Finding Your Family’s Home Sweet Home

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Steps to take in order to find the perfect famiy home: finding a good realtor to deciding on the right neighborhood. A seasoned house-hunter shares her tips!

When my husband and I first learned I was pregnant, it didn’t take long to realize that the little one-bedroom walkup we shared with our two cats and sheepdog in New York City’s East Village would never be a suitable home for our growing family. There were no closets, the living room was too narrow for a full-sized sofa, and the bathroom was so small that there wasn’t even room for a sink.

Of course, none of these things bothered us before. We didn’t mind bending over the bathtub faucet to wash our hands or doing the crabwalk past each other in the teensy hallway because we knew how lucky we were to have an affordable apartment in the city. Besides, there was something romantic about snuggling up in a chair with our feet on the radiator during those cold winter nights.

But as my belly began to bulge, slipping past each other in the hallway became a challenge. And in my sixth month, as I panted my way up the stairwell to my apartment door, I wondered how I would lug a stroller, baby, groceries, and dog up the steps alone.

So after twenty years in the city, we put an offer on what appeared to be our dream starter home in nearby New Jersey. The quaint two-bedroom cape had an eat-in kitchen and a small yard, and the four-room property seemed palatial. Yet within two years we were ready to move into something larger—and so we did. A three-bedroom home in a nearby community with a mortgage payment close to what we’d been paying.

When my husband and I recently found out we were expecting another baby, we started thinking about ways to subdivide the upstairs playroom and office to fit another bedroom and bathroom, and then we realized that even if we did take out a home-equity loan and hire contractors to do the work, either one or both of our children would end up having a room on a floor by themselves. Who would we put upstairs alone? The baby? Our son? Or should we just move into the playroom and keep the kids downstairs by themselves? How would I sleep at night knowing they were alone down there?

Now our dream house is on the market, and we’ve begun searching once again for our “forever home.” The process has been an interesting learning experience. Here are a few tips I’ve collected along the way.

Most Homes Aren’t “Forever”

Don’t worry if you are unable to afford your dream house the first time around. According to one realtor my husband and I worked with, the average American family will live in three homes over the course of 20 years. Buying a “starter house” is the first step that many families take toward building the equity to purchase the home of their dreams.

If you’re ready to buy your first house, think your family will soon need more space, or if you’re relocating to a different area, find a reputable realtor, put your current home on the market if you have one, and start looking. Don’t worry about postponing until you have a larger down payment saved or interest rates are lower. The usual quarter point of fluctuation in daily market interest rates translates to very small increases in monthly mortgage payments over, for instance, a thirty-year period; and unless you are able to save at a rate better than that of the market value increase in your area, it isn’t likely that you will save money by plopping down a larger down payment on a new home.

Find a Great Realtor!

Finding the realtor that’s right for you doesn’t necessarily mean limiting your dealings to top-selling agents. A “multi-million-dollar–club” realtor may not be as attentive to your needs as an ambitious agent that’s just establishing her business. Ask friends and co-workers to recommend an agent, and work with the person that seems most interested in satisfying your needs without being pushy or unscrupulous. If you’re buying your first home, you will especially want a patient, knowledgeable realtor who can help you avoid the pitfalls of the home buying process. Since all licensed realtors have access to the same Multiple Listing Service (MLS) listings, it will save you time and potential confusion if you limit yourself to working with just one agent.

Whether buying or selling, it’s best to work with someone local, since the agent’s familiarity with the area will be very helpful in a buyer’s learning about the schools, restaurants, parks, municipal and other services that are integral to the neighborhood.

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