Things Your Parents Didn’t Tell You About Taking Care of Your Home: What to Check When Buying or Renting
Buying or renting your first new home or apartment can be both exciting and scary. Most parents don’t think to involve their children when they’re in the middle of shopping for a new place to live and so for many of us, we’re on our own when it comes time to find our own place for the first time. However you aren’t really alone. Guides like this one can be a valuable resource, but don’t forget to rely on your realtor as well. They have likely been involved in more purchases and sales than you’ll ever see in your lifetime, and their goal is to find you a place to live that you’ll be happy with for years to come.
That said, it never hurts to be prepared so that you know what you are getting into when you walk into your first potential new home or apartment. It’s often easy to get distracted by cosmetic things… What color is that paint? How hard will it be to vacuum all that carpet? Why is that door so squeaky? But the reality is that many of these things tend to be very minor or easy fixes in the big scheme of things, which is why keeping focused on the task at hand is important.
Don’t worry too much about catching every last detail. If you’re buying, you’ll usually have the home inspected as part of the buying process, and your inspector will check all of the major potential issues, more thoroughly than you can without specialized training and equipment. However, there are personal issues that no home inspector can advise you on, and it’s best to know if a house is a no-go before getting to the home inspection stage.
You’ll probably want to check rentals more thoroughly. After all, you don’t have a home inspector going behind you.
Imagine yourself living here
In many ways, this is the most important step, as it will help you spot problems that no checklist could cover, especially in apartments that might have downright odd issues. Go into the kitchen and walk yourself mentally through the process of making a meal, doing the dishes, and putting them away. Imagine where you would have the spice-rack, the pots and pans, the utensils, the cutting boards, etcetera. Is there room for them? What is the flow like, particularly if more than one person might be cooking? Also, think about the location of the rooms in relation to each other. Is the prospective bedroom for a noisy teen right above the master bedroom? If you’re hosting a party, how easy will getting food from the kitchen to the living room, dining room, or backyard be? If you’re looking at a rural property, consider how often you’ll want to go into town, and how long the drive is.
During this exercise, take into account the local weather. If it snows during the winter, an attached garage and a short, easily-shoveled driveway can make a huge difference. Insulation is also more important in cold climates.
Also, unless you’re buying or renting a pre-furnished space, the furniture there won’t be the same as yours. Large furnishings can make even the most cavernous room feel tiny. Try to imagine the space either empty or filled with your furnishings. A quick trick you can use is to block your sight of overly-large pieces of furniture with your hand, to better maintain an idea of the scale of everything else.
Check the window size and placement
This is an important but often overlooked, consideration. How large are the windows, and what are the views from them? Will you need to keep the blinds constantly down for any hope of privacy? Do they offer a nice view of the yard? Also, ask the seller about the type of windows used. Windows that are better insulated will help keep your house at a reasonable temperature while saving on heating and electricity bills.
Pay attention to natural light
It can be hard to notice during an open house, but the amount of natural light that different rooms receive can make a huge difference. If you’re interested in a house, schedule more than one appointment at different times of the day, preferably once in the morning and afternoon. This ties into the first point, since how you plan to use the rooms impacts how much natural light you’d want it to get when.
Quickly inspect the outline of the house
You can just eyeball this. Look at the line of the roof – is any part of it sagging? Are shingles missing or uneven? Also look at the outer walls – are they bowed in or out? Does the fence need replacing? While some of these problems can be fixed, some can’t, and basic structural issues will likely be expensive fixes.
Check for water damage
Perform a quick sniff test in every room of the house, paying attention to foul smells like mold and mildew. Look for signs of discoloration, especially on the ceiling (where it’s easily missed and less likely to be covered by a coat of fresh paint) and in less-visible places like behind the toilet. Check inside the under-sink cabinets and any other cabinets in wet areas for mildew. If the house has a basement, check it more thoroughly, since basements tend to gather more water than elsewhere.
Go through all the rooms and turn on the built-in fixtures. Do the faucets work? What is the water pressure like? Do all of the burners on the stove turn on? For an apartment, you can also quickly check that all of the wall outlets are functional. Bring a simple wall-plug phone charger with you, one that has a LED that lights up when it’s got a charge. Use it to test the wall outlets. While not an end-of-the-world problem, non-functioning wall outlets can be a red flag for poor maintenance.
This is more important if you’re renting, since a home inspector will easily catch these things, and they’ll likely notice more problems than you would.
Check the lot grade and size
The slope and shape of your yard can be just as important as its size. Is it too steep to mow, or even walk on? If you wanted to add a porch or sunroom, could you? Is it a good place for kids to play? Also, if the land mostly slopes toward your house, you might have more trouble with water damage than if the house was on a hill.
Check neighborhood, town, or city ordinances for yards
Want a nice, low-maintenance clover yard? Or maybe you want to plant native, drought-tolerant grasses? Or would you rather turn your front yard into a vegetable garden? Check the local codes for your property before buying, since many neighborhoods, towns, and cities have restrictions on what you can plant in your front yard.
Keep parking in mind
Is the driveway both wide enough and long enough for the cars of you and your family? Does the house have a garage to park in? What are the rules about street parking? In cities and towns, the street parking situation can make or break a deal – there’s little more vexing than having to park fifteen to twenty minutes away from your house or apartment. Even if your own parking situation is squared away, what are the neighborhood rules on guest parking?
Talk to the neighbors
They’ll let you know better than any statistics what living in the neighborhood is actually like, and if there’s been any notable problems. They can especially tell you about things like if the area floods during storms, or how quickly the roads are plowed after a heavy snow.
If you’re in an apartment complex, this can be harder, but is even more important. Prospective neighbors will let you know what the landlord may be hiding, like if the radiators frequently break in the winter, or if the building is poorly insulated.
It’s important to imagine yourself living in the neighborhood, not just the house, so now is a great time to drive around, or even better, take a nice walk! Does the neighborhood seem kid- and dog-friendly to you? Do people wave at each other as they walk by? What sort of vibe does a community have? This is a good point to combine with the above step, since a quick walk around is a good time to meet prospective neighbors. You’ll also get a feel for how well the neighbors maintain their own homes and lawns, which can impact your property’s value and ease of resale.
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Happy house hunting!