Friday, November 16, 2012

Real Estate Adventures: Top 5 House Shopping Tips for Families

We bought our first house before we had kids, and our second house when we were expecting baby #4. When we were house shopping the first time around, adding kids to our family was just an elusive idea. We considered our first home to be a starter house, and never expected to stay there forever. Good thing, because with three kids, our little house was bursting at the seams. The second time around, we were more experienced, not to mention tunnel-vision focused on finding a good home for a big family. However, we still had a lot to learn, and there are some things I would do differently if I could go back in time.

Whether you're in the Michigan market, like me, or you're researching Vernal Utah Real Estate, the following list of house hunting hints is relevant for just about any family.

  1. Make a list and check it twice. Walk around your current home and take note of what you would like to change in an ideal world. What would you add? What would you get rid of? Make a list of EVERYTHING you would like in your new home. Then go over your list with a fine tooth comb and make a new list with all the things you are not willing to live without. Resolve not to budge on this list! These are the things you have decided are vital for your family's comfort. Make a second list of home options you'd love to have, but that you're willing to be flexible about. For example, our Must Have list included a basement, a garage, central air, minimum of four bedrooms and two full bathrooms, and two living spaces (living room + family room, living room + den, etc.). Our wish list included a finished basement, which we found, and a fireplace, which we didn't get.
  2. Research schools, up close and personal. Unless you plan on homeschooling or sending your kids to private schools, getting to know the local school district is so important. Sure, you can do internet research and get facts like standardizes test scores or an ethnic breakdown of the student body. But what you really need to do is  talk to people. Network as much you can to find people who actually send their kids to the schools. Most people are happy to tell you all about their school district - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Make a list of questions that are important to you, and find people to answer them. If your friend's husband's cousin sends her kids to the school in question, try to get her phone number or email address and ask away. Call the school to ask questions. Make an appointment to speak with the principal. Ask prospective neighbors. Ask real people, and you will get real answers.
  3. Hang out in the neighborhood. Visit your possible new neighborhood at different times of the day. What looks peaceful and serene during the day can turn into rowdy party central after dark. Drive around and take note: do the homes look well-kept? Are kids outside playing? Where is the closest school/grocery store/Target? Do they look well-kept? Park and take a walk, make conversation with anyone you pass. The people who already live in the neighborhood are the best ones to answer your questions or address your concerns.
  4. Find out where the kids are. When you drove and/or walked around the neighborhood, did you see many children playing outside? Were they supervised, or running wild? How old were they? Are there parks, pools, or other local kid-friendly hang-outs nearby? Find out, and visit them if you can. You're likely to meet parents who can tell you the ins and outs of the neighborhood kid scene.
  5. Be honest and realistic. If your children are not yet in school, and you don't like the school district you're thinking of moving into, think long and hard about your decision. Don't assume, especially in today's real estate market, that it will be simple to move again when it's time for your kids to start school. If people are grumbling about the downfall of the neighborhood - more break-ins, car thefts, vandalism, etc.- listen to them! Contact the local police department to get the scoop if you're unsure. But keep in mind, if it's going downhill now, it will probably continue its downward spiral.
Three and a half years later, we are fairly pleased with our decision. We should have researched the surrounding area better, and thought about proximity to schools. All of our kids' schools, and  most of their friends, are across a busy main street. This means walking to school and to friends' houses won't be an option for them until they're older. Given that we were under massive pressure to find a house ASAP, I think we did a pretty good job finding a home that fit our family's needs.

Do you have any house shopping strategies you'd like to share? Please post in the comments!

This post has been sponsored by Community Best Real Estate, but all opinions are my own.

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