How do you know if a house is good? Location, location, location (you knew that one was coming, didn’t you). It’s an old clich?©, but it still holds true. You want to move into a good neighborhood that’s either on the rise or is well-established. You’ll probably get a better deal if you find one that’s an up and comer, but they’re not always easy to spot. The best place to look for these diamonds in the rough is in the neighborhoods that are right on the edge of the more established neighborhoods. As the established neighborhood expands, you’ll suddenly find yourself in 5 years living in a prime location.

Finding a good house involves two factors:

  • The neighborhood
  • The house itself

The neighborhood

A good neighborhood:

  • Is close to thriving economic centers.
  • Has good public schools.
  • Has nearby shopping areas.
  • Good public facilities like parks and community centers.
  • Is an easy commute to major metro areas.
  • Has well-maintained homes.
  • Has low crime.
  • Has high percentage of owner-occupants.
  • Has a relatively low proportion of crackheads, ninjas, and feral midgets.

Finding out this information requires research. For crime statistics, call the local police precinct. For school scores, call the local city council. The rest of the information you can get simply by driving around the desired area and seeing what’s out there. Talk to people in the neighborhood and see what they think. Also talk to people outside of the neighborhood and see why they don’t live there.

You will also need to find out what the resale value of the neighborhood is. That is, if you want to sell your house, how long will it take you to unload it?

Here’s how to figure it out:

  • Ask your real estate agent how long “for sale” houses in your desired area have been on the market.
  • If sales have been sluggish, find out if it’s because the market is slow or if it’s because the neighborhood has a problem (read above comments regarding feral midgets).
  • However, if there’s been an increase in buyers from other areas coming in and multiple offers on the homes for sale, then you know you’ve hit on a good neighborhood.
  • Other signs of a good neighborhood are when residents remodeling their homes, when residents are buying bigger homes in the same neighborhood, and when there is a small number of renters.
  • Finally, ask the people who live there. Read their local community papers and shop in their stores. In other words, spy on them. Don’t worry, we won’t blow your cover.

But even if you feel you have found the perfect neighborhood, there are still a couple of more things you should check out. One is to call city hall and make sure they aren’t planning any major road construction through that area. The other is to drive to and from the neighborhood you’re interested in from different directions and at different times of the day. You may have only seen the “scenic route” and not be aware that the neighborhood is right down the road from a Hell’s Angels clubhouse. That’s not good unless you’re a member yourself.

The house itself

Whew! All this research and we still haven’t even talked about houses.

It’s helpful to make a list of what you need in a house as well as what you want. The need list is the one you’re going to stick by, but you should naturally strive to get things on your want list too. Let’s break it down:

Examples of needs:

  • How much square footage you need to live comfortably
  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms are right for you
  • How much storage space there is
  • How big a lot or yard you need for kids or pets

Examples of wants:

  • The right color carpet
  • Hardwood floors
  • Built-in bookshelves
  • A great view
  • Mirrors over the bed

We’re not asking you to sacrifice your wants completely, but you should consider your needs first and foremost. You can always add things from your want list onto your house later.

Now it’s time to take all this information (the kind of neighborhood you’re interested in, the type of house you need, and how much you can spend) and present it to your real estate agent. You’ve been working so hard up to this point educating yourself on what to look for, its about time you put someone else to work. The agent will take your specifications and see what’s in the area that matches. Then the two of you will begin arranging times to get together to look. And look. And look some more. No matter how quickly you imagine you can find the right house, it always takes much longer. Soon all the houses will start to blur together. To avoid losing track, keep a scorecard on each one you look at. Make a list of your needs and how each house matched up to those needs. Then add comments to the bottom of your scorecard about what was good or bad about each house. Also, keep the flyers your agent gives you for each house. Many times it will have a picture of the house on it. Keeping a file of all this will help you keep track of what you’ve seen and ultimately help you narrow down your decision of which house you want to make an offer on.

One final note here: around the time you feel you are ready to make an offer on a house, you should ask your agent to help you find a reputable home inspector. A home inspection is part of the final closing on the house, but we’re talking about a separate inspection that takes place before you sign a contract. It will cost you $200 – $500, and it’s worth every penny. The home inspector will do a top-to-bottom inspection for any problems with the house that the seller either neglected to point out or maybe was not aware of (it happens). You will want to include in your offer that the deal is dependent on the seller either fixing or compensating for any of these problems before a sale goes through. Keep in mind that the inspection will not include cosmetic defects. Also, don’t wait until you make the offer to find an inspector because there’s usually a time limit in the contract as to how soon the inspection has to take place.

See also…

Buying and Selling Property