A couple in their early 30s – an elevator company salesman and a nurse – relished life in a up-and-coming city neighborhood with lots of good restaurants and bars. But after their first child was born, their priorities shifted.
Soon the couple pinpointed a suburban neighborhood with a top-rated elementary school, along with parks, playgrounds and a community pool. There was only one catch: high prices.
Working with a limited budget, the couple identified just five houses they could afford. Of those, only one had enough living space to make it a plausible choice. And that one was located on a busy road, but they took it.
Eric Tyson, a personal finance expert and co-author of “Home Buying for Dummies,” says that since the recession, many homebuyers such as the above couple have lowered their expectations.
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Here are a few pointers for budget-conscious homebuyers with young children:
1 Make a realistic assessment of your need for a large yard.
Recalling their own carefree childhoods, some parents assume their kids need a similar setting. But it isn’t necessarily vital for your children now, Tyson says. “The reality is that kids just don’t have as many hours of free time for backyard play as we did when we were growing up,” he says.
Rather than focusing solely on yard size, Tyson suggests you think about the outdoor features of the neighborhood, such as parks and open space. Neighborhoods where yards are smaller are often more child-friendly than those with oversized grounds.
“It’s good for children to live close to their neighborhood friends. That way they don’t have to be driven around to see playmates,” Tyson says.
2 Find a floor plan that works well for your family.
Tyson says it’s more important for families with young children to have a floor plan that encourages togetherness than to own a large house. Large, comfortable common rooms help draw children out of their bedrooms, allowing parents to monitor kids at homework time, for example.
3 Look for a home with as many bedrooms as your budget allows.
Newly built houses with a wealth of living space typically feature spacious master bedroom suites. In such houses, secondary bedrooms, designed for children and guests, are usually much smaller. Tyson says it’s more important for families to have an adequate number of bedrooms than a luxurious master suite.
4 Realize that a two-story house has advantages.
With a two-story house, parents can entertain guests on the first level while their kids are playing upstairs. Also, you often get more space for the money in a two-story house.
5 Explore school quality beyond test scores.
Through the Internet, it’s easy to compare schools on the basis of standardized test scores. But there are many other factors to consider, says William Bainbridge, president of the SchoolMatch Institute (www.schoolmatch.com). He recommends visiting schools and posing questions to teachers and administrators. “Intangible factors can make a huge difference to children. You don’t want your kids taught in an environment with punitive teachers, even if the school’s test scores are stellar.”
6 Don’t cater to your children’s preferences.
It’s not uncommon for children to protest their parents’ plan to move. To mollify them, some parents let their kids influence which home they buy. But Tyson says most children adapt quickly to a move and that letting their feelings sway your planning could be a regrettable mistake.