Finding the Perfect Home
All homes have flaws. Some you can deal with; others are deal breakers. Here's how to know the difference.
As I was out showing a property this past weekend to a young couple wanting to purchase their first home, I was again reminded that there is no perfect home. I was also reminded that, like this couple, the more realistic and savvy buyers understand the need for compromise.
But isn’t compromise a sell-out suggesting a lack of discipline? On the contrary, a willingness to consider both the positive and negative features of a home and weigh their relative importance is essential. When looking for a home in any price range, even where the grandest of properties are concerned, I can guarantee that there will be something about each that you will find less than ideal. Hey, even Bill Gates probably has some hideous wall paper thing going on somewhere in his mansion. (OK -- probably not, but I find some comfort in clinging to this notion.)
So as a homebuyer, you are going to have to settle. The key is to know which imperfections are mere nuisances and which are fatal flaws. Particularly when purchasing your first home, emotions are running high. You are going from zero to something, and you have to start somewhere, so you may be more inclined to overlook a few negatives. But, you are also going to have to live in that “somewhere,” so it is critical to make sure that while you aren’t sweating the small stuff, you are recognizing the truly important things.
A home’s shortcomings can be categorized as either “important” or “not so much.” The key is in making the distinction.
- Location. There are a million little things we can lump under the category of location including neighborhood, schools, view, and lot size to name a few. While I can’t tell you what neighborhood is right for you any more than I can tell you what your favorite color should be, you need to be very clear on this point in your own mind. You can fix and remodel a lot of things, but you can’t move the house.
NOT SO MUCH:
- Paint, carpet and cleanliness. These are the easy things, but they are the things many buyers have the most difficulty looking past. If the home needs a thorough cleaning, hire someone -- or buy your own blow torch. Soiled carpeting or carpeting of a questionable style or color (such as the Harvest Gold Corn Crop Needing a Shave type so crazy-popular five decades ago) is easily remedied, as is tired or flat-out ugly paint. Even if you are on a very restricted budget, these minor deficiencies can be remedied over time. In these cases, you should be most concerned that the other, bigger ticket items have been addressed.
- Structural integrity. If you lay a marble in the middle of the family room floor, does it reach warp speed before hitting the far wall? You might have a slab issue. Is it raining both outside and inside? It could be that the roof needs replacing. If your budget or your sense of adventure is in short supply, these may be things that we in the industry call “deal killers.”
NOT SO MUCH:
- Landscaping. You may love fruit trees yet there is nary a tangelo in sight. Maybe the lawn is dead, or the rear yard has been designed to replicate the lunar surface, complete with craters and moon rocks. Congratulations! Assuming that the configuration, size and orientation are suitable (see “location”), you have a new hobby. Your thoughtful agent may even present you with a shovel and a bag of fertilizer as a closing gift.
- Room count. You need a four-bedroom home but the two-bedroom home is so darn cute and perfect in every other way. If you find yourself suggesting to your spouse that the twins’ bunk beds would fit nicely in the laundry room or the garage, keep looking.
NOT SO MUCH:
- Room size. On the face, it may sound crazy to suggest that room size is not a big deal, but allow me to qualify. I have seen too many buyers who have let their 10-year-old furniture trump a six-figure home purchase decision. If the only thing wrong with an otherwise fabulous home is that your 12-piece bedroom ensemble doesn’t quite fit in the master suite with room left over for the treadmill and bumper pool table, perhaps it’s time to right-size your belongings.
- Anything in the health and safety category. Some health and safety issues, of course, are easily addressed. Ground Fault Connector Interrupt (GFCI) outlets, or those cute little outlets with the red reset buttons which keep you from electrocuting yourself while blow-drying your hair in the bathtub, are cheap items which can be replaced in minutes. Black mold, on the other hand, could be toxic and is much more serious business.
These are just a few examples of the considerations you may face when evaluating homes. Of course, there are many, many more. Just remember that you while you're looking for the ideal home, there is no such thing. And while it would be foolish to overlook some issues, it would be equally foolish not to overlook others.