Ask Brian: As Buyers, What Should We Look for in a Family Home?



Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Family Home
Family Home

Question. Kit and Ron from Akron, Ohio ask: Hello Brian, we might be late to the party but we are glad to finally be here. We haven’t even looked at any houses and have barely discussed what we want in a house. But we have put away about $9,000 towards a down payment. Yesterday, we did start talking about what we should look at based on the two of us and two kids soon to be teenagers. Of course, we want at least 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Also, we want a house with a yard, not a condo. But that’s about as far as we got in the discussion. We realize this is a conversation we should have with a realtor but Ron thinks a realtor might steer the conversation towards what is currently available. We decided to ask you for a third party opinion.

Answer. Hi Kit and Ron. With $9,000 in the bank, and assuming your credit score and debt to income ratio are healthy, you can expect to qualify for a home in the $138,000 range. You savings will cover a 3.5% down payment and 3% in closing costs (actuals will vary). That makes houses close to that price range your primary consideration. In Akron, you should be able to find plenty of 3 bedroom, 2 bath houses on the market close to that price.

Next, I suggest you consider if that is large enough for your future needs. Keep in mind that first time buyers often buy up about 5 to 6 years later. So, your future needs probably don’t have to go beyond that. One thing to think about is whether you want a turnkey home or if you want to buy more house that needs some fixing? If you do go with a house needing repairs, consider how much you want to take on. Especially if you plan on doing the work yourself. For instance, you probably wouldn’t want something with a damaged foundation or needing a new roof. You’re going to get a professional home inspection before closing the deal. If you already know a home needs repairs, the inspection is critically important to you understanding all of the repairs and the severity.

Some people get too wrapped up in the color of the paint on the walls. Walls are easily painted a different color. But do look closely at things such as the quality of windows and countertops. Also, think about the purpose of your home and the needs for your lifestyle. Will you need a lot of storage for camping equipment or a hobby like rebuilding cars? This could be your chance to stop paying for a storage rental. Or do you have a large book collection that would benefit from built in bookshelves or a study? Or a big back yard for barbecuing? You’re probably not going to get it all, so you want to prioritize what is important to your lifestyle.

When you start looking at houses, something to keep in mind is how the house will function during the different seasons of the year. For instance, you might not want a steep driveway. It can be difficult getting in and out of in the snow or rain might find its way into the garage if it slopes downhill. Orientation to the sun can be a consideration. Is there a good spot in the backyard if you want a garden? Or if you’re thinking about solar panels, the best roof faces south by southwest. Also, think about the structure itself. Is it well sealed with quality insulated windows, doors, walls, floors, and ceilings against both the winter cold and summer heat?

Your home really should reflect your lifestyle and that is as individual as each one of us. Here is a starter list to keep you thinking:

  • Do you like to host parties and large gatherings?
  • Will guests be staying overnight?
  • Do either of you work from home with a need for quiet place to work?
  • Do you need to park more than one car in the garage? Do you need RV parking?
  • How important is the master bedroom? Does it need a large private bathroom or other amenities?
  •  Are stairs a mobility issue for anyone now or in the foreseeable future?
  • How important is privacy indoors and out? Should the master bedroom be at the opposite end of the house from the kid’s rooms or family room? Can a neighbor look down from a second story window into your back yard where you sunbathe?
  • Is your house within noise distance to a major road?
  • What about extra features like a deck, patio, swimming pool, or hot tub?

There is still more to think about beyond your yard. What is the neighborhood like? Would a dog park be nice? Walking trails? Of course, you need to research the schools since you have children.  What else is important or just nice to have nearby? Take time to explore the neighborhoods for libraries, parks, pools, grocers, farmers market, and other retail shops. And don’t forget the work commute. You may have all of the amenities you want but can’t enjoy them if all of your time is spent commuting back and forth.

Ultimately, there is a lot to consider when looking to buy a home. But it’s time well spent since you’ll be living there and raising your family for many years to come.

Asa reader, what is most important to you when looking for a home? Please leave your comment. Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, near a national and the Pacific Ocean.