When we first began searching for a house (I believe in late July or early August of 2009), we had to decide what kind of property and where we wanted to buy. We were pre-approved for our mortgage through PNC Bank and this set our upper limit for budget. We didn't want to spend this entire amount, so we picked a number slightly lower for our goal. Next we needed a realtor. My (Jeni's) cousin Sarah and her fiance Brett had just purchased a house in nearby Zelienople, PA (aka "Zeli"), so we asked for their recommendation. They wholeheartedly recommended Media Druschel of Prudential Preferred Realty. She also happens to be a friend of theirs and we trust their advice so we gave her a call.
We needed to give Media an idea of what kind of property we were looking for, so we told her our general area (north of Pittsburgh) and our budget ($1 million dollars... just kidding!). Then, she sent us the MLS listings for the properties that fit those criteria.
We looked at neighborhoods/school districts and asked for opinions from people we knew. Our short list of neighborhoods was:
- Indiana Township
- Penn Hills
We decided to focus on areas north of the city because of the uncertainty of my employment situation and proximity to Byron's office. Living north of the city means we can get north, east, west or downtown without having to go through any tunnels. For Pittsburghers, this is a major bonus. I won't know where I'll be working for another year or so and for this reason need to live in a flexible location.
We needed some way of narrowing down the properties and evaluating them systematically. We decided to devise a list of requirements and things to avoid in our potential house.
The first category were "Must Haves". These were items that must already be present in the house or able to be added with little difficulty or expense.
- At least 2 bedrooms
- At least 1 bathrooms (no outhouses for us!)
- Off-street parking for 2 cars
- Fenced or fence-able yard
- Central air conditioning
- Reasonable proximity to grocery/gas
Our next category was "Would Be Nice". These items were ones that, while not technically 'deal-breakers', would be icing on the proverbial cake.
- Finished or finish-able basement (see how I add -able to anything and everything?)
- Made of brick or stone
- Outdoor living space (deck/patio/porch)
- Young couples or families in neighborhood
- Semi-private yard (bushes and trees)
- Large closets
- Master suite
Now we head into the more negative categories. We called the next one "Prefer Not to Have". This was for items that we could live with, but thought we would want to avoid.
- Split-level or ranch style home
The final category was for items that would be deal breakers for us. We called this one "Must Not Have".
- Dense neighborhood (no yards)
- Planned development (new construction)
- Home Owner's Association
- Major repairs needed
- History of water damage/mold
Other questions that we wanted to be sure to ask about were:
- Typical utility bills
- Flood zone status
I really encourage you, if you're looking to buy a house, to sit down with your partner and make a list about what you need/want/have to avoid in your future property. Next time, we'll compare the house we purchased to our list!
What would be on the "must haves" for you?