You want the home you buy to include certain features, but you’re not likely to find all of them in one house for the price you’ll be willing to pay. You can compromise on location, home features such as size, condition, price, or all of these. Just make sure that the tradeoffs you make are carefully considered and that they don’t compromise your quality of life.
For example, let’s say you want a single-family home and you want an attached garage with inside access for convenience and safety. You also want to be close to an urban center where you can easily shop and take care of routine tasks quickly.
After looking awhile, you find that most of the homes in your top-choice neighborhood have detached garages or no garage at all. A compromise might be to buy a condo or townhouse in the area that has built-in parking. You swap a single family-home for a condo. But you get the area, convenience and security, all of which are also high on your list.
Another option might be to consider adding on a garage to a single-family home that doesn’t currently have one. This could be a reasonable solution if the lot will accommodate it and if you can afford to add on and are up for the challenge. Again, it’s a tradeoff if you were looking for a home that you could move right in to without doing work.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Generally, it’s not a good idea to buy a home that needs major alterations in order to make it suit your needs unless you’re willing to live with it as is if you discover that you can’t do what you want. The cost could turn out to be prohibitive. Or, you might find out that you can’t get your plans approved by the local planning department.
It’s wise to consult with the planning department and with a local architect and contractor who have experience working in the area about the feasibility of getting approval for the renovation you envision before you solidify a purchase contract.
For example, the city of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area has strict design-review requirements that must be met before obtaining approval for modifications to the exterior of a house. One Piedmont home buyer bought a modest fixer-upper that he envisioned turning in to an impressive place over double the size. The city turned the plan down.
City planning department officials are often swayed by neighbors’ opinions about major remodel projects. This can cause delays. Sometimes plans need to be revised, which means you might not get what you wanted, and in any event it ups the overall cost of the project. Some plans are never approved. You don’t want to find yourself selling a few years after spending a lot of time and money for nothing.
Often affordability keeps buyers from finding what they want. If you’re not willing to give up on location, you may need to accept a smaller-than-ideal-size home or one that has deferred maintenance. This may be a reasonable tradeoff because homes in prime locations tend to hold value and appreciate over time due to high demand. Just make sure you don’t buy a house that is so small that you’ll want to move again soon. Moving a lot costs a lot.
Prime pieces of property with wonderful settings, level usable areas, sunshine and privacy are always in high demand. For property like this, a good tradeoff might be accepting a house that needs work.
THE CLOSING: You can usually improve the condition of a house. It’s far more difficult, if not impossible, to change the character of the land.
Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.