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10 Things to Consider When Buying a Colorado Family Home
With so many distinct towns and neighborhoods to choose from in the Denver metro area, trying to buy the right home for your family can be overwhelming. If you’re like most people, you enter into this life-altering process with a lot of ‘nice to haves’ on your wish list. But you also need to keep in mind the needs of each family member and how these will evolve over time. If you’re searching for the ideal home for your family, here are the top 10 things to keep in mind before you buy.
1. Your Budget
It's easy to find a home that’s perfect for your family, but far too expensive for your budget. As much as you may want that six-bedroom home with a pool, it can be heartbreaking to have to walk away from it when financial reality sinks in.
Access to cash is the first key factor in setting your budget. Most home loans today require a down payment of 5 to 20% of your purchase price. Beyond that, you’ll need to set aside roughly 5% of your purchase price for things like your loan establishment fee, legal and government costs, and possibly mortgage insurance. You’ll also need to budget for your move, new furniture and accessories, and any renovations or landscaping that may be necessary.
Even if your mortgage broker surprises you with the size of loan you qualify for, be sure not to overlook all the costs that go beyond your monthly mortgage payment – property taxes, utilities, HOA fees and ongoing maintenance can be steeper than you realize.
While you’re thinking about how much you want to spend on your home, it’s a good idea to consider how well your investment might do over time. Does the neighborhood have a good reputation? Are house values in the area trending upward? And does the house offer the kinds of features that will stay in demand?
2. New vs. Old
Do you prefer old luster or new sparkle? Newer homes allow you to choose many of your amenities and usually come with lower maintenance costs. New neighborhoods also tend to fill up with younger families, which can be a big bonus if you have little children. With older homes though, it’s easier to gauge how you’ll like the neighborhood since the trees are mature and the trails and parks are already in full swing. On the flipside, with older homes you’ll really need to take a close look at the condition of the roof, foundation, and heating and cooling systems. Things that seem minor on first inspection may prove to be anything but.
3. Size & Adaptability
Unlike a few years ago when fast-rising prices led to frequent house flips, most families are now looking to keep their family home for 10 to 15 years or even longer. In many cases, families are looking at smaller homes than they did a few years ago as well. Given the downsizing of home expectations and the changes you can expect in your family over the years, it pays to ask yourself some key questions before you buy. Do you expect your family to grow? Are the bedrooms big enough and appropriately situated? Do you want your kitchen to open up to the family room or living room? And is there enough room to store all the stuff you’re sure to accumulate over the years?
Be sure to keep in mind how rooms might transition to accommodate the changing needs of your family. Can the den be converted to a bedroom? Can the family room double as a playroom or homework center? Can the loft function as a home office or a game room? And can the basement serve as a guestroom?
Finding better schools is often the sole motivator for a family to find a new home. This is why I provide helpful information on all the schools in the vicinity of your prospective home. It’s also a good idea to visit local schools and talk to other parents about your best options. You’ll want to consider things like classroom sizes, technology capabilities, after-school programs and the level of parent involvement. A home’s distance from schools is also an important factor to consider – especially if kids will need to ride a bus or be driven each way.
5. Room to Play
Before you make an offer on a house, be sure to think carefully about features that fit your family’s lifestyle. Formal living rooms and dining rooms can be wonderful, but do they really match the way your family lives and plays? When you really think of it, you might be better off having room for the dog to run around in the backyard or a bonus room that’s well suited for the kids’ favorite hobbies.
Be sure to look carefully at the places your family will spend most of its time. If you like to keep an eye on the kids while you cook, look for an open kitchen. If you can’t live without exercise equipment or a home cinema setup, make sure you have a good place for them. And if you like to entertain lots of guests, make sure your layout will accommodate them.
6. The Yards
With so many sunny days in Colorado, it pays to have an outdoor space that fits the needs of your family. If a yard is too small, there will never be enough space for the kids to kick a ball around. If it’s too big, you might feel like you’re forever mowing lawns and tending flower beds.
Before you buy, take a good long look outside and ask yourself some tough questions. Is there enough shade for hot summer days? Is there sufficient privacy for your needs? And is there sufficient room and safety for your pet? While you’re at it, try to look for hidden opportunities. Is there a space for that playground set or trampoline you had in mind? Would it work to build out a deck or a patio for summer barbecue parties? Compared to indoor renovations, improvements like these can pay huge dividends for a relatively modest investment.
7. Proximity to Work
Although you might dream of a big acreage or a home in the mountains, waking up to a long commute every morning can be a grim reality. If you’re moving farther from the job, it’s a good idea to try out the commute to your prospective neighborhood in rush hour before you buy. If you travel a lot, it might also be worth factoring in frequent trips to the airport. Then again, maybe you don’t want to commute by car at all. If you’d like to be within walking or biking distance to work, you might find that a downtown Denver condo or a Tech Center townhouse are the perfect way to go for your family. Or perhaps you’d be best served by a home close to public transport like an RTD light rail stop.
8. Neighborhood Amenities
It's easy to overlook home imperfections if you love your location. That’s why it’s critical to consider things like the charm of the neighborhood and access to what makes you happy – friends, parks, trails, shops, cultural events, gyms, you name it. On the flipside, you should also pay attention to a home’s proximity to negative factors like jails, heavy industry or busy roads.
Before you make an offer, be sure to check out the whole neighborhood. Are houses and yards kept in good shape? Are there good sidewalks and crosswalks? Do you see kids out on bikes or families hiking on trails? The neighborhood you choose should reflect your priorities and preferred outdoor activities. A lot of families like cul-de-sacs for kids to ride their bikes. Tennis courts and swimming pools are also popular neighborhood features. If you enjoy walking to local restaurants or coffee houses, be sure to check out a neighborhood’s walkability scores on REcolorado.
Before you buy, you need a good sense of how much has to happen to a house to make it what you want. Minor improvements like painting, swapping out tile or adding new light fixtures are to be expected. Major renovations, however, can take a long time to complete and may not be a wise investment.
Often, it’s the little details that can really make a family home dazzle – things like chandeliers, recessed lights, molding and hardware. Homes that are already tastefully done will save you a lot of time and hassle. On the other hand, it may not take as much as you first think to dress up a more basic home to your liking.
Big improvements like kitchen and bathroom remodels, laying hardwood floors or restructuring whole sections of the house are beyond the average homeowner. They also rarely happen on time, on budget or quite the way you expected. This can be a problem if you’re trying to get things done before you move in. You’ll also need to consider how much these investments will affect your home’s value. A home may have good bones and a great school district, but if it’s due for an extreme makeover, you might be best advised to continue your search.
10. Does it feel like home?
The feeling you get when you first walk in the door of a home is all important. If you find yourself saying things like ‘our living room set would go perfectly here,’ that’s a clear indicator that you’ve found a good match for your needs. In all likelihood, your new home won’t meet every single item on your checklist. But if the price is right, your biggest expectations are met and you bubble with excitement at the thought of moving in, you may just have found your new family home.