How to Decide Where to Buy a Home

It’s perhaps the most commonly-used adage in real estate: location, location, location. But how do you know where to buy a home — particularly if it’s your first time?

When you primarily take a home’s location into account — though it may not have that island in the kitchen you wanted — that can save you and your family more money over the long term than you might think. This will open up the ability to meet the wants on your financial priority list instead of just the needs. And who couldn’t use extra cash when they’re just starting a family? Here are four considerations to make when figuring out where to buy a home that will save you money far beyond closing day. Even if it means eventually upgrading the kitchen.

1. Overall Cost of Living

We all know that New York City is more expensive to live in than a town in Kansas. But by how much? People have developed cost of living calculators to answer this very question. Before you nail down the area you want to live in, research how much it will cost you to live there — including things like the cost of groceries, gas and taxes — compared to where you currently live. CNNMoney lets you plug your current income into a cost of living calculator and see what income you’d need to live a comparable lifestyle in the area you’re considering.

2. Homeowner’s Association (HOA) Obligations

Though not every home has them, many new homeowners have been surprised with the sometimes rigid and costly expectations of their HOA obligations after moving into a new home. For example, some communities do not allow you to sublet or work out of your home, both of which potentially limit your future earning potential. Obtain a copy of the HOA’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R) from your real estate agent and read through it to find out about the area’s homeowner obligations.

3. School District

Even if you currently don’t have school-age children, if you are planning to eventually have some, it’s best to plan several years in advance when making a more permanent purchase decision. Doing so can save you from a situation where you end up deciding between moving to a home located in a better school district or paying for private school. Ask your real estate agent for the school district name where the home is located, then research its overall ranking and appropriateness for your current or future children. If you don’t like the school where your potential new home is, don’t give up. Call the district to ask whether transfers to other schools within the same district are allowed.

4. Proximity to Cost-Saving Amenities

Everyone knows to make sure they can stomach their commute when looking for where to buy a home. But a smart homebuyer will also consider how close they are to other amenities that could save them lots of money over the years. Here are a few examples:

  • Travel — if you often travel, you’ll want a location near an airport with convenient public transportation so you save on exorbitant parking fees over the years.
  • Family — purchasing a home near relatives could help cut down on child care costs if your family wants to be actively involved. Also, choose a home near parks and other free entertainment options.
  • Exercise — save money on a gym membership by choosing a community with access to trails, free use of a community gym or even a pool that’s included with your HOA fees.

Make a list of your most-used amenities now, as well as ones you wish were easily accessible. Search your potential new home’s local government website for information about amenities such as local parks and free memberships.

The key when figuring out where to buy a home is to take the above action steps before you get to closing day. Because at that point, while the kitchen design or wall colors can always change, the location is one thing that isn’t going anywhere.

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