you'll want to consider as you move through the process of buying a home. Hope you enjoy my summary and honest review of how I answered these questions for my recent home purchase in Fountain Hills, Arizona (above).
When Buying a Home, Do You Prefer The Country or City?
You're probably familiar with the saying it's all about location, location, location. That's because you can remodel a kitchen or add a garage, but you can't change your location. Learning about potential locations isn't easy either, if you're looking at a new house. We bought our second home in El Sobrante, California (above) … a long time ago. We assumed the spotty new construction was the beginning of a revitalization, but after 30+ years there are still numerous shacks with animals grazing in the yard. It's also risky buying in a new development because you have no control over the schedule. For example, there's a development in Rochester, NH with 370 lots but in three years, they've only built about 10 single family homes.
There are several articles like Finalizing Your Top Location Choices, outlining factors to consider when picking the city, suburbs or country. Our children are grown, so schools and bedrooms weren't a consideration. My husband is an amateur astronomer who wanted to move west for clear skies, so he could enjoy evenings in the backyard looking at the moon, the planets and the stars. When we learned that Fountain Hills doesn't have an street lights, that made the decision easy.
In fact, Fountain Hills fits our requirements very well. We're 30 minutes from the Phoenix airport, we have the benefits of living near a large city (Phoenix has 1.5 million people) and yet, Fountain Hills is a small (population about 21,000 in the winter) town with a strong sense of community.
What Are Your Absolute Must-Haves In A Home?
The truth is you're never going to have the perfect home, one that meets 100% of your requirements. You can come very close but even when we built a house in Wappingers Falls, NY, we didn't get everything we wanted. So while I still remember all the … oops, I truly loved the house with its' open floor plan, lots of sunlight while being surrounded by trees, and comfortable bedrooms for the parents, the boys and our au pair.
Number of bedrooms seems to be a top priority while your children are home, and then features become more important when buying a home. When we moved to Portsmouth, NH our requirements were space for a quilting room (mine) and a woodwork shop (my husband). We didn't get a garage but we got a wonderful, family friendly neighborhood and we loved walking downtown for bagels.
When we downsized to our current home, we found the space fit us much better and the views of Hampton harbor are wonderful, although we tend to avoid the beach traffic during the summer. The condo is perfect for two home offices, and the 4-story floor plans means we have great views wherever we are.
Our latest home search was fairly unusual. It started with houses that could accommodate an observatory in the backyard because … that's how we picked Fountain Hills. The right space for two home offices was also very important.
You're Buying a Home – What's On Your Wish List?
Wish lists are great to help you guide the real estate agent with what houses to show you. Having owned a handyman business for eight years, I'm very comfortable with making changes to almost any house. That means our wish list wasn't huge. We learned when living in California, that a third garage compensates for lack of a basement, which anyone growing up on the east coast assumes every house has … it doesn't.
Other things we knew we like are an open concept living area, great views and because I burn easily, covered outdoor space so I can sit outside comfortably. We were lucky and got all of these things but that doesn't always happen, which is why they're “nice to have” versus the “non-negotiables” prioritized above.
When Buying a Home, What Do You Want to Avoid?
We originally wanted a house within a homeowner community that had a pool, so we could avoid dealing with pool maintenance. That didn't happen and we ultimately decided having a pool would be fun, and provide a change of color from dessert browns. The only other thing we didn't want was a gated community.
Do You Want a Well Maintained Home or Fixer-Upper?
Home maintenance is key to keep your family healthy and safe. It's also important that you maintain your home to protect the investment you've made. And in fact, doing routine maintenance on an ongoing basis will save you time and money with fewer, less costly repairs. Wouldn't you rather spend money making home improvements you can enjoy, versus repairs you can't see or replacing a deck after 15 years because you didn't seal it to protect the wood from the elements?
So when you're buying a home, you've got to decide if you want to take on lots of remodeling with a fixer upper, or do you want a “move in ready” house which is more popular these days where no one has enough time.
It's also why a home inspection is so critical. You want to know how many problems are lurking versus nasty surprises after the closing. Pick the best home inspector you can find, so you don't get stuck with a condo full of mold like a friend just discovered. Our new Fountain Hills home had lots of small problems but no show stoppers. We asked the sellers to correct them before the closing – replace/repair smoke detectors, GFCIs, bad wiring, plumbing issues and more. See the full list of repairs, Home Inspections – Smoke Detectors, GFCIs & Safety.
Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?
Homeowners don't move as frequently as renters, and as a whole we're moving less as job security becomes a thing of the past. Many homeowners are thinking ahead 5 or 10 years, and buying a home that will allow them to grow without moving. So when you realize that the house you're buying, might be the house where you raise your kids, you'll start to adjust your priorities.
Being part of the boomer generation, we moved often for the next job. One of the reasons I've owned so many houses is in my prior life, I worked for a company sometimes known as I've Been Moved (IBM) but that's no longer a safe career path. And once you're used to moving it's easier – we lived in Portsmouth, NH for 7 years, then Hampton, NH for 8 years and now we'll be splitting time between Fountain Hills (winter) and New Hampshire (summers). So I'm guessing we'll do this for 7 years and then decide what's next.
You're Buying a Home to Do What?
Yes, you're buying a home to live in, at least part of the year … but how we use our homes has changed dramatically over the last few years. We're doing more at home – home schooling, home offices, caring for aging parents and maybe you feel more comfortable buying houses you can fix up and rent, to provide another income stream.
After reading an article about boomers selling everything and traveling around the world, I decided we needed to build storage closets in our new home so we can rent on AirBnB when we go away for extended periods of time. I simply can't justify leaving a house unused for long, and while today it's just an idea … keep following my blog and you'll learn more.
Congratulations if you've read this far. There's a lot of information here, and honestly I could write a book but you wouldn't read it. What I can offer you is a fun set of exercises that cover more of the emotional aspects of home ownership. Just click to get your copy of the Savvy Homeowner Report, and please ask your questions below and I'll be sure to answer them.