Advice for first time home buyers

snowplowimageWho plows this street?

Buyers want that information — and it’s not always easy to find. Buyers might have lived in an area for years, but they still might not know who plows the streets or what Internet access is available. Ever heard the term “you don’t know what you don’t know” before? I think it probably applies to a lot of first-time home buyers. We know what we know — what we like and what we don’t like, the general area where we want to live, about how much space we’ll need within our households to be comfortable. But there’s a whole lot we don’t know, too. So much we don’t know that even attempting to quantify what we don’t know is challenging, sometimes impossible. Because we don’t know what we don’t know. I like to think I’m pretty well-educated. And when it comes to my little segment of the planet, I suspect I know more than most people. I was born in the area and have lived here for almost 25 years now; I spent 10 of those years working at a newspaper, where I covered music, food, arts and culture. So there’s not much I don’t know about amenities, from where the grocery stores are to where I can find the best bowl of vegetarian pho in the city. I know where I want to live and why I want to live there. But now that I’m starting to look for a house, I’m realizing just how much I don’t know about where I want to live. The things I don’t know aren’t easy to find online. They’re not available on any portal listing pages; they’re usually not in the MLS, either. The things I don’t know about my new neighborhood aren’t easy to find online.

Yes, there are some third parties that gather the information I’m seeking. But most of them focus on big metropolitan statistical areas. I would like to live somewhere more rural, more remote — and although tools exist that would help me find these things in Denver, trying to find them in Bailey or Conifer or Pine isn’t nearly as easy as I think it should be. Also? I’m very busy. Or, if you prefer, lazy and impatient. I don’t want to have to visit a half-dozen different websites to find this information. I would prefer that it be perfectly packaged and presented to me in one place, so that I need to do nothing more than absorb it. Here are a few important things I don’t know about the homes I’m considering buying. Will this layout work for my family and my needs? I can’t speak for every buyer out there, but my household needs feel pretty unusual when I start looking at the homes available. I work from home while my husband cares for our 2-year-old son. So a space for a home office is critical for me, as well as the usual family needs — a yard for the kid and the dog, enough bedrooms to accommodate us (and possibly a guest or two) and indoor space to play and lounge. A loft or a sunroom would be good — a designated home-office room (sans closet, with a door), even better. You might be surprised by how much basic information about a home is not available on the portals, or even on the MLS. Unless it is stated in the listing description (“perfect home office space!”), I usually find homes that could work by scrolling through photos and comparing the number of rooms I see in the pictures to the number offered on the listing, seeking an “extra” room that I could repurpose as work space. It’s not a great use of my time. I absolutely love the listing agents who do include details about these “flexible” spaces in the listing descriptions — and I appreciate even more the ones who outline, floor by floor, what rooms the home contains. Meticulous listing agents, I salute you! Who manages road access? This is an issue in my state. I want to move to the mountains, and in the mountains in Colorado, there’s snow, and a lot more of it than typically hits the city. Who will plow the road I live on, if anybody? Will it be the state or the county? Or nobody? If I want to trade in one of my Subaru Outbacks in the future, could I opt for a vehicle with front-wheel-drive and put on snow tires in the wintertime, or should I look for another all-wheel-drive vehicle? What are my high-speed Internet options? Home Internet access is a really big deal when you work from home. Does the local high-speed Internet provider service my community? What’s the best possible package I could purchase? Will I need to arrange for a worker to come out to the house and drill holes in the wall in order to provide that access, or is the house already equipped for the level of Internet I need? And if the Internet goes out, how far will I have to drive to reach the closest spot with WiFi? Who are the neighbors (and their pets)? Do they have kids? How old are those kids? What about dogs? Like everyone else in small mountain towns, do they let those dogs roam around at will outside? Are the dogs friendly? Will they get into my trash cans if I leave them out (and therefore, will I need space in a garage or other protected area to store trash cans until trash day)? Who’s reliable in the neighborhood? Is there a go-to housesitter or someone I can count on to feed my dog if we have to leave town? What can I do with this space if it doesn’t quite work as-is? Once we start narrowing down homes more drastically,

I am quite sure I’ll have questions — like how easy it would be to add another bathroom (or office space, ahem). What furniture stores will deliver to my house? What appliance stores will deliver? I’m going to need some new furniture and possibly a big appliance or two; should I plan on renting a truck myself to get them from Point A to Point B and try to do it all in one trip? Or can I pay a little extra to have the delivery truck stop at my house? What contractors are available locally to do any other work I might need done? How reliable are they? How much do they charge? Here’s what people like you can do to help people like me First: I can imagine that inputting MLS listings can be tedious and unexciting. But going the extra mile to include all the information you possibly can about a specific listing is, I think, a pretty smart move. Be as granular and specific as possible about your listing in the description and data you input — trust me, people like me notice and appreciate it. And we will spend more time looking at your listing, too. Second: There isn’t an agent in my area who provides the kind of hyperlocal content that I need online. Plenty in Denver — but I don’t want to live in Denver, and that information changes significantly once you’re looking 20 miles outside of the city limits. If you service a rural or remote area as an agent or broker, I bet you’d be surprised by how many people are looking for information about those areas online. Take advantage of this need and be the person who meets it.

Amber Taufen, amber@inman.com, Nov 25, 2015

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