Buying Your 1st House: Start with Community
Many first-time homeowners fall in love with a particular kitchen. Or they feel that a family room they’ve seen will be ideal for entertaining. Or a master suite is simply to die for.
But the city, suburb, neighborhood, village or subdivision within which your first new house is situated may have the greatest influence on whether it truly becomes your dream home. Here are some things you should consider when you start selecting a community.
First, does the community offer the diversity, type and class of neighboring population with which you will become comfortable? Will your starter family fit into a neighborhood of less-than-active seniors or empty nesters? Will the cost and stress of keeping up with the Smiths and the Joneses flanking you strain your household? Will you feel awkward under your rebuilt Harley, as your neighbor glides by in his detailed luxury sedan? Change and adaptation are good things, but you don’t want to place an extreme additional burden of fitting in onto the already taxing process of establishing a new home.
Second, is your potential homestead within reasonable proximity of your jobs? Family? Friends? Schools? Resources, like parks, shopping, entertainment, medical care, libraries, banks, expressways? Many first-time homebuyers ‘drive to qualify’ — meaning they travel farther and farther into exurban and rural areas, where home prices are generally lower and property taxes diminished, until they can suitably qualify for mortgage lending. Don’t make the mistake of ranging so far that, thereafter, every daily activity becomes a commuting nightmare.
Third, if you have or are planning a family, be sure to check out the school system. Good education is crucial to a vibrant community and prospering families. The quality of a community’s schools is often a baseline influence on the value of its homes. There are many school system ratings — most quite detailed — available to the public.
Fourth, investigate your likely real estate property taxes — and the payback on those taxes, in the form of the community services of police, fire, emergency services, trash collection, street maintenance, local community center, recreation department, and any social assistance services, etc. Information should be readily available to you through city, town or village officials, or third-party reviews and/or ratings in periodicals and online.
Fifth, what utilities will be available to you? City water or well? Sanitary sewers or septic system (and, if septic system, what is its condition?)? Natural gas or propane or heating oil? Electric? Phone? Cable or dish? If you are not familiar with any of your likely utilities, investigate their continuing costs of supply and maintenance, and factor those costs into your buying decision.
Sixth, does the community have paved sidewalks and streetlights, conducive to toddlers on tricycles or middle-schoolers walking to a school bus stop? Or are streets dark at night, with merely a ragged roadside berm? Are streets equipped with piped storm sewers? Or will you be tending an overgrown drainage swale?
Seventh, research any local zoning rules or restrictions that might limit your use or enjoyment of your house or yard. Many communities enforce particular rules on pets, fences, tree removal and/or planting, home-based businesses, accessory structures (like sheds, greenhouses, large play equipment or treehouses), fire pits, turnaround drives, and parked vehicles (especially large trucks, boats and motor homes).
Eighth, determine if your new community or development enforces any design restrictions, on such matters as building materials, roof slopes, side-facing garages, home additions, decks, accessory structures, play equipment, fire pits, on-property parking, etc.
The more you research and understand all of the facets of potential communities, the easier it will become to narrow your search to your true dream home.
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Relax and enjoy your first house.