Buying a home: Step 2 – Choose a location
So in my last post, I mentioned that it was important to understand your means before you choose a location. You might be asking yourself, "why?" Well, it's simple really: some locations are more affordable than others. Until you know what you can really afford, you don't know if it's even possible to buy a house that's, let's say... 10 minutes from the city.
There will always have to be a balance, a compromise, between your wish list and location. Even if location is your number one priority, it is still important to understand what you can afford and what that will buy you in your dream location. There's no point in falling in love with a 4 bed, 3 bath, single family home in Arlington, VA when your budget will only get you a 2 bedroom condo in that location. Then the question becomes: do you buy the condo to be in your dream location, or do you move out from the city a bit to get more of what you're looking for? The choice is yours.
When it comes to picking a location, there many things to consider, such as lifestyle, distance from work, school district, amenities, etc. All of these things are important. If you like to be able to walk to shops and restaurants, then you probably don't want to buy a house in a rural area. Perhaps you don't want to be more than a 30 minute drive to work. (Keep in mind the times at which you will be driving when measuring this distance. If you work a 9-5 job in Northern VA or DC, a 30 minute drive may only be 10-15 miles.)
Now, some of you may be thinking, "School district? Why is that important? I don't even have kids!" Well it's always important to think about the future, and I mean that in a few ways. Whether you have kids, want kids in the future, or you never want to have kids at all, it's still a good idea to consider the school district for one very good reason: RESALE. Maybe you never want to have kids, so you really don't care what school district your house is in, but particularly if you are buying a single family or townhouse, when you decide to sell your house, a large part of the population that you're marketing to will have kids or want kids. So if you buy a house in a good school district, it will be easier to sell and you will likely get a better return on your investment. This is not to say that if you buy a house in a "poor" or "less-than-ideal" school district, you will never be able to sell it. You just may not see as big of an increase in your property's value as you would in a more desirable area, or it may take longer to sell.
Taking all of these things into consideration should help you narrow down your location. It's helpful at this part of the process to speak with a Realtor. Hopefully this is someone who you already know and trust or a Realtor that was referred to you by someone you know and trust. Your Realtor will be able to help you when choosing a location, especially if you're not set on somewhere specific. If you tell him/her what kind of location you are looking for, a good Realtor will be able to give you some suggestions. Keep an open mind and don't be afraid to look in an area that you're not as familiar with. You may fall in love with an area that you never expected!
Just remember that you need to be happy with the location and not just the house. You can always make changes to your house (there are limits on this of course), but no matter what you do, you can't change the location. You don't want to find yourself saying, "This is the perfect house! If we could just pick it up and move it to another neighborhood...."