The three factors when buying property: “Location, location, and location”. There are some simple, practical things to consider, when you buy a house.
1. Don’t Buy a House at a “T” Intersection
I grew up in a house that was on the “flat side” of a “T” intersection, where the main road runs in front of your house, but a side road extends perpendicular.
We had two situations where someone ran up in to our front yard in the middle of the night. Had we not had a tree planted in the front yard, he could have easily hit the house.
In addition, a friend of mine grew up around the corner from a “T” intersection, and knew the people who lived at the intersection there… they had numerous situations where people ran up in to their lawn, hit their tree, or in one situation, ran in to their house!
It’s a simple decision, but you want your house to be safe. You don’t want someone to accidentally, drunkenly, or carelessly threaten your safety, run over your pets, or damage your property.
2. Ensure Glass Walls Do Not Face the Setting Sun (West)
If you have a “glass wall”, such as a large, glass patio door, make sure it does NOT face the setting sun. In North America, make sure it does NOT face the west, even partially.
We lived in a house that was impossible to keep cool in the summer, as the setting sun would relentlessly beam through the THREE glass panels that constituted the patio door.
The house we live in currently, has the patio door (and large kitchen window) facing the rising sun… rather south-east-ish, and makes a tremendous difference.
On the Western-facing side of the house, use solar (sun-blocking) screens on every window. Solar screens do an amazing job of cutting down on the amount of heat that actually penetrates in to the house.
3. Corner Lots
A corner lot can be a great way to get some extra land, but you will have a lot more traffic near your house, and it also invites people to cut across your lawn.
If you are looking at a corner lot, make sure it’s NOT on the side of a busy street. In addition to having much more noise, you’ll have to contend with traffic when you mow your yard or maintain your property.
A better option is to look for a corner lot that faces the interior of a housing development, away from busy roads.
If you buy a corner lot, put up a fence around your yard, to prevent people from cutting through.
It will be a tremendous temptation for people to cut through your yard, and allows strangers to get uncomfortably close to your house.
Put up a 2 foot or 3 foot fence around your property, to prevent this.
4. Live at the Top of a Hill
If it floods, water runs down hill.
If you live on a street that’s flat, or in a neighborhood that is in a slight basin, you might end up with a swamp during heavy rain, and you might even run the risk of flooding!
Look for a house where you can visibly see an elevation change, pointing away from you!
If it rains, the folks at the bottom of the hill will get all the water, not YOU.
5. Balance Property and Improvement Value
“Property” is the land.
“Improvements” are anything that’s built on the land – namely, your house.
You want to maintain a ratio of the value of your house (improvements) to the value of the land itself.
The more property you can afford, the better, because property always goes up in value.
Conversely, your house requires a lot of maintenance, and must be kept current in order to maintain its value, or go up in value.
Shoot for a ratio of 2:1, where your house is about 2/3 (or less) of your total investment, and the property is 1/3 (or more).
Avoid houses that are built on “zero lot lines”, where the house occupies almost all of the property. In this situation, the land itself isn’t worth very much, and you’re mostly buying just the house, which is a poor investment. Look for something with a decent front yard, back yard, or both. Ideally, you want enough land to build a shed, or even add a room on to the house later.
6. Make Sure the Foundation is Good
Look carefully at the foundation.
Ask the neighbors if you can look at their foundations.
Shifting soil can cause major foundation problems, which you want to avoid. You can fix just about any problem with a house, but fixing the foundation is a nightmare.
Look for large cracks (some tiny cracks due to settling is normal), or areas where wall sections don’t align properly – usually, if the house has a foundation problem, there will be a gap somewhere, usually where the wall meets the roof.
Cracked concrete (driveways, patios) and cracked or uneven sidewalks can be a symptom of tree roots, shifting soil, and other problems that could also cause foundation issues.
Trees are great for shade, and improve property value.
The rule of thumb is that, when you look at the extent of the leaves, meaning the farthest leaf from the trunk of the tree, is also the distance (or greater!) that the roots extend underground.
Avoid trees that are planted too close to the house, as this can cause all sorts of foundation problems.
Make sure any existing trees are in good condition – the last thing you need is the hassle and liability of having a tree hit your house, your car, or your neighbors house or car.
Large, mature trees are going to be much harder to maintain – you will probably need to hire a tree service periodically, to prune them.
Make sure trees don’t significantly overlap the house itself, power lines, alleys, streets, or your neighbors’ properties. If so, you could end up stuck with the cost of pruning it way back, which if not done properly, can kill it.
Figure out where your water and sewer pipes are… make sure any trees on the property are not growing near water or sewer lines, or you will have an unending, hellish battle with tree roots.
Your water line is usually a straight shot from the water meter. If you stand at your water meter and look perpendicular to the street or alley toward your house, this is probably the path that the water pipe follows… you don’t want any trees or significant growth that can bust your water line.
Your sewer line is a bit more difficult to figure out. Google for it, or ask someone.
8. Underground Power, Phone, Cable, Etc…
Make sure all of your phone, power, cable, and other utility lines are delivered UNDERGROUND. Your electricity will be significantly more reliable if it’s delivered underground, rather than a utility pole.
We lived in a house where we had 2 to 3 outages a year, because the transmission and distribution lines were all run via utility pole. Any significant wind or storm would cause an outage. And by “outage”, I mean 6 to 8 hours usually, or occasionally, up to even a day or more.
We currently live in a house where all of the utilities are delivered underground. We have an outage about once per year, and by “outage”, I mean an hour or less, usually, when some asshole wrecks a transformer with his car. Sometimes, we lose power for a few minutes during a SEVERE storm, but it’s nothing like worrying about losing power every 5 minutes, as we did before.