Touring a house is kind of like going on a first date. It's hard to see what kind of a deal you're getting because everything has been done to put things in their best light. Here are some things to look for when you walk through a house for the first time so you won't end up with the resedential equivalent of a jobless hoarder who still lives in their childhood bedroom.
This is one factor that will have an immense impact not only on your day-to-day experience in your new home, but also on your heating and cooling costs over time. For asthetic reasons, look at each room with the lights off to get a picture of the natural lighting. Don't forget to consider what the light will be like at different times of day. If you like to sit in a cosy chair in the sun and read a book over breakfast, make sure that the kitchen is going to get morning light. Similarly, unless the house is right by the ocean, you might want to make sure the rooms that will be most lived-in are facing North or that the house has deeper eaves in order to cut down on cooling costs in the warmer months.
It's tempting to be attracted to a well-decorated room or immediately turned off when there's a large mural of the previous owner's cat across the master bedroom wall. When walking through a house, try to ignore anything the previous owners will take with them or anything that would be relatively inexpensive to change. This includes decorations, furniture, paint colors, window dressings, and other features that will be different when it's your house.
The flip side of that coin is to look for the "bones" of the house. These are things that are hard or expensive to change. Does the house have any architectural features that you really like? This includes things like granite countertops, a beautiful fireplace, exposed beams, molding, and other assets that would be hard to add later. Similarly, keep an eye out for hard to fix items such as the smell of mold, a roof in disrepair, plumbing issues or leaks, and other things that will cost you later.
This is another thing about the house you can't change. Are the rooms too big or too small? Is the laundry room accessible or is it tucked into a remote corner of the house? Are the ceilings too low to be comfortable or so high that they'll put a dent in your heating bill? Are there enough bathrooms and are they close enough to the corresponding living areas? How are the acoustics? (This is a big one if you have or plan to have children. Children make noise and, if you work at home, you might not want an open floorplan or thin walls.)
This is one factor that varies greatly in Orange County homes. Look at how big the lot is, how close the house is to neighboring residences, which way the house faces, and the grating of the lot. Want a big backyard where your kids can play loudly? Do you mind if your neighbor could lean over the fence and recommend seasoning for the steak you're grilling? What is the view like from the main living areas of the house? Also, if you have pets, make sure that there is enough space, appropriate fencing, and proper access to the yard for your furry companions.
Like it or not, you're going to run into your neighbors. Take a quick drive around a potential neighborhood to see the vibe of where you'd be living. Do you see a lot of kids (or evidence of kids) playing in the streets? Is there a dog park or walking trail nearby? How far is the neighborhood from the main highway? All of these factors seem small now, but will have a big impact on your daily routines.
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When you begin seriously searching for a house you need to switch from casual window-shopping to a more structured, research-based approach to your online home search.