Jenny Mendez Isenburg's Blog
Once you’ve made up your mind that you want to buy a house, either to decrease your rent or increase your income, the next hurdle will be choosing the right property. You will find no shortage of glossy brochures or recommendations from all sides telling you why this flat or that house is best for you. So, which of the many voices should you pay attention to? Here are some guiding principles to help you make the right choice:
What are your home ownership goals?
Why do you want to buy a house? Do you want to live in it for the rest of your life, or is it just a place to start as you save up for your dream home? Is it your retirement paradise or is it an investment that you will flip for a profit after a year or two? Alternatively, you could just be in the market for a getaway cabin for your family.
Problems or challenges you’re dealing with in your current residence may contribute to some of these goals. Put them down in a list as some of the criteria any potential new home has to meet.
What kind of neighborhood do you want to live in?
If you’re buying a dream home or retirement retreat, this will be particularly important as this is where you’ll be spending the rest of your life. You want to live in a place where your neighbors hold dear the same aesthetic values as you. If you enjoy your peace and quiet, you might not want to live in an area where residents are allowed to hold loud parties until the wee hours.
How seriously is security taken in that neighborhood? How clean is the area? Is there a management committee or neighborhood association that looks into such issues?
Have you exhausted your options?
Before you seal any deal, ask yourself, “Can I do better?” You may have found a house that nearly checks all your must-have boxes, but there could be one down the street that does the same at a considerably lower asking price. Don’t assume there’s no better deal out there. Be willing to keep looking even if you feel you’ve been scouring the market for too long.
Write down your home ownership goals and hold them up against all the homes you’re considering for purchase. Make sure your real estate agent understands your goals so they can help you find the best home.
All communities have increases and decreases in population, demographics, and times when several (or very few) homes are on the market. Sometimes, it's merely that the stars aligned for several homeowners at the same time. Once in a while, because the market is particularly hot, many of the owners hope to cash in on the rising prices. In a few cases, however, it is a BIG. RED. FLAG.
Proceed with caution.
Getting in early to a neighborhood that is on the cusp of gentrifying—of becoming that trendy place where everybody wants to live—can be a savvy move for personal homebuyers and investment purchases. But just because the neighborhood next door made the transition doesn’t always mean this one is next up.
If you can purchase several homes in the neighborhood, you can try to force the upward change, but if you’re buying your first family home, take heed of a few signs that a community has headed down instead of up.
Lots of homes for sale.
As noted above, sometimes it’s just a fluke that several homes go on the market at once. Other times, it is because some community event triggered it. This event could be a school district redistricting so that students no longer qualify to go to the school they planned for, an increase in a local tax, because the water/sewer lines need upgrading but the city isn't budging, or an increase in homeowner association dues.
Speaking of homeowner associations, sometimes it's not the dues, it's just the restrictive rules. If all the houses look identical; if the color palette seems to be within one or two hues; if the turf is all the same grass, the neighborhood might have a super-controlling association. While many folks are fine with tightly-defined rules, you'll want to know going in so that your dreams of a minty-green paint over all that red brick aren't dashed on the rocks of the rulebook and covenants.
If the school district is moving the lines, it's important to know before you invest. The changes might be in your favor, in which case: get right in there and make your move. But if you had old information on where your kids would qualify to go, you need to know.
In older neighborhoods, an aging population may be in transition out. If so, that might signal the perfect time for younger families to move in, upgrade, update, and upscale the homes into this decade. One way for you to know for sure is to speak to people that know. Talk to the neighbors when you go to that open house. Drive along the streets at the end of the workday to see who is coming and going. Stop by in the morning for a look at how many kids are heading to the school bus stop.
Your local real estate specialist pays attention to trends and can tell you how many homes have sold within the last few years, so use their expertise before making the leap.
When searching for your new home, it’s easy to get caught up looking for a house with all your ideal features. While you should try to find something with the number of rooms, lot size, garage, and basement space you desire, don’t let yourself forget how important your home’s location is. After you move in and experience daily life in your new house, the pros and cons of your location become very important to the ongoing ease and enjoyment of your life. Do yourself a favor and bring your home’s location front and center when you start your home search.
What’s your biggest need?
Not every buyer will have the same needs and desires when it comes to location. Consider these aspects of life in your new home to find the best place for you.
- Neighborhood safety. Are you moving to a neighborhood that will be safe and comfortable for your family? If you’re moving to a new part of town—or a new city entirely—take the crime ratings and types into consideration. While you may want to increase your living space, don’t forego safety for the additional living room or basement den. Make sure you will feel comfortable letting your children play out front or leaving your home empty for a long weekend. While every neighborhood has something to be wary of, it is worth doing your diligence and taking into consideration what aspects of an area and community make you feel safe. Is there a neighborhood watch? Are the streets well-lit? Is there a tight community of neighbors that look out for one another?
- Commute to work. Your daily commute may not seem as relevant when you’re looking at the size or acreage of your new home, but your ability to enjoy your new living space is affected by the amount of time you get to spend in it. Is your commute so long that you have to leave too early to take your kids to school? Will you get home so late that it’s already dark and you’re so tired you never watch the sunset from the gazebo you were so excited about when you purchased the home? Will you miss out on neighborhood activities that happen while you’re driving home? Consider what you want to get out of your new home and how your new commute will affect your ability to get it.
- Can your children continue at the same school? If moving to a new school, is the caliber of education better than where your kids attend now? Children experience more adjustment pains when moving to a new home than adults do. Minimize difficult transitions by finding a house close enough for your children to continue attending the same school. If your child wants to change schools, or if you must transition your child to a new school, is it a positive change or negative one? Does the school have good activities for your child’s participation? Will they have a long commute for baseball games or debate club? As they progress through school will the higher-level schools have opportunities for college and career advancement?
- Neighborhood and community activities. Will your new community provide the recreation you want? If you enjoy urban activities like walking around downtown, catching a show, or going to the city park, moving to a rural community to have a larger home may adversely affect your daily life enjoyment. On the other hand, if you currently live in town or a suburban neighborhood but genuinely love the outdoors, moving out of the city to a more substantial property near hiking trails or a nearby lake might be the right choice for you. Do you long to live in a close-knit neighborhood with lots of homes and neighbors to plan activities with for holidays and community events, or do you prefer a smaller area with larger properties allowing for more privacy? Don’t forget to take your preferred lifestyle into account when looking for your new home.
Think about what you want from your home's location and speak with your local real estate professional to learn which communities might be right for you.