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What to Look for When Buying a House (That You Might've Overlooked)

Posted on October 01, 2020 in Tips and Education

Gray home at dusk with lights lighting up windows

Binge enough episodes of “House Hunters” and you’ll notice a pattern in the homebuyers’ must-haves: hardwood floors, an open floor plan for entertaining, a huge yard, a luxurious master bathroom and a kitchen befitting a chef, to name a few.

Each feature is enough to make you fall in love with a home and want to make an offer on the spot. But buying a home is a big decision. You have to be sure your home meets your needs, not just your wants. 

The House Hunting Checklist for Finding a Home That Checks All the Boxes 

Sellers and their realtors are smart. They do all the little things to sell a house fast. Every house you look at will be cleaned up, fixed up, decluttered and designed to capture your heart. Eager sellers go through the trouble of tackling home renovations to make a bigger impact on you or swap out their style for the latest home design trends

All the updates are great and make a home move-in ready. But you need to move past the glamour and look for important things that many homebuyers gloss over on their house hunt.

Aerial view of residential neighborhood

1. The Best House Location

You can change nearly everything about your home except for one thing: its location. Most homebuyers consider the neighborhood in their house-hunting, whether it’s close to work, friends, good schools or just in an area of the city they love. That’s a great start, but there are a lot of other factors to consider to find the best location of your home:

  • Proximity to retail – Think about places you visit outside your day-to-day schedule. Where’s the nearest grocery store, big box store or hardware store? Is there a nearby branch of your bank? Figure out how long it will take to run errands or make an emergency trip to the store for household essentials.
  • Transportation – Plot your daily commute. Do you drive your own car? You’ll want quick access to highways and main roads. Do you rely on public transportation? Locate the nearest bus or train stop and check that pickup times fit your schedule. Is the house close enough to walk or bike to work? Map your route to make sure there are sidewalks, bike lanes or trails so you can get to and from work safely.
  • Site of the house – Look closely at the lot and where the home sits on it. Which direction does the house face? How close are the neighbors? Do their windows look directly into the house? Check the view from every window to find any potential privacy issues. Does the house sit on a slope or a hill? Is the grade too steep to walk or add future outdoor features? Walk around the property to find obstacles that may affect your home maintenance and improvement.

Laundry room with cabinets, storage space and window

2. Home Storage Space

When you’re buying a home, you naturally think about the layout and how your home will be presented. It’s easy to forget about all the stuff you keep out of sight.

After you make sure the closet in the master suite can hold all your clothes, check out all the other closets and storage areas in the house and take an inventory:

  • How many closets are there?
  • Are they in the places you need them — like the front entrance, under the stairs or in a hallway?
  • What about bathroom and kitchen cabinets? 
  • Does the home have a dedicated mudroom or laundry room?
  • Is there an attic or large storage room in the basement? 
  • Does the garage have enough space to fit family vehicles, bikes, kids’ toys, lawn mowers, tools and everything else that you accumulate in homeownership?
  • Is there a shed or room to build one on the property?

When there isn’t adequate space for your belongings, it gets tricky finding creative storage solutions later on. Something as simple as a convenient place to store your vacuum can mean the world once you move in.

Kitchen with ideal kitchen triangle and three windows

3. An Ideal Kitchen Triangle

Beautiful cabinets, granite countertops, kitchen islands and an open space for entertaining often appear on a homebuyer’s “needs” list. Yet none of those things actually contribute to the kitchen’s main purpose: preparing meals. 

The kitchen work triangle is a concept to determine the most functional and efficient layout. The sink, refrigerator, and stove make up the corners of the triangle, as those are the three primary work centers for most tasks. The National Kitchen and Bath Association provides recommendations on the ideal kitchen triangle layout:

  • The sum of the three traveled distances between workstations should be no more than 26 feet.
  • The distance between work centers — known as the legs of the triangle — should be between four and nine feet.
  • Legs of the work triangle should not cross an island, peninsula or other obstacle by more than a foot.
  • No major traffic patterns should cross through the triangle.

Bring along measuring tape and write down the dimensions of the kitchen setup. Too big and open, cooking and entertaining may actually be harder. Too small and cluttered, you’ll be banging your knees on cabinet doors and bumping into family at mealtime.

Woman opening windows in window-filled room

4. Amount of Natural Light in the House

Most open houses are on Sundays, but what you really want is a sunny day. Visit the house when the sun is shining and take note of how the light hits each room. You may even want to schedule a second visit at a different time of day. Do the windows, doors and patio doors provide enough natural light? Are there enough light fixtures in darker rooms? Are the electrical outlets conveniently located to add more lighting?

Start thinking about your lighting plan. Look at which way the windows face and the amount of heat and light that will be in each room throughout the day. South-facing windows get the most sun. So if you love sunlight, you may want your family room, home office or master bedroom on the south side of the home. If the house feels too dark, look for opportunities to add or replace windows to increase natural light, or other ways to improve the lighting.

Location, storage, triangles and lighting aren’t as exciting as outdoor living spaces or modern upgrades. But they matter a lot more to your daily life. You have to pay attention to these overlooked details because the little things add up. Knowing them upfront can save you from surprises down the line or worse — buyer’s remorse.

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