First impressions are important, especially when it comes to buying a house. In fact you'll experience several first impressions as you search for your dream house. First will be the curb appeal of the house as you approach it. Next is the feeling you get when you enter the house. Many house features will affect your impression, some of them obvious like great landscaping and some that aren't as obvious like taller, nine foot ceilings.
- Put together a prioritized list of requirements for your new home before you start searching in person. Online searches are great for learning what's important to you and what you can get for your money.
- Split your list into those things you can change once you're in the house … and things you can't change. This article will explain what can't be changed.
- Be prepared to make tradeoffs between location and house features you can/can't change. It's rare to find your dream house
So let's explore home features so you can put together a more complete list of what's most important, from the community to the house and the live you'll live there.
Table of contents
- Who Do You Want for Neighbors
- Are Views & Privacy Important to You?
- House Features Include the Building Lot Your House Sits On
- Zoning, Local Building Codes & HOA Rules
- Sunlight is One of Those House Features You Can't Change, LOL
- Ceiling Height is An Important House Feature
- Steps to Buying Your Next Home
Who Do You Want for Neighbors
When you move it's important to consider who your neighbors will be. Do you want a family friendly neighborhood if you're planning to start a family soon? Would you like a diverse group of neighbors, ones that will share their culture, foods and more.
We didn't consider this with our first home and it worked as we were busy at work and school. With kids we always looked for places that had lots of kids and parks for them to play. My favorite was the Almaden Cabana club in San Jose, California with a community pool, swim team and Wednesday community dinners during the summer.
Are Views & Privacy Important to You?
It's easy to walk through the front door and evaluate a house based on the interior. But few houses stand alone unless you're in the country. There are two key features that many homeowners look for:
- Nice views beyond the backyard to enjoy when spending time outdoors. Some neighborhoods also focus on the view from a front porch and newer communities often put driveways behind the house to support this goal.
- Space between houses so you don't feel like you're living on top of your neighbors. You'll find this in older homes versus new communities with too little space between houses … 10 feet in my new build community.
House Features Include the Building Lot Your House Sits On
Older houses tend to have much bigger lots than today's new construction houses. When we bought our 100 year old Victorian in Portsmouth, NH, we knew a major kitchen remodel was needed. We ultimately added a 12 by 22 ft wide addition on the back of the house, with no visible impact to the backyard.
You need to consider the following features that affect your home's ultimate space. Make sure you look at lot size, especially the backyard. You might love how big the house is today versus an apartment but someday, you might want to put an addition on the house or add a garage, granny pod or shed in the backyard for storage, hobbies or extra living space.
- Does the house have enough interior space to allow you to repurpose rooms, hallways, the attic or basement, to give you more functional rooms?
- If you want to put on an addition, check building codes and get a structural engineering report to confirm you can add space horizontally (extend the house) or vertically (add a second or third floor).
- Is there outdoor space where you can add/extend a deck, patio or porch to provide more outdoor living space, a growing trend as we spend more time at home.
Zoning, Local Building Codes & HOA Rules
Just because you own a house doesn't mean you can do anything you want to that house. There are lots of rules governing any changes you might want to make to your home. Here are just a few examples of these rules because they're too many to list here or anywhere:
- Zoning laws regulate how land is used within a municipality, controlling the ways in which land can be developed. It's purpose is to maintain residential districts for just that, private residences. When putting an addition on my 100 year old Victorian, zoning required buildings to be ten feet from the property line so I had to request approval for nine feet to maintain consistency with the existing house.
- Building codes focus on the safe construction of homes, from insuring structural integrity to safe wiring for fire prevention and plumbing codes for water safety. These codes won't necessarily prevent you from making changes … but they can often make them cost prohibitive. For example, when I owned my handyman business I had to explain to many homeowners that finishing their attic required the installation of a water sprinkler system that typically cost $5,000 or more.
- Home Owner Association (HOA) rules frustrate many homeowners, so you need to review their rules before signing any legal paperwork. Most often the HOA controls things like house paint colors and maintaining your landscaping. However some HOAs go further controlling door styles, window sizes and the materials used for a home's roofing and siding.
Sunlight is One of Those House Features You Can't Change, LOL
You can't change the position of a house on its building lot, so you need to make sure whatever house you're interested in gets enough natural light. That's because this light affects our moods, how well indoor plants will grow, and how many lights you'll need to insure you have enough indoor lighting. Your home's position will also affect how sunny a pool gets in the afternoon, when most people use their pools.
The natural light in our homes varies from morning to night, and at different times of year. Southern exposures that provide the most light are most desirable, followed by eastern, western and northern sunlight.
If you don't like how dark your house is, you may be able to add windows or skylights, paint walls white and cut back trees that create shade which blocks sunlight from entering your home.
Ceiling Height is An Important House Feature
Traditionally houses were built with eight foot ceilings but today, many new houses are being built with nine foot ceilings on the first floor and eight foot on the second floor. Higher end houses are being built with 10, 12 foot and even taller ceilings … which is fine for those with an unlimited budget, as this added space will need to heated and cooled.
This trend was first noticeable in California in the 1990s. Land costs drove smaller building lots so the higher ceilings were a compromise to make rooms feel bigger than they actually were. This led me to raise the ceiling when we remodeled our kitchen, replacing a once but no longer popular dropped ceiling (please excuse the blurry photo above as that's all I could find online).
Steps to Buying Your Next Home
Understanding the house features you can't change will help you eliminate problem homes early in your search. This is just one step in your home buying process, so let's look at the process from beginning to end.
- Start by picking two or three locations to focus your search for a house (read: Why House Location is So Important).
- Review your finances and make sure you're able to buy (and maintain) a house in the communities you like..
- Find an experienced realtor who knows these locations very well. A realtor who knows the statistics on school teacher turnover … knows their community!
Would you trust this realtor?
- Identify your priorities among the house features you can't change easily (this article) as you might regret these problems for years.
- Learn about easy changes you can make to your new home. Don't get turned off by crazy paint colors. They're a bonus as they discourage buyers who don't know that painting is an easy homeowner project.
- Now you're ready to find a house. Here's a A 9 Step Guide to Buying a House from a realtor friend of mine.
- Once you're settled in your new home, be sure to check out 30 New Homeowner Tips You Don't Want to Skip.