Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Single Homebuyers: How to Buy Your Dream House, Part II

Okay, single house hunters! Time to turn off TLC, get off the couch, and go do some field work! Now that you've (hopefully) figured out how much house you can afford by following the guidelines in "Part I," you've paid your dues, and it's time for the fun part--combing those web sites, calling those agents, and viewing the house that is about to be yours. Today Singletude will accompany you on your first brush with real estate listings and help you hone in on the house that's calling your name.

For a first-time homebuyer, perusing or the real estate section of the paper can feel like entering Wonderland--exciting but confusingly full of houses of all shapes and sizes with exotic features, each exhorting the buyer to "try me." Besides your price point, you may not know what you expect from a home, and a log cabin on a lake may seem no better or worse than a manicured Tudor on Main Street. Once you form a clear picture of the house you want, the search won't feel so overwhelming, and you'll waste less time viewing candidates that aren't good fits. You might start by making a list of features that are important to you. Here are some questions you'll want to ask yourself as you write your wish list:

1. Where do you want to live?

"Location, location, location" isn't the real estate broker's mantra for nothing. Where you live affects not only your lifestyle but your property value. Whether or not you have children, a good school district will pump up the value of your home. Whether or not you take advantage of the local park, join the neighborhood's community watch, or use a big backyard for family barbeques, all those selling points will do the same. As a rule of thumb, a home's worth increases when the neighborhood is physically well-maintained, safe, close to a thriving urban center, and family-friendly. (Towns are generally considered "family-friendly" when they offer excellent schools and kid-centric activities.) Even if you never intend to marry or have kids, you might keep these criteria in mind for property value alone.

Beyond economic factors, though, you also need to be happy in your location. Take some time to think about your current neighborhood, what you like about it and what you would change. For example, if you live in a city and love the easy access to cultural events but long for a tree-filled yard, maybe you could find an arty college town or more urban home that borders a state park or community garden. Guidelines for choosing a neighborhood should include its size, zoning (for privacy, noise level, etc.), demographics (especially if you hope to meet other singles), access to conveniences, outlets for hobbies and interests, proximity to work, and climate.

2. Which architectural styles appeal to you?

Do you see yourself in a rambling Victorian with gables and bay windows? Do you dream of a cedar-sided contemporary studded with skylights? Or do you picture a straightforward raised ranch like the one you grew up in?

3. Do you want an old or a new house?

For all their antique charm, those crotchety senior citizens of the domicile world are high-maintenance. In general, the older a home is, the more tender loving care it requires. An aging home that shows its cracks is also likely to let a lot of hot air escape through them! In a world that's trending green, older homes with their outdated heating and electrical systems can't keep up with the demands of the cost-conscious and environmentally aware. They may also cramp your style with small rooms, little storage space, and a lack of contemporary amenities.

New houses don't bear as many battle scars from childhood tussles, rambunctious pets, or sudden storms, they're well-equipped for modern living, and if you buy one, prospects are good that you won't have to rush out and re-side or replace the roof. On the other hand, brand new houses may come with hefty price tags, and you may have to lay out even more for appliances and landscaping that would have been part of the package with an older residence. Plus, fans of vintage homes contend that their craftsmanship and resultant durability are unparalleled by today's standards.

4. How big do you want your house to be?

While Singletude encourages everyone, single or married, to rebel against oil-guzzling, electricity-munching McMansions, singles shouldn't sacrifice space just because they're unattached. If you need a place that can double as a vacation home for all your friends and business associates, house 10 foster kids, or display your collection of cathedral-size pipe organs, don't let a real estate agent steer you toward a one-bedroom townhouse because he or she assumes that unmarried adults should live in single-serving juice boxes.

On the other hand, a one-bedroom townhouse may be the max you can fathom vacuuming every week. Big houses require big time investment for upkeep and big financial investment for heating and electricity. So when you consider square feet, consider yourself lighting, heating, and dusting every last foot!

5. What kind of layout should your house have?

This is both a practical and an aesthetic question, and the answer is somewhat hard to determine before you see a house. Nevertheless, you should start thinking about it now so that you can more quickly recognize houses whose floor plans won't work for you. It doesn't hurt to get a sense of the layouts associated with various architectural styles so you can anticipate what you will see when you step into a saltbox as opposed to a raised ranch. Perhaps you want your front door to open onto an entrance hall, or maybe you'd rather it opened directly into the living room. Someone may want an eat-in kitchen; another may want a separate dining room.

Sometimes taste in layout stems from more pragmatic concerns. An individual with a handicap or chronic health problem may not want a house with stairs. A single mom may want her baby's bedroom to be very close to hers.

For more details about home layout, point your browser here or here.

6. What amenities are important to you?

Prepare to spend a lot of time chewing on this meaty question because the amenities are probably what will make or break the sale. Beneath its Georgian, Cape Cod, or Mission Revival exterior, the heart of a house is its cheerful family room fireplace, its inviting bedroom window seat, its comfy wall-to-wall carpeting. The amenities are what give the house its personality, and you need a house whose personality matches yours.

If you like to cook, your priority may be a kitchen with miles of counter space, a center island, a gas stove, and a sub-zero fridge. For someone who enjoys unwinding with a long bath in the evening, a huge jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom might be just the thing, while a deck and in-ground pool might be essential for that young guy or girl who wants to throw a pool party every summer. And let's not forget those little matters of paint versus wallpaper, carpeting versus hardwood versus tile, and halogen versus fluorescent. Is central air a must-have? What about energy efficiency?

Although amenities can be added, removed, or substituted after the sale, these expenditures can blow your budget faster than you can say "fixer-upper." It's better to find a house already equipped with what you want at a price you can afford. If that's not possible, get an estimate for anything you intend to install or replace before you sign any dotted lines. For that matter...

7. Are you willing to take a chance on a fixer-upper or a foreclosure?

Cash-strapped singles may be lured by promises of unbeatable deals on houses in various states of disrepair or foreclosure. But tread carefully when walking over a money pit. Agents and sellers may try to minimize a fixer-upper's fatal flaws, and even a standard home inspection may fail to detect hidden problems. Even if you do have an accurate idea of what it will take to transform a house from project to palace, unless you're a professional contractor, you should probably put the hammer down before you hurt yourself. Few fixer-uppers are also "do-it-yourself," and by the time the carpenter, the electrician, the glazer, and the plumber have all made their rounds, you may owe them more than you saved on your "great deal." Again, should you go this route, get an expert assessment of how much you will have to invest on upgrades before you commit to fix the unfixable. To learn more about fixer-uppers, read this and this.

A foreclosure is even riskier business. It too may be a fixer-upper, but, depending on what stage of foreclosure it's in, you may not know it until it's too late. Houses that make it to auction cannot be inspected before they're sold, and the buyer often has to pay the lump sum in cash, so there's no room to wiggle out from under the wreckage of a house that turns out to be damaged or vandalized. Worse, the unsuspecting new homeowner may find him- or herself saddled with a second mortgage, outstanding liens, or other unpaid debt attached to the property. And--horror of horrors--in some states, the original owner is entitled to reclaim the house during a grace period after the sale, in which case the buyer is left homeless, waving bye-bye to a chunk of money he or she just sunk into the pit!

If you still want to take your chances on a foreclosure, Singletude recommends that you at least seek out a broker who specializes in foreclosures. Of course, you won't get the steal that you would've gotten at auction, but you'll be able to conduct the transaction with more protections, including the right to inspection and a history of outstanding debts. For more information on foreclosures, read this and this.

8. Do you have any special needs as a single homebuyer?

While many singles are refreshed or energized by the peace of solitude, living alone can present unique challenges. Some single homeowners worry about isolation, fearing they will be lonely without other people nearby. Others grow anxious about how they will cope alone in an emergency, while still others question whether they'll have the time or skill to deal with routine maintenance.

You should share these concerns with your real estate agent so that he or she can guide you to a residence that will fulfill your special requests. Due to the sharp rise in single homebuyers over the past several years, developers are constructing more homes with singles in mind, especially single women, who made up 20% of the market as of 2008. These single-friendly dwellings include extra closet space for the fashion-conscious professional single as well as energy-efficient appliances for those making do on one income. Multi-family homes, condos, co-ops, and other residential communities also remain popular, providing social opportunities, security, and sometimes property care. If you prefer a detached home, you may want to ask your agent to zero in on houses built with low-maintenance materials such as brick or vinyl. You may also want to investigate homes on small lots or close to town centers to faciliate communication with your neighbors.

With the outline of your ideal home in hand, it's much easier to narrow down your options on Your list will also articulate what you want to your agent so that he or she can help you find it! But one question remains: How do you find your agent?

When Singletude's house hunting series continues, we'll tackle that question. Better yet, we'll walk you through a house on the market and show you what to look out for! You know, besides Ty and the Extreme Makeover team.

If you're a single homeowner, what were some of the criteria that were important to you when choosing a home? Did your single status influence your criteria in any way? What are some features that you would recommend other singles look for in a house? If you chose a fixer-upper, foreclosure, or other property that represented a risk, what did you learn that you can share with other singles who might take the same risk?

Fun Link of the Day

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have a rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a Singletude Q&A or your rant or rave in a Singletude Sound-off!


LazyKing said...

I'm still trying to figure out how to finish college, so the dream house is for later, lool

Thanks for your comments in my blog. And yes a tv-show with a guy doing all those crzy stuffs will be hilarious. My fav. is the "hairdryer" story

Monique said...

Thanks for such a great article !!

The Digerati Life said...

Great pointers! I have what's close to my dream house, though i spent a lot of time and bucks to develop it to that point.... even the house you live in can be a dream home if you work on it. Great post!

Constance Burris said...

I wish I had read this before I bought my home.

The Singlutionary said...

Floorplan was really important to me as I think it is to most people. I knew I would be sharing the house with other singles and I wanted everyone to have privacy. My house has four bedrooms but none of the bedrooms share walls so if I'm going to be early, my roommates action flick isn't going to keep waking me up.

Clever Elsie said...

LazyKing: Thanks for stopping by. I have to say it's never too early to start planning for life after the dorms. I wish I had made an effort to educate myself about these things earlier!

Monique: You're welcome! I'm glad you liked it.

Digerati Life: Hi, nice to see a new face here! That's awesome that you were able to land a good deal and reinvent it into the home you envisioned! It's a good option for people who have the skill and the extra cash to remodel.

Kahnee: Gah! I guess you summed up why it's important to do your research before you buy! Mind if I ask what happened? By the way, welcome to Singletude.

Singlutionary: That sounds like an ideal arrangement! Good thinking!

The Singlutionary said...

You've got an award on Singlutionary! Check it out! I love your blog and enjoy your posts!

Coach Carol said...

Great tips, it's a good thing that there are sites such as this that caters to the single and happy.

Great job!

Clever Elsie said...

Coach Carol: Thanks for visiting, and I'm glad you're enjoying the blog!