Relocating is Tough - How to Choose the 'Perfect' House
Over the Christmas and New Year's Holiday I was talking to a friend of mine who is moving to Milwaukee. Let's call her Betty Lou for the sake of this post (that's not her real name). She was telling me about her frustration with finding a "decent" home in a "nice" neighborhood with "good" schools. I sort of had to smile, because I think everyone wants that. However, it depends on what you consider "decent", "nice", and "good". Those are all subjective terms based on everyone's individual situation. I know many people that would love to have a house on 5 acres out in the country, while others that would go crazy being that isolated. Some people want large yards in the neighborhood and others want that tight knit feel of traditional neighborhoods with smaller lots. As for schools, what type of experience do you want for your son or daughter? There are pluses and minuses to all school districts.
Betty Lou further told me she was frustrated because her Realtor was not giving her much of an opinion on different neighborhoods. However, this can be a difficult situation for some Realtors because they don't want to violate any laws in the Fair Housing Act. That means one cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religion, national origin, marital status, lawful source of income, age, ancestry, familial status, or in any other unlawful manner. Thus, the Realtor cannot say, "Betty Lou, I think you should live in this area because it is perfect for white Christian married people in their 20's making between $75,000 and $100,000 per year." That would be a blatant violation of the law. If Betty Lou signed into a buyer agency agreement with her Realtor then Betty Lou should expect an opinion from her Realtor. One of the main reasons to hire a real estate agent is for their advice on such matters.
One of the best ways to find out about neighborhoods is with a little research. Ask your Realtor what areas of town they really like and why. Research homes that have sold in the last 3-6 months and see which ones sold the quickest. Talk to people that actually live in the community. Ask random people at coffee shops or bars what they think. Read the newspaper or local magazine. Madison Magazine puts together a great article about different neighborhoods in the Madison area. Find out what local publication has neighborhood information on a city that you're considering moving to. Talk to a relocation department at a real estate office. Or check out the local Chamber of Commerce. Explore areas on Realtor.com or Trulia.
I suggested that Betty Lou talk to her Realtor and do some exploring. Have your Realtor set up showings on many different areas of town within the same price range. For example, in the Madison area a home with the exact same square footage and condition will usually sell for a higher price on the West side of town than the East side of town. I would encourage you to find out why? Then there's additional variables like being on the lake, or downtown, or in a condo. That "perfect" house really depends on what you really value in your new home and what you're willing to compromise. The goal of looking at different homes in the different areas of town within the same price range is to get idea of value and what you like about different areas. If schools are important, then maybe visiting the schools would be a good idea.
One of the difficult things for Betty Lou is that she doesn't exactly know what she wants. I suggested that she and her husband make out 3 lists: (1) things you MUST HAVE in your new home, (2) things that would be really GOOD TO HAVE in your new home, and (3) things that would be a BONUS. And make sure that you make the lists separate from your spouse, then come together and discuss what's most important. Think about location, condition, schools, floor plan, approximate square footage, parking, proximity to amenities, age of the home, etc.
The other difficult thing that I've noticed is that some neighborhood information is sometimes tough to gather and often times not very useful. Some neighborhood associations are very active (like Nakoma or Meadowood) and provide lot's of useful information, while other's barely exist.
I also mentioned to Betty Lou that there is no perfect house. Trying to get the kitchen from one house, with that garage of another, and the lot of the 3rd house is nearly impossible. Even people that build a brand new custom houses will say, " I wish I had...put this here, that there, added this, etc..." People's needs tend to change over time, and what might be the perfect fit today is not the right home in 5 to 10 years.
Relocating to a new part of the country is tough. There's not a single definitive source of the "best" information. And remember what is "good", "nice", and "decent" depends on your individual situation subject to your housing goals. Take some time, do your homework, ask lot's of other people their opinion, and don't put too much pressure on yourself. That "perfect" house is out there.