Buying a house is the second most important issue for a family after the decision on whether or not to have children. When you already have kids, a house purchase comes with a lot of questions. With so many parents now working from home, you’ll need to consider how your new place can accommodate your job on top of your kids.
Are you curious about what to look for when buying a house, especially when you need a home suitable for kids? Are you currently working from home and looking for a residence that can meet your career needs? Do you wonder if you can afford to buy a home in the current economy?
In this article, I’ll address these questions along with location, research areas, floor plans, and ways to deal with the stress of buying a house. I’ll also cover the importance of involving your children in the process and provide some tips on affordability.
Location, location, location
Is your family looking to settle in an area that provides rich cultural experiences, such as theaters and museums? Does your family work in agriculture, so you need a more rural setting? Is being close to grocers, retail outlets, and pharmacies important? Do you need to be close to your aging family members?
When you start your home search, don’t just rely on your real estate agent or the internet. If possible, drive around the areas you are interested in and see if there are any by-owner sales or new developments (in case you’re interested in building a house).
The safety of communities is a big part of your home search. SafeWise is a great U.S. resource for finding out about areas you are interested in. Once you have narrowed them down, drive around those neighborhoods at night and see what kind of feeling you get.
Are the streets and store parking lots well lit? Do you notice a lot of cars parked in certain locations? Do you see a lot of people hanging around outside local businesses? Do you get an odd feeling if you’re parked at a stoplight?
Will you be buying a house on a busy street? How fast do the drivers go on this street? Be aware of the residential speed limit and check if drivers observe it.
Researching what you want and need
The first thing you consider when moving with kids is the quality of the schools in the area. There are websites to help you with this research, like Niche and SchoolDigger. You’ll want to look for schools that can meet your child’s needs, paying attention to things such as:
- Academics and student-to-teacher ratios
- Special needs programs (if applicable)
- Variety in programs, such as STEM and gifted acceleration
- Student diversity
You’ll also want to research parks, rec centers, and activities nearby for kids. Check out chamber of commerce websites, and see if there’s a national registry, like on USA.gov, for kid-friendly amenities in the area.
Spend time talking with the neighbors. Are there other families with children the same age as yours? Are there local co-op groups to join if your family homeschools? Are there activities available for children with special needs?
What about medical needs? Look up the ratings of local pediatricians and dentists. Is there a children’s hospital nearby? If your child has a medical condition, will you have to travel far for care?
Working from home
When you do work from home (WFH), there are many things to consider while buying a house. Do you need a separate room for your job? Are you often on the phone with clients, meaning you need to be away from noise and distractions? Do you need space for supplies or equipment?
Both my husband and I work from home. As we are currently looking to buy a new house, we are asking if our current layout will still work for us. We may need to look for a home with more rooms than we originally planned.
When considering possible homes for our WFH needs, some other questions my husband and I ask are:
- How many outlets are there in the rooms?
- What is the view from the window(s)?
- How much natural lighting is present?
Another thing to consider is whether you might have to return to an office. How far away will your new home be from a metropolitan area? Will you be able to find an equally lucrative position in a nearby city with a favorable commute?
What can you afford?
In the current seller’s housing market, it may be challenging to find a home you like AND can afford, so look at the smaller number rather than the bigger one. Focus on the monthly payment instead of the selling price of the house to make this decision.
What can you comfortably afford each month on your budget? What happens if your company downsizes or lays you off? Will you be able to cover your mortgage payments until you find another job?
Some tips on affordability
- Use a home affordability calculator. This tool will show you the difference between what your lender says you can borrow and what you can actually afford. Examine your budget carefully to determine what your monthly house payment can be.
- Save. Most lenders require a 20% down payment. Be disciplined to save this money and don’t borrow for the down payment. If you are a first-time homebuyer, see if there are programs in the new area to help supplement the down payment.
- Aim low and look at both ends. If the lender says you can “afford” a $2,000 monthly payment, aim for between $1,400-1,500 instead. Ask your lender to give you the monthly payment amount on the low and the high ends of your price range.
- Consider your future. Will your car need replacing soon? Will your children go to private school? If you plan on having more children, will one of you stay home with them? Are your kids going to need braces soon? Think about possible future expenses.
- Be prepared for home maintenance. When you’re in the market for a new home, don’t overlook flaws or things that need attention. Is the fence around the backyard in good shape? How old are the heating/cooling systems, roof, and appliances? You may pay less for a house because it needs “just a couple of things fixed,” but in the end, you could spend a lot more on repairs or upgrades.
Floor plan and layout
The most fun part of home buying is looking at the layout of possible houses and how the floor plan will affect your daily life. What is your ideal family plan layout?
Will each of your children have their own room? What if you plan on having more children? Will you have a room for a nursery? Do you want a split plan, where the master bedroom is on the opposite side of the house from the other bedrooms and possibly the future nursery?
Do you want a multi-level house? Do you buy a home with the master bedroom on a different floor with a toddler in the family? Do you think it is safe to have stairs in a home with younger children?
Make a list of your must-haves when buying a house and the things you can live without. This will help you narrow down your requirements for the layout. Make a list of your questions and then a spreadsheet of your possible homes where you can put the answers and do a side-by-side comparison.
Perhaps the most important question you can ask about the layout of a new house is, “Can my children comfortably grow up in this home?” It’s a great time for a family discussion, especially if you have older children, so let them be part of the process.
Questions to ask when touring a house
If at all possible, take your children with you when you tour homes. Have them walk around the bedrooms and see if they respond in a positive way. Let them out in the backyard and allow them to play. You’ll be surprised at the “vibe” children can get just by spending a short time in a potential new home.
Many home tours today (ours included) are virtual, especially if you’re moving a long distance away. It can feel quite strange to think about buying a home this way, but it’s been a good experience for us.
With a virtual tour, we are still able to ask questions like:
- Does the yard have room for a vegetable garden?
- What’s the traffic like?
- Why are the current owners moving?
- What “conveys” in the sale, or what goes with the home, like appliances or window treatments?
Other questions—like sale price, contingencies, appraisals, community fees, and average prices of other homes in the area—we feel are best left to our realtor to address with the seller’s agent. We make sure we understand the process and ask questions, but when it comes to “playing with the numbers,” we leave this to the experts.
How to deal with the stress of buying a house
The very thought of buying a new home causes stress in most people. You’re leaving something familiar and comfortable and moving to something new and uncertain. Here are a few house-hunting tips on dealing with the stress of home buying, especially with kids.
- Decide what you want. Have a list of deal-breakers that will immediately eliminate some homes. For instance, if you have a large dog, you need a fenced-in yard.
- Be flexible. If you can get a home for $15,000 less than the asking price, and everything else about it is perfect, install the fence before you move in.
- Get pre-approved for a mortgage. Know your financial limits and stay within them.
- Be honest with your real estate agent. If they keep presenting homes on top of a mountain, and you want a beachfront, quickly get on the same page.
- Do not rush. If your situation isn’t pressing, take your time and have patience.
- The most important tip. You can fall in love with a home, but just don’t move in yet. Realize that your offer will be outbid on “The One,” probably more than once. Accept this and move on to the next house.
Buying a home is stressful and challenging. When you have children to provide for, the stress can compound. If you work from home, you are adding another stressor.
However, there are things you can do to reduce your home-buying anxiety. Know what you want and need in a home. Be practical in terms of what you can afford and reject a mortgage payment you can’t cover.
Involve your children in the home-buying process and let them have a voice. Do your research and don’t just assume things, either about the areas you’re looking to move to or the homes you’re interested in.
Be prepared for the process to take a while. In this market, homes are selling fast, so your dream place may have been snatched yesterday. Have patience for you’ll be touring many homes. Be flexible and willing to sacrifice one small thing for a larger benefit.
Enjoy the process! Home buying is actually a fun thing to do. Remember that you’re investing in your family’s future and let that guide your thoughts and emotions. Keep in mind the main tip—you can fall in love with a home, just don’t move in yet—and the process should be less stressful than you think.