Buying a home for your family

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August 16, 2004 // UPDATED 3:22 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Jason Finn
Jason Finn

Mortgage rates, down payments, wiring and soil inspections, open houses and earnest money -- it's difficult to know where to begin when buying a house. Now, factor kids into the equation and things can get even more complicated -- How much space do you really need, now and for the future? Are condos off the table? How do you figure out how safe a neighborhood really is?

Sandy Loescher has worked in realty for 18 years and runs a successful family-owned real estate brokerage, Sandy Green Realty, in Minneapolis. Loescher agreed to share some of her insight, and answer some common questions facing families (or families-to-be) in urban markets.

What if a family isn't sure they want to take on all the maintenance responsibilities of owning a house, are there family-friendly condos?

As far as suitability for families, condo living is really not any different than all the kids growing up in apartment buildings. Families happily live in apartments, it's just that you don't have your own front and back yard that only belongs to you and has a little fence around it.

Look for amenities that kids would like, such as a tot lot, playground or swimming pool. Also, in a condo, you're going to have lots of rules, so look closely at the association's dos and don'ts before going ahead with the purchase. Really restrictive ones, such as "No

talking in the halls" or "No noise after 7 p.m." would lead to real problems down the line for a family.

Should I look for as many bedrooms as I have kids?

The more bedrooms, the more expensive the house [or condo] will be because usually it will be bigger. But this idea of every kid having their own bedroom/bathroom is a relatively new concept -- except among royalty. Many people have grown up sharing rooms, even with brothers and sisters of opposite sexes. They've grown up to be normal people and nothing's happened to them. This idea of needing a wing for the children, I think people really need to think about that. If they can afford it, and if that's what they want, well, OK, but [it's not essential]. ... I had an elderly man tell me once that little houses make for close families. There is something to be said about what a family learns when they have to share things -- they have to share a bathroom, they have to keep the music down because they're disturbing someone else. There's some basic socialization that comes in with really living in a group, instead of having "apartments" for each family member.

A lot of times, once buyers start looking, they realize that what they describe to their agent is not what they really needed; once they actually see houses that have these things, they reconsider.

I think people need to think through and figure out, "OK, what does my family really need? Do we need a big kitchen because that's where we all like to congregate? Do we need a finished or finish-able basement because we need extra play space or places for the teenagers to go?"

I guess I come down on the side of share the space a little bit more and go for the nicest location you can get.

Can you say more about size versus location?

If you do want the bigger home and you only have a limited budget, you may have to settle for a location that's not your first choice. If you're willing to be a little bit on the edge maybe you won't impress your friends, but you'll probably get a bigger and better home for the money.

But how do you figure out if a "marginal" or any other neighborhood is safe?

If you ask a Realtor, they don't give you a straight answer.

Buyers often say, "I only want to live in a safe area." Intellectually, they have to know that things can happen to you even if you live out in a farm in Iowa. So what we [Realtors] are wary of is whether this is code for "Are there any minorities around?" and that kind of thing.

As Realtors, we can't be a part of, and nor do we want to be a part of, any kind of discrimination or use of code words to keep people out of, or steer people into, certain areas. That's why we ask them to do their own research to find where they might be comfortable.

If I'm asked "Is this neighborhood safe?," depending on the issue, I might refer someone to the SAFE officer of the local police station. To really know if whatever it is they're afraid of is there, they're just going to have to talk to the police and look at the statistics.

One person's perfect location would be the worst location for the next person. Again, it really comes down to people deciding what they want.