Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What We look For In Real Estate

      This is the fifth in a series on buying real estate. To access the first four posts click on Buying Real Estate on the right side bar under Labels. The earlier posts cover where to look, whether to build or remodel, using the internet to look for real estate and what to look for in a realtor. I am not a realtor but only want to share what I have learned buying and selling a few properties over the years.

     As I wrote in the post Real Estate: Build Or Remodel?  we have always decided to remodel rather than build for the reasons I outlined in that post. Once that is determined what are we looking for in a house that we may want? 

     Number one is can we be comfortable in the house while we are remodeling? This is a judgement that comes with experience in sizing up a job. And of course, what I am willing to put up with changes as I get older. When I was younger I didn't really mind dust nearly as much as I do now. And of course, if you can meet your needs (particularly a new kitchen and bathroom) by building an addition onto the existing house you can isolate dust and dirt in the addition.

     Another big concern is can we add value to a house? There is no point in buying a perfectly good house only to tear it up to meet our ideas of what is a nice house. The goal is not to tear up a good house but to take one that is at the end of its useful life and bring it back to life. My goal is to make a house that is affordable to live in by adding passive solar and energy conserving techniques to it and updating the plumbing, heating, and wiring. I can now size up a house pretty quickly.

     We all have different talents and it is good to match one's talents to a project. If one is good at plumbing and wiring it would make sense to look for a house that needs upgrading in those areas. If one likes cabinetry then it would seem obvious that a house that needs a new kitchen would be the way to go. And so on. Conversely, if one is lousy at plumbing and wiring these are two areas that can be much more expensive to contract out because of higher labor and material costs. Is one in a financial position to pay for these? Money can be the biggest problem in remodeling a house and can make a project become a failure. 

     When you are looking at buying a property it also makes sense to come up with a loose timeline. How long do you intend to own the house and will it be marketable at the end of that timeline? And how long do you think it will take to finish the bulk of the work? Try to be realistic but also give yourself leeway for the inevitable problems that will come up and the changes to your plan that are bound to happen.

     Does a house have good bones? Is the roof okay. If there is already water damage this may lead to dangerous molds. Is the foundation solid? It is hard to go back and fix a foundation. Is there a crawl space? This can make life much easier when it comes time to redo the plumbing, heating, and wiring. And makes it much easier to vent the house for moisture and radon control. It is not desirable to be jack hammering a concrete slabs to find leaking pipes.

     What is the house made of? We tend to look first for adobe or some kid of masonry because it is less likely to have mold, rot, or termite issues than a frame house. And we are familiar with adobe and how to work with it. We have a friend who prefers frame because he likes to work with that. Consider what you prefer.

     For more on understanding the buildings we may be interested in check out my post from April 26th: How Buildings Learn By Stewart Brand. In that I have included links to a six part BBC TV program which aired in the mid 1990's that was a companion to the book. It will give you a whole new way at looking at buildings.

     Lastly, two more tips when looking for a house. Take every opportunity to look at houses such as realtors open houses. The more you look at, the better you will be at evaluating property as to it's value and condition. Secondly, if you ever see a neighbor out and about engage them in conversation to find out about the property, the neighborhood, and what it would be like to live there. Neighbors can be an invaluable source of information. And drive by the property as often as you can, and get out and walk around, to get a feel for the neighborhood.

     Good luck with your search for real estate.