How to pick the right house

Shopping for a home can be a lot of fun, especially when many attractive homes are on the market. But before you make an offer on the one that’s captured your affections, consider these criteria:

1. Price. Just because you can buy a more expensive house doesn’t mean you necessarily should do so. The more money you spend on mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and repair and maintenance costs, the less you’ll have to spend on your other wants and needs.

2. Character. Some neighborhoods are citified while others are suburban or rural. Some have matured with the passage of time while others are brand new. Some are staid while others are funky. Choose a place to live that suits your personality and lifestyle.

3. Location. The age-old joke that the three most important factors in buying real estate are location, location and location may be too tired for laughs, but it’s nonetheless true: A poor location is the one characteristic of your home that no amount of money or effort can ever alter.

4. Zoning. Local laws set limits on the number and size of housing units that can be built on residential lots. That means some areas may be open to mansion-sized homes or higher-density housing (e.g., duplexes or apartment buildings) while other may have restrictions that prohibit such uses.

5. Lot. A house that’s next to a shopping mall, school, park, transit stop or other non-residential use may or may not be desirable, depending on your preferences. A home on a corner lot might be larger and more private than neighboring homes, but could also be subject to more traffic noise.

6. Incurable Defects. Any problem that would be outrageously expensive or impossible to fix is called an "incurable defect." Examples include an airplane flight path, bizarre floor plan, inadequate parking or inordinately loud traffic noise. Don’t buy a home with an incurable defect unless you’re willing to live with that condition as long as you occupy that home.

7. Environmental Hazards. Some houses are plagued by wood-eating pests, high levels of radon, molds, lead-based paint or other potential hazards. If you’re concerned about any of these conditions, hire a qualified expert to inspect the house. Find out whether the house is located in a flood plain or a high fire-risk area.

8. Size. Square footage is important, but so are the relative sizes of the various rooms and the use of space throughout the house. A staircase, multiple hallways or odd alcoves could make a large house seem smaller than its square footage. Check out the closets, too.

9. Floor Plan. Some houses have an efficient and pleasing arrangement of rooms while others have odd configurations that may seem maze-like or dictate inconvenient traffic patterns. A two-story house can offer more living space for those who don’t mind the extra exertion every day.

10. Condition. An attractive, well-maintained house will cost more than a similar house that’s not in great shape. If you don’t mind hiring contractors or making repairs yourself, you might be able to buy that less-attractive house at a discount. Otherwise, you might prefer to purchase a house that’s in good condition.

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