Where you live influences every aspect of your daily life. When most first-time homebuyers start looking at homes, it’s easy to focus too much on the home itself, while forgetting the cardinal rule of real estate: location location location!
Here are six tips for homebuyers to make sure they love every aspect of their new home; inside and out.
- Spend time thinking about the type of neighborhood or community you want to live in.
- Research all the “unseen” aspects of your desired home like tax rates, crime rates, and any HOA rules you’ll have to follow.
- Think about how your lifestyle, family, career path may change for the duration of time you plan to live in the home, and shop for homes accordingly.
1. Think about your life outside of the home
According to the American Time Use Survey from 2020, Americans spend about 38% of our time outside of the home. It’s important to think about all the activities you’ll need or want to do during that time. When considering a location, think about schools, shopping, traffic, proximity to work, parks, coffee shops, restaurants, and the like.
Here are a few points to ponder:
- A home is attached to the land it’s on so the location absolutely matters. Make a list of what’s important to you about the location of your home and find a home that fits as many of those qualifications as possible.
- What’s best for you and your family? Do you have young kids? Consider areas with top-rated school districts. Are you active or do you have dogs that need walking? Consider proximity to trails or parks. Do you work long hours? Consider a shorter commute. Do you prefer to be surrounded by neighbors or at the corner location for a little more privacy?
- Remember that undesirable locations are just as important to keep in mind. Being close to railroads, airports, and freeways may make it too noisy to go about your daily life. Unsafe neighborhoods or proximity to hazards may also factor into the desirability of a location.
2. Focus your home search in the right neighborhoods
Once you’ve figured out what you want the area you live in to be like, streamline your search by looking at homes in neighborhoods that match your criteria.
Finding homes within your price range is easier if you work with a qualified real estate agent. You can also find homes in the real estate section of your local newspaper and various real estate websites. Those websites may also have demographic, employment, and community information of the neighborhood as well. You can search your desired zip code on the US Census Bureau website here.
When you find a home you like, make sure to drive through the neighborhood at different times of day. Consider leaving for work a bit earlier to start your commute from your desired future home just to see what it’s like. Spend some time thinking about your future job prospects, and how long you plan to stay in your current line of work, as you might not want to pick a home close to work if you might not have that job a few years from now.
While driving through the neighborhood (especially at night) be sure to check the noise levels. Listen for:
- Airplane traffic/noise (this information is available on a hazards report if you decide to get one)
- Foot traffic
- Car traffic
- Insects and noise from nature
- Nearby businesses. What places are open at night that you wouldn’t notice during the day (dance clubs, late night restaurants)
You don’t want to fall in love with a place during the day, only to discover after you move in that it transforms into something less desirable at night!
3. What to consider in schools
The quality of your children’s education will determine the quality of their future. Call and visit the local school district. Most school districts have websites as well, which are a good place to start your search. Greatschools.org is a good unbiased website to consider as well.
Here are some suggested questions to think about:
- How do students score on statewide and national tests?
- How many students go on to college?
- What are some of the problems facing the schools in this area?
- Will your child be able to take the bus, and where are the bus stops located?
- Are there reports of drug use or incidences of violence?
- What safety protocols does the school district have in place?
- What is the student/teacher ratio?
- Do they have art, music, drama, and sports programs?
- What is the student/computer ratio?
- What is their language program like?
Zillow usually displays the public elementary, middle, and high school children will attend for any given home address. See if you can find a school website and if you can attend a PTA meeting, or set a time to speak with the principal. Ask if there are any school social media accounts that you can browse, or if you can talk to a few parents of currently enrolled students to get their perspective.
4. Consider convenience
Take a drive around the adjoining shopping areas of your future home and take notes on what you find.
Pay attention to how close the home is to grocery stores, doctors’ offices or hospitals, public services, places of worship, restaurants, and any other places of interest that are important to you.
If you want to do this remotely, take your “drive” on Google Maps. You can also look at the local Chamber of Commerce website, if available, to get a feeling for the type of community you’ll be living in.
5. Know the rules and check the rates
Your future neighborhood may have a homeowners association or covenants that you’ll be required to follow. This can include anything from the length of your grass to what colors you can paint your house, how many outbuildings you can have or build, and even a limit on how many pets you can have.
You’ll also want to ask your real estate agent or check online for the tax rates for your area. Do the same for crime rates. If your real estate agent doesn’t have information about personal and property crime rates, call the local police department and speak with the Public Information Officer.
Another question to consider is: how is your new neighborhood zoned? Could you wake up one morning with an office building or an apartment complex going up across the street? Ask your real estate agent for help in identifying any zoning issues.
Lastly, research natural hazards that may or may not be obvious. Is your neighborhood of choice on a flood plain, in a weather conversion zone, over an earthquake fault, in a wetland area, in a potential wildfire zone, or near a superfund site, solid waste landfill, or leaking underground storage tanks?
To check out these hazards and more, ask your real estate agent about how you can pay for a risk report.
6. Consider Location
This last part may come more naturally to you, but there is wisdom in creating a written list of all the things you want in a home. Be as specific as possible. It will save you time in your search for a new home.
Consider some of the following aspects inside and outside your home.
Outside the home:
- Will it have a yard? If so, what size?
- Does it have an established garden or does it get enough sun if you want to grow one?
- Do you want a garage? If so, how big? Do you want it to be attached or detached?
- How much work will yard maintenance take for shoveling snow, raking leaves, and mowing/maintaining grass? Will you do it or hire someone?
Inside the home:
How many bedrooms do you need?
- How many bathrooms? (Not just for the immediate future, but consider those teenage years as well.)
- How much kitchen space do you want? Do you want a walk-in pantry? Is there sufficient cupboard space?
- Do you want a den or office? What about a guest room for grandparents and out-of-town guests?
- Do you want a basement or an attic? Will you use those areas for storage or as living space?
This is the fun dream-building part of buying a home. Many people, including your real estate agent and family or friends will be happy to help you think through these questions.
Before you start looking at homes, remember to reach out to get a pre-approval letter. This will let sellers know that you’re a serious buyer and you’ve already spoken with a lender who is willing to provide financing to back up your offer.