It's every homebuyer's nightmare. You pick out the house, close the deal, and move in. Within three weeks, you know that you've made a big mistake. This house isn't what you wanted at all.
You can easily avoid this sad scenario by planning ahead. Know what you want in a home, what's important to you, and what you can live without--whether it's the first time you're buying a house or the tenth time.
Houses aren't just buildings; they're machines for living. Where and what you buy will affect your life for as long as you own the house. So it's important to get your priorities in order before you talk to a real estate agent or even look at that first newspaper ad.
First, ask yourself why you want to move. If your employer is transferring you to another city or your house has burned down, the answer is simple: You need a place to live. But most of us have other, less pressing reasons for wanting to move.
Buying a first house marks an entry into adulthood and a financial rite of passage: You've finally accumulated the down payment and reached the income level necessary to buy a house. Since owning a house will be a new experience for you, carefully analyze what you want before you buy.
If you currently own a home, however, you know exactly what's lacking in your present home. You need another bathroom, more space for a growing family, or a good school nearby. Meeting these needs should be your number one priority in househunting.
First, decide where you want to live. Are you a dyed-in-the-wool city dweller, or would you be happier in the suburbs? Maybe you'd like rural living of even life in the exurbs--those towns located just beyond the suburbs that are not quite country villages.
A big part of your answer hinges on where and how you earn your living. If you work in a big city and hate to commute, consider living in the city or a close-in suburb with good commuter rail service. If your job requires a lot of reading or is quite stressful, a commuter train ride may be the only time you can sit quietly and think. If you work in a suburb, you can live farther out in another suburb, the exurbs, or even in the countryside--assuming that if you're in a northern climate, the country will plow the roads on snowy morning before you must drive to work.
People with children have another major consideration: schools. Some of the largest and most sophisticated cities in the country have the worst public school systems. And those charming country towns may have the most underfunded systems. If you plan to send your children to private schools, you can live where you want, assuming you can drive the children to and from school each day. On the other hand, a lavish public school system can indicate that the local real estate taxes are very high and will be a serious burden. Check them out. You might save thousands of dollars a year by moving to the next suburb or town.
Another important consideration in picking a location is lifestyle. People who frequently dine out, go dancing, and attend the theater probably belong in the city or a close-in suburb. Homebody types who enjoy barbecuing and playing badminton in the backyard would be happier in the suburbs. And vegetable and flower gardeners truly bloom on two acres of their own far from the city.
In any case, you need to give thought as to the function as well as the features of a house. Look for benefits rather than features and you will probably find your house hunting much easier!