House hunting should begin with identifying your needs. You should also educate yourself about the housing market in your chosen area. Often, even if you think you know what you want, seeing different options helps to confirm your views. Whether this means looking at a condo when you think you want a house, looking at a more urban part of a city when you think you want a residential neighborhood, or looking beyond a house style or type of lot to the local amenities.
Identify your priorities for the location and qualities of the house. You may want a location close to a train station or major highway for your commute. You may want to live in walking distance of a grocery store or park. Your wishes for a home may include things like good natural light, big closets, small square footage, a first floor bedroom, visual privacy, a porch, a fireplace, a bathtub, or a sky light. You may want to consider how your uses of spaces and your needs are going to change over time. Once you have your list it makes it easier for you to evaluate not only what a prospective home offers, but also to evaluate whether the house is a candidate for changes you might wish to make.
Clarify your values. Are you committed to downsizing? Do you want to be able to add solar features to your home? Do you want a place where family can gather and/or where you have visual privacy? Do you care about the finishes in the kitchen or the spirit of the house? Do you need a house with flexibility in how the spaces will be used? Do you want a house that “feels like you” and what does that mean? Do you want easy access to nature or a quiet setting?
A house has “good bones” when it is beautiful even when empty, or when you can see past certain design flaws to an underlying structural integrity. Good bones include building materials, the orientation of the house, the size of the spaces, the location of the rooms, doors, windows, and fireplaces, and the shapes of windows. Pay attention to the feeling, function and flow of spaces.
There is often an indescribable something that homeowners say they felt the minute they stepped into their future home. It is important to recognize that “yes”. It is also important to honor any negative feeling or unnamable discomfort, even if the house seems perfect. An inner “yes” must also be weighed against what an inspection may reveal.
It is interesting that often people end up in the houses they feel destined to own, even though there was information, unavailable at the time, that would have dissuaded them from the purchase. Whether a leaky roof, faulty wiring system, or a major system failure was identified only after the closing, it often seems as though what matters most is that we land where we do; perhaps challenges are kept hidden for a time in order for us to live in a particular place.
There are endless resources that help you learn about a city; the character of neighborhoods, crime, weather and real estate values. If you are new to an area you should try to visit at different times of year and talk to as many people as you can. Ideally, you would initially rent, to be sure that it is the place for you. You should always walk and drive the streets and contact neighbors to find out about issues that might not come up in an inspection. Ask your realtor about local issues, impending road projects, environmental concerns, and anything else that might change the nature of the area or the value of the property.
If you have some inexplicable urge to drive down a certain street or stop into a business, trust your gut. Responding to those urges is how you can learn what you need to know about an area or a property. A listing won’t tell you if someone died a violent death in a home or if drug dealers used your home in the past. An inspection may not reveal damage from a previous flood, but the neighbors will remember that event.
A house can have a feeling. It can feel welcoming, spacious, cozy, austere, playful, traditional, modern, dark, cramped, uplifting or sad. It can feel related to the land around it or it may remind you of a home you have lived in before.
After you visit a home be aware of what feeling remains with you about the house. Notice if your sleep patterns change and if you become anxious. If you do, identify what is causing the disturbance.
When you are looking at a property consider the following:
Outdoors: gutters, chimney cap, location for trash receptacles, condition of garage, heat and air conditioning sources, drainage, hardscape, condition of parking area, lighting
Are there leaves in the gutters, discoloration of the walls, or unexplained smells?
Has the house been uninhabited for an extensive time before the sale?
If it is a rental, are there any signs that it has been used for a meth lab?
What are the neighbors like? Speak to them.
How do they use their property? How would this impact your property?
Is there evidence of mold or mildew?
Are there signs of past water damage?
Is the fuse box up to date?
How does sound travel in the house? How loud is the plumbing?
Are there warranties for any appliances?
Is the duct system in good working order?
Is there adequate lighting? What kind of lighting will you want?
Is there good access to the house in winter? What is the orientation of the driveway if it is a place that gets a lot of snow?
Is there good drainage? Does the earth around the house slope away from the house?
What is the relationship between the lot and the drainage pattern on adjacent lots?
Can you make the house “seaworthy” for the new extreme weather in your area? This may include tornadoes, deluges and storms that damage trees.
Environmental issues: airplanes, fracking, ground water, water quality and availability, waste management, air quality, smells from industry, noise from industry or schools.
Building a home provides a checklist of considerations that are relevant for home buyers.