How to choose the right house for the right reasons
February Buying Advice: See what homebuyers put on their 'must-have' lists — and which features they realized they didn't need.
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Just as most of us have a list of traits that are non-negotiable in a spouse, every house hunter has a list of things he or she wants in a house. Of course, these features and amenities won't necessarily ensure a match that stands the test of time.
We asked our readers to tell us what they love most about their current home and what, in hindsight, was clearly just a passing fancy. In this month's Buying Advice, we'll look at the real-estate love letters they wrote and compare them with what buyers are shopping for today.
We'll also check in with the latest home-sales data that hint at a bottoming market and answer a question that many first-time homebuyers have: "Where do I start?" (Bing: Find a first-time homebuyer checklist)
Finding the perfect house
It doesn't take a mansion to satisfy most of our readers over the long haul. Indeed, for many of those responding to last month's query, it was the small conveniences — a laundry area near the bedrooms or a spacious closet — that helped ensure long-term love.
However, the one thing that seemed to bring the most satisfaction was a bright open space, no matter the square footage:
"Of all the houses that I have built/purchased/leased, the one issue that stands paramount is openness — large windows and an open-concept interior home plan," said reader Alan Sadler via email. "There is nothing more depressing than walls, walls and more walls."
- On our blog, 'Listed': Builders expect 2012 to be better than 2011
Jane Curkendall agreed, putting at the top of her list for her next home an "open floor plan" where the kitchen and family room are together, "lots and lots of light" and "lots and lots of windows." Maybe that's because she wound up spending so much time in her current home's sunroom addition. "This is where our office is, and where we hang out," she said in her email.
- MSN Lifestyle: Creating distinct spaces in open floor plans
Large windows with a nice view can make up for a home's shortcomings, readers said.
"Our home is flooded with warm light for most of the day," said reader Ralph Banks from New York, via email. "We also still enjoy the water views out of some of the windows of our home after living here for 27 years."
Carrie Douglas, a buyer, said she is looking for "pleasant outdoor vistas visible from the windows" in her next home, as long as it also includes an up-to-date kitchen and plenty of storage space.
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Also high on our readers' lists were comfort-adding features such as central air conditioning and heat.
"Of all the improvements we have made to our house throughout the nine years in it, this has been by FAR the best investment," said Carmen Munoz, a reader from the New York area. "Our home is always at comfortable temperatures and there is so much less maintenance involved with this system than with our old … gas boiler/window A/C."
Also high on our readers' lists of must-haves were generous kitchen cabinet storage, large closets, good-sized bedrooms and a level backyard that's easily accessible for entertaining.
One thing Munoz said was a mistake in retrospect was the mother-in-law suite she was determined to have when she bought her home. "It has created strife within our family because people think it is OK to come stay there for extended periods of time," she said. This rarely used space has raised her heating and cooling bill, she said.
(Buyers: Have you purchased or tried to purchase a home in a short sale in the past year? Did the process prove difficult and time-consuming, or was it easier than you thought? What have been some of your biggest hurdles or issues in purchasing a distressed home? Let us know, and we'll write about this in the March Buying Advice column. Send an email to email@example.com.)
Housing-market snapshot: Sales continue to rise; prices continue to dip. But is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Existing-home sales continued to rise in December, swelling 3.6% to 4.61 million, from a downwardly revised 4.39 million in December 2010, according to the National Association of Realtors. The median existing-home price dipped 2.5% from the previous year to $164,500.
While that may not sound that encouraging, economists see a glimmer of hope in the numbers. December marked the third straight month of sales increases and a 5% uptick from November.
"The pattern of home sales in recent months demonstrates a market in recovery," said Lawrence Yun, the NAR's chief economist. "Record low mortgage interest rates, job growth and bargain home prices are giving more consumers the confidence they need to enter the market."
The total housing inventory at the end of December dropped 9.2% from November to 2.38 million homes for sale — a 6.2-month supply at the current pace — down from a 7.2-month supply in November.
Economists such as Mark Fleming from CoreLogic are now saying that 2012 should be the year the housing market starts to turn the corner as the prices for nondistressed homes begin to stabilize.
Housing sales could see a further boost this year, analysts say, as homeownership begins to look better than renting. A recent report from Capital Economics shows that the median monthly mortgage payment of about $700 is close to even with the median monthly rent, making the move to homeownership much more attractive — especially in the face of rising rental rates.
However, at least one market watcher says talk of a recovery is still premature. Lance Roberts, CEO of StreetTalk Advisors, said he doesn't believe the market correction is over, given the high levels of debt that some consumers are still struggling with; the high number of owners who have negative equity in their homes and therefore have little ability to move; and the combination of unemployment and underemployment that is making it impossible for many to save for a down payment or qualify for a loan.
"The bottom line is that until we see a substantial REAL recovery in employment … there will be no recovery in housing," Roberts said in his X-Factor Report.
I don't like granite counter tops or fake looking wood floors. A good quality carpet is much better. I would not even consider a house that had a red wall or green, blue yellow,or purple walls. And also in Texas the tax will run you 300 to 500 a month and that's for a small home. And they keep going up. Yep the housing mess is broken in many ways.
I sold a house in a rather upscale neighborhood, and becoming more upscale every year with people scraping homes and building mansions. The newer wealthy people came in and bitched and moaned about this and that and created their little cliques. I decided since my home was in demand, and everything else around was a buyer's market, that it was time. Sold the house; bought a smaller house built in the 50's with a huge yard for cash; put the rest away for fix-ups and retirement and couldn't be happier. The new neighbors are far from wealthy, but down to earth and look out for each other. I don't need a large house in an upscale neighborhood with snooty neighbors anymore. Here's the pay-off: smaller taxes and utilities; more yard for gardening; down to earth neighbors that care about each other. But most importantly, no more mortgage and ridiculous property taxes. I'm retiring at 54 and will be able to live the same life style I've been used to. And by the way, I'm doing all of this on a modest teacher's salary. But please, don't complain about the mortgage, taxes, and utilities because you need everything. You wouldn't believe how a smaller home can be much more cozy than a large one.
Open concept is great but remember with large, open homes with high ceilings comes much higher heating and cooling costs. With our house, the extra walls and doors means we can shut off parts of the house like the formal dining room and the music room when not in use. Saves us a lot of money.
And as energy prices sky rocket this will become even more true
If you’re like most people, there’s a dream house that you imagine yourself living in and there’s a house that you would actually be most comfortable and happy living in. They are not the same house. Realtors, developers, and builders are very good at selling you the first one.
I hear a lot of bashing the open plan. I've lived a lot of places in a few countries the absolute worst thing about any of the houses I've lived in, including where I am now, is the damned corners. Right turn, left turn, right turn to get to the bathroom (in the east hallway) Left turn, right turn left turn to get to the laundry room (in the west hallway). Left turn, two step, right turn to get to the bedroom. left turn....hallway, button-hook to get to the kitchen.
It makes me want to scream. (Okay, I have screamed) There was a remodel in my house at one point to acomodate the addition of a dining room. It is glaringly apparent that when asked the old woman who lived here said. "I want hallways, and I don't want to see the living room from the kitchen"
Not one single day after the kid has met her dorm mate, the wife and I are finding a house that is one continuous room with a bedroom at one end and preferably with a garage downstairs.
I hate the open floor plan. Do you really like watching everyone in the family room while you are cooking? I had the open floor plan in my previous home and I grew to hate it. At first the whole idea of watching the kids and hubby in the family room was fun, but over time I missed my traditional kitchen. Entertaining wasn't much better either. Much happier "without" the open floor plan!
Property tax liability is more than the house value in my area.