There are many factors involved in choosing your first home or condo. We have drawn up a list of potential issues that you need to consider before getting out there and searching for that perfect place.
So, you’ve decided you want to own a home or condo rather than rent. It’s a popular dream. For most people, with the right planning, it can become reality. But there is a lot to know before you begin moving. We’ll take you through the planning process step-by-step, to determine exactly the kind of home that’s perfect for you.
What Does Your Future Lifestyle Hold?
How many bedrooms will you one day require? Your preschoolers will be teens some day. Are you planning to stay in your home that long? Perhaps your teens are ready to move out on their own. What will you do with all the extra space? When you’re thinking about accommodating your family’s needs, think of things like parking. How many cars will require space? You’ll also want to consider proximity to — and the reputation of — schools in the area.
How is your work situation? These days people tend to change jobs frequently, and sometimes the best way to get a promotion is to move to another company. If you might be transferred, will you be able to sell quickly? Keeping work in mind, how long do you want to spend commuting? Do you drive or rely on public transportation?
As you can see, you will want to give some thought to how long you intend to stay in your home. It may be difficult to answer before you’ve even found your home, but if it’s your first home give some thought to the resale value when it is time to upgrade. On the other hand, if you’re planning to stay in your home for a long time, consider your future needs and purchase a home that will accommodate them.
Is Your Lifestyle More Geared to a Fixer-Upper Fantasy?
Many first time buyers have them. It goes something like this: You find a big home in a great neighbourhood that’s well below what you’d expect to pay for that house in that neighbourhood. You see a couple of coats of paint, new broadloom, a few repairs and voilà, a dream home without the nightmare price. Before you jump headlong into this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” consider how you’ll do all of the work. Will it be weeknights after a long day at the office, or will you hire someone? Are you ready to live in a dusty mess as you renovate?
Do a realistic assessment of the job at hand and be sure to have the house inspected. The last thing you want is a bargain home that turns into a money pit. You’re far better to find a house that costs a little more each month but doesn’t need much work than to buy a fixer-upper that eats up hundreds of dollars each month. For example, lets say you could buy a really nice house with minimal work required for $10,000 more than a fixer upper. At today’s mortgage rates, assuming you could stay within your monthly budget, that really nice home would cost you only about $65 per month more than the fixer-upper. If you buy the fixer-upper, you’ll be spending a lot more than $65 each month to whip it into shape, as well as the strain your family will go through living in an unfinished home.
Why is Location Important?
Of course, the first step in deciding on a new home is your lifestyle at present and how your lifestyle will change over the next few years. Are you active in sports? If so, a location with a nearby recreational facility would be ideal. Are you a nature lover? Then perhaps an area with parks and walking trails would suit you. Think about yourself and your family and decide what you enjoy doing and what type of lifestyle you would enjoy in your new home.
Which Neighbourhood is Right for You?
Your ideal home may not be ideal anymore if it’s downwind from the garbage dump, or if your home is right next to a freeway overpass. Think about the view. Will you like what you see every time you look out your windows? Selecting where you want to live is as important as deciding what type of dwelling you’d like to live in.
Consider how far your selected neighbourhood is from where you work, how far you’re willing to commute and your lifestyle. You’ll also think about schools if you have, or are planning to have, children. And what about medical facilities, places of worship, public transportation and recreation? If you’re contemplating the move to an unfamiliar neighbourhood, take the time to go exploring. Walk around, drive around, get a feel for the distance to the nearest convenience store, the commute. Make some notes. Take the neighbourhood tour at different times of day and contact the local municipal office to find out what future developments are planned.
Your Housing Needs
No matter what kind of home you’re looking for, there are some key features to consider. We always remind our clients that they will find large townhouses and small single-family homes, so looking for what you want in a home is as important as the type of dwelling. Where will your family spend most of its time?
Kitchens are a popular family gathering area. Make sure your prospective kitchen can handle the traffic. You may also want an eat-in kitchen or one with a breakfast nook, allowing you to keep the dining room for special occasions.
How much bedroom space do you need? Some people prefer small, plentiful rooms to house children, frequent guests or a home office. Others prefer fewer, larger rooms. Of course, if your budget permits, many large rooms would probably be ideal!
Bathrooms are also a major point to consider. How many bathrooms does your family need to handle peak traffic times? Is one enough? (Not likely!) While one per person might be more like it, that dream may not be affordable. Make sure the home you’re ready to purchase has sufficient bathroom space and that the bathrooms are comfortable. When looking at bathrooms, ask yourself how important a window is for light and fresh air.
Note: Hot water is always a problem with a large family. Remember, most hot water tanks are rented from the utility company. You can always have them upgrade the size of the hot water tank for a minimum cost. Or you could purchase one – but then you’d be on the hook for any repairs.
When it’s time to relax and entertain, how will your prospective home meet your needs? Do you want a formal living room, or a room where your family can stretch out and watch television? Do your children need a play area or your teens an entertainment room? Some homes have a living room and a family room.
Attics and basements can be wonderful storage areas, or can serve as additional living space. If extra space is important, you will want to consider a finished basement. Everyone seems to have their own definition of what this means. Take a good look at the workmanship. Was it done by a professional? Do you see yourself redoing a sloppy job? A poorly finished basement can be more work than a completely unfinished area. Some signs to watch out for are moisture along the floor lines and corners of all exterior walls and pungent odours which may also be a sign of moisture, mildew, and/or mold which can be costly to repair.
A brief word about closets. Look at the clothes you have now. Add another half, and then look for closet space to hold it all. If you’re like most of us, you’ll never have enough closet space!
Heating and cooling systems are also key features to consider. When it comes to heat, natural gas, oil and electric furnaces are all options. Older homes may even have hot-water radiators. Still other homes have baseboard heaters. Make sure you find out about the maintenance and condition of the heating system as well as annual operating costs. If you’re thinking about air conditioning, think about how expensive it would be to add central air, or if a window unit would suffice. Try to get on to a “Homeowner’s Insurance Plan” with the utility company. For a minimum annual fee you have guaranteed regular maintenance and repair.
As you can imagine, each type of home has its advantages and drawbacks and no two buyers will have the exact same wants and needs. The only way to truly evaluate which home is right for you, outside of price, is to consider what you absolutely must have and what you can live without. Before you go house hunting, prepare a list of ‘can’t live without’ features and a list of ‘would be great if…’ features.
Types and Styles of Homes
Single-family detached homes stand on their own lot and are designed to house one family. A duplex has two units, one above the other, and is detached from neighbouring homes. Semi-detached designs offer two single family homes attached by a common wall. Townhouses join several single family units by common walls. A high-rise condominium is simply a multi-storey residential building.
Freehold homes offer the most privacy and freedom of choice of any other type of home. As owner of the entire structure and grounds, homeowners are free to decorate and renovate as they please. But with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility. All of the maintenance (indoors and out) is the sole responsibility of the owner, which can be costly in terms of both money and time. Freehold ownership is the most common type of home ownership.
Condominium is a type of property ownership, not just a style of home. When buying into a condominium complex, your home will usually cost less and you often won’t have to worry about snow shoveling or lawn mowing, or major exterior maintenance like fencing or the roof. Condominiums can also come with extras like a security service or recreational facility. Of course, you should be prepared to pay a monthly maintenance fee. This fee goes into a collective cash reserve that is used to cover property maintenance, repairs, replacements and insurance. Before you purchase a condominium home, do your research. Find out the value of the cash reserve and upcoming projects which the reserve will fund. Ask about annual increases. And compare the maintenance fee to similar condominiums in the area. There are three broad categories of home ownership: freehold, condominium and cooperative.
Cooperatives (or co-ops) are comparable to condominiums, except instead of owning your unit, you own a percentage of shares in the entire building (or complex). As with condominium ownership, maintenance and repairs are paid for through the collection of monthly fees and you are subject to the rules and regulations of the co-op board. One drawback to living in a cooperative is that if you decide to sell your shares and move out, the co-op board has the right to reject your prospective buyer.