Buy the Best House You Can with the Money You Have Now

The perfect house may not exist, but with these tips you can get close.

by Nicole Jacobs

You’ve been to your mortgage broker and know how much you can afford. You scour the MLS obsessively, looking for the right property.

You have a budget. You don’t plan to renovate. And you want the perfect house.

In my years working in the housing industry, and through my own buying and selling of several properties, I can tell you that the perfect house doesn’t exist. But there are things I’ve learned to look for that can allow you a return on your investment, and help you avoid pricey surprises on the other end.

Consider the location

I know, an old real estate cliché, but one that holds true, and worthy of the top spot on my list. Your location does matter, and it’s not something you can change. It’s better to buy the “worst” house on the “best” street than the other way around.

What you should look for: high walk scores, proximity to amenities, schools, and public transit. Avoid busy streets and thoroughfares. If you have to make excuses for buying a property because of its location, so will potential buyers when you sell.

Look at the roof

For an average-sized home, a new roof can cost anywhere from $7000 to $12000 (yes, you read that right) or more if it’s a larger home, you have detached buildings like garages or sheds, or your home is older and you need the roof boards replaced. Be sure your home inspector gets a good estimate of condition and age. Look for presence of water damage in the attic, and chalky white marks on wood or cladding (called efflorescence, which is residue from water).

Consider home comfort

“Home comfort” generally refers to the air conditioner and furnace, but can also include the hot water tank. If they need to be replaced, these can cost $7000-$12000 as a package. The average life of a furnace is 25 years, and then you’ll have to start shopping. Be sure to know the exact age and condition of your furnace before going into the deal.

Hot water tanks are often rented in Ontario for a nominal monthly or bi-monthly fee, but sometimes they’re owned. Be sure to know this in advance as well, as the pushing-it age is about 10 years. If you get an owned one that is nearing that age, I’d replace it before it spills its contents—all over your finished basement.

Look to where the water is

This time I mean what are the bathrooms and kitchen like? This one depends on what you’re willing to live with. Kitchens and baths will provide you with a good return on your investment, and should look good and be functional.

If you can’t live with the bathrooms or the kitchen for longer than a year without wanting to rip your hair out right along with them (and a reno isn’t in the plans), then you may want to reconsider the house.

For bathrooms, look for no visible water damage, decent tiling that can be cleaned up with a grout scrub and fresh caulking, and a vented-out fan. For kitchens, look past dated cabinetry, lighting, and even appliances, because many of those things can be poked away at as you can afford them. Look for cabinets that are functional (and that you can paint), and counters and flooring that are in good shape.

New paint, hardware, toilets, faucets, lighting, and décor are easy and affordable ways to spruce these rooms up.

Look at the trees

I love properties with huge, glorious trees. They add a lot of character and value to a street, and having a few on your landscape is a bonus. If the property has considerably sized ones, though, be sure they’re healthy. There are diseases affecting elms, oaks, beeches, and other species in Ontario. I warn of this because taking down a large, dead or dying tree can cost as much as $3000 (I’ve been through this type of unexpected homeowner expense, and it’s not cool).

There may not be such a thing as the perfect house, but considering these factors can allow you to buy the best house for your budget, be confident that you’ve made a solid investment, and diminish the chances of expensive surprises.

 

Nicole Jacobs is Managing Editor and writer at Her City Lifestyle. A design consultant and former college educator, she’s been a contributor to print and online magazines since 2005. She can be found on Twitter @NJacobsmtg.

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