Sometimes you want to just give up. I find this especially true when trying to build a sustainable micro-homestead with little to no experience, lingering consumer debt (even if it is $1), a growing family, and a job that requires more time than you dedicate to sleeping! I would be lying if I didn’t confess that at least one day a month I want to throw my hands up and make an appointment with the closest real estate agent to find a nice, ranch style home with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a den, and an eat-in kitchen. According to Fox Business this is very much a buyer’s market and with more than 200 homes for sale in a 50-mile radius of our current house, we could easily settle into something comfortable, spacious, and attractive. In fact, “In the first three months of the year, bank-owned properties (and properties that are in some stage of foreclosure) sold for about 27% below the average sales prices of properties not in foreclosure,” according to RealtyTrac. But even if Crystal agreed and we sacrificed our dreams of a tiny house on our own land with zero overhead, no mortgage, sustainable energy, and reduced work hours for me, I would hardly know where to begin in regards to how to actually buy a home in today’s market.
If I paid attention to the television and those incessant DIY/makeover programs I would find something with curb appeal, an inviting entry, an open floor plan, a master suite, and a commercial sized kitchen. If I took the advice of a number of artists, visionaries, minimalists, and other creatives, I would find a space free of restrictive walls that looked great in a fresh coat of stark white and featured concrete floors and a large picture window looking out onto the chaos of our world. But silly me. I tend to be a bit more practical in my approach and I tend to look for things that make me either happy or just pleased to come home to a comfortable space. I don’t need granite countertops or whirlpools. I have no use for six full burners or a mud room. And so what I realize is that those same tenants I would apply to buying a more, um, traditional home, I have also used to help in our decisions for building a tiny house.
Location. We have all heard the saying, “Location. Location. Location.” The most remarkable thing about being happy with where your home is situated is that a good view can cure almost any imperfection; cracks in walls, squeaky floors, and drippy faucets. Almost anything in a home can be remodeled, changed, or renovated. But once you sign the dotted line at closing you can’t change location. In this comes proximity to work, neighborhood charm, lot access, potential of neighbors, nearby traffic, shopping, schools, etc.
Curb Appeal. A home should reflect a lifestyle. I asked a question in a status update on Facebook and I got an answer no one really thinks about. Says William C. Chinworth, “Humans can live succesfully in ANYTHING! Trunk, temple, tepee, truck or tent; it all works. The basic requirements – shelter, storage and safety – are easily met. But style or expression is the ultimate goal for anyone buying a house. A house, or more importantly, a home that is built by it’s owner is a work of art — the ultimate expression of one’s connection or disconnection from the world about them.” This extends from the street to the curb to the yard/land to the front door, methinks. When people drive by they should get a glimpse into the dynamism of who lives within.
Size. Of course when building a tiny house your mind tends to define space as a matter of need rather then deservedness or luxury. When thinking about building a dream home today’s market – real estate and job – demands that you consider practicality. We have said repeated at the r(E)volution that a home should grow with a family. You shouldn’t have to expand your family to fit your home. Do you truly need 5 bedrooms and 3 full bathrooms for mommy, daddy, and baby? Sure you want to have room to accomodate a guest or two but do they really need a full bedroom suite with all the amenities? As my Pop used to say, “Make ’em too comfortable and they’ll never leave!” Certainly a large home can give you the room you have always wanted to craft or work from home or even learn to cook commercially. But with such room comes higher energy bills and higher taxes. It will cost more to furnish more square feet. Consider if your home will provide useable space or museum qualities.
The kitchen. Watch any hour of television programming on a channel like HGTV or A&E or even DIY and you will quickly find that the kitchen is the #1 investment in a home. It is the traditional heart of the home and is not something to be settled on. Even if you aren’t a cook, per se, your family will find comfort around the island or the breakfast nook; laughing, playing board games, sharing a meal. Certainly you can remodel the space, but it’s very costly. When buying a home take a look at the kitchen and ask yourself if just replacing cabinets, countertops, and hardware will give you the desired look. Think about the cost to replace and operate appliances.
Financing. As I write this mortgage rates have leveled off at or near their lows for the year (4.49%) after declining for eight consecutive weeks. This according to Freddie Mac in its latest Primary Mortgage Market Survey. Low rates appear to have sparked interest in both refinancing and home purchases, according to a separate survey of loan applications conducted by the Mortgage Bankers Association. In a May 18 forecast, MBA economists said they expect rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages to rise to an average of 5.5 percent during the final three months of this year and average of 5.9 percent during the fourth quarter of 2012. So what do all these numbers mean? Well, perchance you find a perfect home for $149,200 (the median price for a home in the South as quoted by realestateabc.com). And then say you settle on a 30-year, fixed percentage loan. Not only would you pay the near $150k but also an additional $122,632.40 in interest. In smaller terms you would pay a monthly payment of $755.09/month (about $196 a month towards your principal and then $558 toward interest).
What about the Facebook friends?
After posing the question of the Top 5 things to look for when buying a home or building a home a few Facebook responses were:
Katherine Kelley said, “Location (immediate access to doctors esp. gastros and real food, plus land with trees), zoning and neighbors (gardening must be allowed as well as solar, and neighbors must be respectful), cost, comfort (physical and aesthetically), space enough for two adults who love each other very much but both require vast amounts of alone time.”
New Yorker Chris Savage added, “1. Location to frequented travel destinations (work, groceries, pharmacy, hanging spots). 2. Proximity to My homies. 3. Quality of Materials/Construction 4. Cost (to buy and to maintain (eg. bills/property tax)) 5. Visceral Feeling of being there”
Homesteader and artist Rachel Whetzel commented on Joel Salatin’s view on homes with, “I like [his] views on homes (and farm buildings) they shouldn’t cost you so much that you are paying for them even after they no longer serve your purpose. He says a well built home that might need up grades or even totally re built (like yurts) in 10 years may be a better investment because you will be able to build for much cheaper.”
What about you?
What is important to you when considering a home to buy or build? Are there 5 things you find MOST important in this process?