Many homebuyers with young kids face a major challenge as they attempt to balance the high cost of housing in a child-friendly neighborhood with the mounting expenses involved in child-rearing, says Eric Tyson, author of “Personal Finance for Dummies.”
To avoid overstretching their budgets, Tyson says that parents must set their home-buying priorities carefully. “The reality is that nearly all families have to compromise on the home features they can afford and sometimes on their neighborhood selection also,” Tyson says.
He encourages dual-income parents to choose a neighborhood that’s reasonably close to their jobs, even if that means accepting a smaller or older place. “Unless you absolutely have to drive a long way, you should try for a short commute to have more time with the family,” Tyson says.
Here are a few pointers for buyers with young children:
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• Don’t assume that schools with high test scores are your best bet. It’s a positive for parents that test scores are now widely available on the Internet so schools can be compared schools on that basis. But Tyson says test scores are just one way of assessing schools.
• Think through the need for a sizeable yard for your children.
It’s obviously advantageous for children to live on a property large enough for a swing set or a spur-of-the-moment softball game. But as Tyson notes, children of the current generation have many more programmed activities.
Also, he says, neighborhoods with small yards are often friendlier than those with two-acre or larger lots. “Where yards are smaller, kids are closer to their buddies and don’t need to be driven around as much,” Tyson says.
If you can’t afford a large yard, Tyson suggests you look for a house in a community with a major park or playground area. Or, look for a place on a cul-de-sac with no through traffic.
• Choose a floor plan that functions well for your family.
Dorcas Helfant, a former president of the National Association of Realtors, says it’s more important for families to have a floor plan that encourages togetherness than a home with formal rooms.
“For most families, it doesn’t much matter if they have a living room or a formal dining room. But it’s a significant plus to have an eat-in kitchen that flows into a family room, so that while they’re cooking, parents can keep an eye on the kids.
• Seek to buy as many bedrooms as you can afford.
She recommends that families on tight budgets who must make trade-offs place a priority on buying a home with enough bedrooms so that (ideally) each child can have one of their own and the parents will still have space for a home office.
“What’s also wonderful is to have a guest room where the grandparents can stay when they come to visit,” Helfant says.
• Consider purchasing a two-story house.
Those with school-age children may wish to consider seriously the advantages of living on two levels, according to Helfant. That’s because it’s easier to contain the noise and mess of growing children if their bedrooms are separated from the common living space of the family.