Quality of life is just as important as construction quality. Learn what to look for at open houses to ensure comfort in your new home
If you are in the market for a house, you’ll likely want to make sure you have a roof that won’t leak, a solid foundation, proper wiring and so on. But what about the things not covered by the inspection? Sometimes it’s these less obvious factors that end up making the biggest impact on your day-to-day experience of a house — things like the quality of light, flow from room to room and the amount of time it takes to shovel the driveway. Here are 20 things to look for — and happy house hunting!
1. Indoor-outdoor flow. The ease with which you can move from indoor to outdoor living areas and back again can make a huge difference in your day-to-day experience of living in a home. If this is important to you, look for French, sliding or accordion glass doors leading from the main living spaces to the outdoors.
2. Size of rooms. Not too big, not too small. Channel your inner Goldilocks to nail the just-right room size for your lifestyle. Imagine setting up your own furniture in the rooms as you walk through — bring measurements if you can.
3. Interior layout. Like indoor-outdoor flow, the interior layout, or floor plan, can have a big effect on your daily life. Walk through the rooms, imagining your typical day. Are there sharp corners and narrow passages to navigate, or is there an easy, natural flow from one room to the next?
4. Lot grade. The steepness of a lot is in some ways even more important than its size. After all, what good is an acre if it’s too steep to walk on?
Think about not just what you want today but what you might want in the future. If down the road you were to decide you wanted to add a deck, an extra room or a backyard studio, would that be possible on your lot?
5. Window size and placement. You can of course can add and modify windows, but it’s not the cheapest change to make to a house. Ideally, look for a home with ample, well-placed windows.
6. Amount of natural light. This is a big one, yet it’s surprisingly easy to overlook when attending open houses. Once you have a few homes on your list that are strong contenders, make appointments to give them a second look at a different time of day. This will give you a fuller picture of what the light is like in the home.
7. Regional weather considerations. Live somewhere with cold winters? You may want to put an attached garage, covered entrances and an easy-to-shovel driveway on your checklist. Those in warm climates may want to focus on shaded walkways and cooling trees.
8. House orientation on lot. The way a house is positioned on its lot affects how much natural light it gets and can influence heating and cooling bills as well. A south-facing home will maximize natural light — though a north-facing home can be just as bright if the main living space is in the back of the home and there are ample windows all around. In hot climates a north-facing home with deep eaves may be preferable to keep your house cooler.
9. Driveway length and width. It seems silly to even consider this — until you buy a house and realize your car won’t fit in the ridiculously narrow driveway, or you have to shovel that extra-long driveway after a mega snow storm. (The too-narrow driveway? Yep, that happened to me.)
10. Street parking. Though street parking is not usually an issue in the suburbs or rural areas, some towns and cities have strange rules and regulations regarding it. Where I live, for example, we are not allowed to park overnight in front of our own house. (Combine that with the too-narrow driveway situation described above, and oy vey!)
11. Staircase steepness and length. You may not have the slightest problem with stairs — but this is one of those times it’s helpful to think about the future. If you think you might ever want or need to take in an elderly relative, or you plan to age in place, a long, steep staircase may not be the best feature.
12. Architectural details. Great architectural details, like exposed beams, beautiful molding and mantels, will make everything else you do to your home look even better. Start with good bones.
13. Heating and cooling systems. While not as big an issue in temperate climates, if you live somewhere that gets very hot in summer or cold in winter (or both), good heating and cooling systems will make life much more pleasant. And because putting in central air conditioning or heating can cost a fair amount and the work is disruptive, finding a home where it’s already in place will save money and hassle.
14. Laundry room location. Is the laundry in a convenient spot, or is it hidden away in a dingy corner of the basement? Since this is a chore that usually needs to be done frequently, having a laundry near a main living area can make life easier.
15. Kitchen features. Ask whoever does most of the cooking in your household to make a wish list for the kitchen. Does he or she prefer to work on a gas stove? If so, be sure to check for one, and failing that, ask if the house is connected to a gas line so that you can add your own gas stove. Other things to consider in the kitchen could include its shape or layout, natural light, number of sinks, storage area and overall size.
16. Number of bathrooms. Adding a bathroom is expensive, so choose a home with enough baths to meet your family’s needs. Even if you are a household of only one or two people, an extra powder room on the main floor can be a big boon.
17. Ceiling height. Some basement and attic rooms have less than adequate ceiling heights. If someone in your household is tall, bring him or her along to the open house to make sure the fit in all the rooms is comfortable.
18. Zoning and town ordinances for animals. Have a notion that you may one day want backyard chickens or another unconventional pet? Check local ordinances before committing to a house, or you may never get the pets you have your heart set on.
19. Closeness of neighbors. Though the general area (city versus suburb) has much to do with how close your neighbors are, there can still be a big difference between how private one house feels over another. If privacy is important to you, be sure to check the views from every window and walk the perimeter of the property to get an idea of how close you will be to your next-door neighbors.
20. The neighborhood. This may be where you started your search, but have you really considered all aspects of your potential new neighborhood? School districts are of course important for families with kids, and proximity to work and family closely follows on many folks’ wish lists. But you may also want to look into how walkable (or bikeable) your neighborhood is, what community amenities (libraries, parks) are nearby and what public transportation is available.