For most Americans your home is the biggest ticket item you will ever purchase. It’s no wonder that people can take months, and sometimes even years, to find the perfect home. When you walk into a house that’s on the market, many times the homeowner or real estate agent has “staged” it to ensure that you focus on the home’s greatest assets and overlook its flaws. Your job is to look past all that to see if this house is right for you.
Annette Lawrence, academic director of design programs, at The Art Institute of Ohio - Cincinnati, and Marissa Alexander, interior design program coordinator at The Art Institutes International Minnesota, offer these tips to navigate the real estate landscape.
Before you ever step out of your current home, make a list says Alexander. Your list should include one column for “must haves” and another for “wants.” “The wants you can compromise on,” advises Alexander. If you know what you are looking for and what you can’t live without, it’s a lot easier to find it.
Many people get caught up on the basic aesthetics of a home. “The paint is not a big deal,” says Lawrence. “Countertops are not a reason to choose a home or cross it off your list.” The shag carpeting can be ripped out and replaced. These are all easy fixes.
You should beware of the fixes that can break the bank. Will the roof need to be replaced? What about other big-ticket items like the heating and cooling system? Does the perimeter of the house slope toward it? That could mean flooding during a heavy rain. And what about the structural integrity of the foundation? A good inspector will spot the red flags and could keep you from making a costly mistake. That inspector will also check the chimney, the insulation in the attic and the gutters and spouts.
And there are things you can check on before you call in an inspector. “If you want to know whether a floor is warping, just take a ball and roll it across the room,” says Alexander. If it doesn’t roll straight across, it could signal issues with the foundation.
Figure out what kind of layout you want for your house. “Ask yourself what kind of floor plan you like,” says Lawrence. “Those are the kinds of things that are costly to change.” If the floor plan is right for you, the cosmetics will be a fairly easy and inexpensive fix.
While you may think that this home purchase will be one of many, you should consider the possibility that this could be your home for decades to come. That’s why Lawrence is a big proponent of finding a home that allows you to “age in place.” She suggests you find a home with a first floor master bedroom and laundry room. Also consider how many steps there are from the driveway into the home. Are the hallways and doorways wide enough for a wheelchair or a walker?
Even if you do not think you’ll need these accommodations, consider your home’s “visitability.” If you have elderly relatives or friends with disabilities, are they going to be able to come to your new home? “My grandmother was one of my most frequent guests,” explains Lawrence. “I had low lighting and had painted the walls dark colors. Consequently, she couldn’t see too well when visiting.”