“I wish we could move this house to…”
You could fill in the name of a neighbourhood or a city of your choice. Still, this is one of the most hopeless sentences in the history of human interaction.
My mum used it at least once a week.
Every time she wanted to go to the theatre and there was no one to watch with her.
Every time she wanted to see her granddaughter and remembered that she is 250 miles away.
Every time she wanted to have a coffee and a chat with her sister and remembered that she’d have to wait for her annual visit.
You see, what bothered my mum was not her house; what bothered her was the things that go with it, things we tend to forget when we choose a house.
Many personal finance and real estate experts would tell you that you have to choose a house you can afford. This is true. But you also have to choose a house that you love. This love rarely comes from the house itself – after all, you could more or less re-build any house you buy. Love comes from the people you live around, the opportunities that your home affords you to do what you really enjoy and the pleasure of seeing the neighbourhood you chose – and your properties price – go up.
We sometimes fail to notice what property developers have started paying more attention to. I was looking, for instance, at some houses for sale in Gold Coast by Lend Lease (don’t even ask, but you never know where my nomadic wanderlust will take me in five years) and these people build not simply house; they build communities.
Let me tell you about the four things to look for when looking for the house you love and how to go about it.
#1. Find the house you love: how to spot an up-and-coming neighbourhood
When looking for the house you love, it’s often helpful to look for the right neighbourhood.
You may be one of these people who have more money than sense. If you are, you can jump straight in and buy a house in a well-established and prosperous neighbourhood and accept that you may need to move (neighbourhoods go through cycles) and that your house may lose you money next time the property market goes down.
Still, you are reading Enemy of Debt, aren’t you? This makes me think that you may have more sense than money. If this is the case you will be looking for a neighbourhood that is just at the cusp of becoming fashionable and prosperous. This way, your house will grow in price and you’d be as safe from the fluctuations of the property market as this is possible at all.
Have a walk about
Walk around the neighbourhood. Look carefully at the houses. Are they well maintained? Have they been recently painted? Are the gardens kept?
And this is how you observations can make sense:
- If all houses are in top shape and the cars are clean, I’ll stay away. Houses being maintained to a high standard is a sign that this is an established and prosperous neighbourhood. What about the cars? Well, I just don’t like to live in a place where people don’t have anything better to do than keep their cars clean.
- If the houses generally look like the owners have been asleep for the last ten-fifteen years, the gardens are un-kept and there are no communal touches, I’ll stay away. This sounds like a depressed neighbourhood that is not on its way up.
- If there are some houses that are well maintained, the gardens are flowering and the streets are clean (optional, some communal touches), I’ll consider it. This may be an up-and-coming neighbourhood.
Drive through in the morning
Drive through the neighbourhood in the morning. What do you see?
Do you see doors opening and kids going to school? Do you see, people getting ready to go to work?
Or do you see older women in their slippers and rollers in their hair putting the rubbish out?
If you see kids off to school and people off to work, jump in without delay. If you see people taking rubbish out, keep looking.
Walk down the main street
Yes; take a walk down the main street. Whether you like it or not is important but not as much as the type of businesses you find there:
- If you notice that the main street is mainly charity shops, real estate agents and coffee bars, it is likely that the neighbourhood is already expensive (many charity shops is usually a sign that the retail business rents are far too expensive);
- If there are betting shops, pubs and cheap(er) supermarket chains, I’d say it is unclear whether the neighbourhood is up-and-coming;
- If you find a mixture of independent shops, cafes and eating out places, you may be onto something.
Visit the pharmacy
I know this sounds a bit un-orthodox but…
Pharmacies cater for the needs of the community. Have a look around and if the pharmacy sells more products for babies and young children than products for old people, continue looking for a house.
#2. Find the house you love: conveniences
I can’t tell you all of what you should be looking for because what you consider important is about your life (not mine). I can give you an example, though.
I’d look for:
- Artisan food shops: yes, we like our food and we like it natural and un-processed.
- A simple super-market at walking distance: this is for basics and because I really don’t like driving.
- Coffee bars: sitting in coffee bars was my favourite sport for couple of decades. I still enjoy it.
- Medical centre: we all need to see a doctor from time to time. When you have a young boy in the family, you need to see the doctor more often than most.
- Parks: this is about Suzi the Dog. She is a border collie and needs two walks per day; I mean, serious running and ball chasing walks.
- Cinema: I love my movies.
This is about it. The amenities you’d appreciate may be different; just take ten minutes to think about what you need in your life.
#3. Find the house you love: opportunities to enjoy life
This one is about ensuring that you find a house at a place that has easy access to the activities that you want in your life. You know, the kind of things that make you heart sing and your soul open up to the beauty of life.
Figuring these ones out is about thinking carefully about who you are.
For instance, I know that I’m a ‘city slacker’; I want to be able to sit in coffee bars, go to the theatre and the ballet. Nature can be too much for me and living on a farm is my idea of ‘hell on Earth’.
This is why I live in a city that is large enough to have culture but small enough to allow us to partake in it. I live close to a river that looks (and feels) like nature but is in the city.
Worth considering; after all knowing who you are is always useful.
#4. Find the house you love: the people in your life
When choosing a house it’s worth remembering that most people don’t love things and/or places: they love the people in their lives.
It may not be possible to select the neighbourhood or the city where the people you want in your life are. But as a minimum you can ensure that you choose a place from where you could visit easily.
Finding the house you love is more about selecting a neighbourhood you like than about the house.
Once you’ve zeroed on a particular city (neighbourhood) all the usual rule for choosing a house apply. And the main thing: you can always re-model a house; you can’t move it.
As my mum knew well!