By John Madrid
People are staying in their homes, especially their first homes, longer then they originally expected — and home buyers need to understand that their housing needs are going to change over time as your family make up changes. A typical first-time owner might have been in their home for 5 years or less. Now it might be 5–7 years or even longer. For families, a home is not only your living space and the place your child is being raised, but your biggest investment.
What may be a good fit home a single person, a couple without kids or a family with a baby might not be the best fit for growing families with children. This is the experience my wife and I had.
There is only so much long-range planning you can do, and a home to fit all stages of your family’s life may be tough to find, but thinking about some of these tips ahead of time may save you regret down the road.
- It's hard to think about schools before you even have kids, and it may be challenging to find a home with great schools for K–12. But you need to know what your school options will be, even if it's hard to think about Kindergarten or middle school when your still dealing in diapers. Many school districts assign schools based on geographic lines. You can look up boundaries through the school district and see how Washington state schools are rated through Great Schools (though you should know that there's more to judging a school than its test scores). Try to visit potential schools and speak to other families in the neighborhoods.
- All other things being equal between two similar homes, the home with the better neighborhood school will have better resale value even if you decide not to send you kids to that school.
- Hiking up a couple flights of stairs may not be problem if its just you, but try to envision lugging up a car seat, stroller or multiple bags of groceries with a kid or two in tow.
- Valuable if homes you are considering have a level entry point off an alleyway so you can just pull in and unload.
- A basement may be a priceless play space when kids are older and for other uses, but not as valuable with younger kids who still require supervision.
- A better fit might be to have a family room/ play space off the kitchen you can where you can watch the kids play while you are preparing meals or doing other home-related tasks.
- A home doesn’t have to necessarily have a large yard. A space for a swingset, trampoline or a kiddie pool for those four weeks of summer we have may be enough, especially if you have great parks nearby. Canvas your local green spaces and envision whether they will work for your family.
- It's better if the yard is relatively flat and fenced and a bonus if the yard can be easily accessed/viewed from the kitchen — again, so you can watch the kids while you are doing other things.
5. Bedroom/Bath Configuration
- Funny that when kids are younger, parents want their bedrooms as close as possible and, in most cases, on the same floor. Then there comes a tipping point the kids are in middle or high school and its actually the kids who want to be as far away from the parents as possible. A lot of young families look for at least three bedrooms on the same floor.
- Many parents also appreciate having a separate bathroom for the kids as they get older.
6. Laundry Space
- Some families see value in having the laundry on the same level as the bedrooms so you’re not carrying baskets of clothes up one or two flights of stairs.
7. Open Floor Plan
- Too many nooks and crannies for kids to hide or don’t want to be yelling at the top of your lungs to let the kids know that lunch in ready? Open floor plans can help. Newer construction homes (think mid-century and forward) and recently remodeled homes strive for this feel because it appeals to families.
8. Walkable Neighborhood
- Close to parks, other families, restaurants, shopping, schools, a neighborhood with sidewalks, and so on. Check walkscore.com — a great resource for determining the walkability of a neighborhood.
9. Closets/Storage Space /Garage
- Kids come with a lot of stuff, and you’ll want a place to store it all, especially if you have more than one child. You may only use that bassinet for a couple months but you’ll want to hold onto it until your last child needs it.
10. Tap Into Your Network
- Talk to your friends with kids about what's important to them. Leverage various (especially local) parenting blogs and listservs for other peoples' experiences — though get opinions about specific neighborhoods and schools with a grain of salt since many folks are obviously a little biased toward their choices.
John Madrid is a managing broker with John L. Scott Real Estate, 2005-2011 Seattle Magazine “Five Star” Agent, and 2010 Angie’s List Super Service Award winner. He can be reached at email@example.com or live206.com.