If you’re ready to buy your first family home, here are some tips that can help you find the perfect neighborhood and house.
If getting married is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done and having a child the most emotional, then buying a house will be the most challenging. Not only will you be putting yourselves into major debt for decades, you will be influencing the character and personality of your family for years to come. Friendships, educational opportunities, available medical care, and the chance to achieve in sports and other endeavors are only some of the areas affected by where a family chooses to live.
Some prefer the rarefied air of the country, where children can explore nature firsthand, catching frogs in nearby ponds and picking wildflowers in open fields. Others consider the sophistication of the city the ultimate living experience. Close proximity to museums, theater, and cultural centers is important to them.
Do Your Homework
Before you call real estate agents, do some investigating on your own. An accountant or bank loan officer can help you determine how much house you can afford. Where that house will be requires more thought and research.
Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Will this be the house where your children will spend all of their formative years, or do you anticipate another move in two or three years?
- Do your career plans include a change of employers in the near future?
- By how many will your family grow while you live in this house (including live-in grandparents)?
- How close do you want to live to the extended family or to work? (Shorter commuting time translates into more family time.)
Your answers to these questions should narrow down your options. While the cost of the property and its taxes will greatly influence your final decision, there are other important considerations.
Evaluate the Local Schools
Most families believe the quality of a community’s schools is its greatest asset or biggest fault. Even parents of newborns or yet-to-be borns must evaluate school systems. It is only five short years until that baby is ready for formal education.
Most state departments of education publish valuable information on each of its school systems, including average teachers’ salaries, per-pupil expenditures, results from basic skills testing, drop-out rates, and number of students going on to college.
Schedule an appointment with the superintendent of schools or one of the school principals for more information. Questions to ask should include these:
- What is the current enrollment of the school system?
- What is the projected enrollment over the next few years?
- How many homeowners have children in the school system compared with those who do not? This is an important consideration when it comes to voting on local legislation involving the schools.
- How many elementary schools funnel into how many middle and high schools?
- Do the schools offer enrichment programs?
- Does the school provide an after-school childcare program or is one available nearby?
- Are there long-range plans for school expansion?
Check Out Safety and Security
Safety is another important factor in appraising a community. How many crossing guards are on duty before and after school? What are the posted speed limits on the streets children travel the most?
A good gauge of security is the police log printed in most local newspapers. Just about every community has a weekly or daily newspaper that publishes lists of criminal activity, including rowdy parties, break-ins, drunken driving, and violent crime.
The state office of public safety should have statistics on file that include both the crimes committed in various communities and the percentage of increase or decrease from previous years. This information is available to the public by telephoned request.
Look for Child-Friendly Neighborhoods
A drive or walk around town will give you a good indication of how child-friendly the community is. How many parks and playgrounds are there? What is their condition? Are they well protected from street traffic?
What is available for older youths? Are there lots of kids hanging out on street corners? Your own children may not be this age yet, but if they use the parks and playgrounds, they will come into contact with these teens.
As you visit different neighborhoods, take note of the sizes of the yards and the number of children’s toys, jungle gyms, basketball hoops, and bicycles in the driveways. By varying the time of day you go through town you can observe the activities of different age groups.