It’s the rare homebuyer who goes through the loan approval, closing, and moving-in process and thinks, “Yep, I 100% nailed this.” Almost three-quarters of people said they regretted at least one thing about buying their home, according to a recent survey by HomeLight. Twelve percent of respondents said they wished they’d put more thought into the location, and another 12 didn’t care for the political climate in their new area.
One reason buyers often wind up disappointed or regretful is because in the current tight, competitive housing market, many families feel pressured to make compromises, cross their fingers, and hope for the best. Buyers have to put offers in quickly rather than carefully consider all the things outside the home that will affect how happy they’ll be with the purchase.
“When buying a home, it’s easy to focus almost exclusively on bids, mortgages, and inspection reports and not consider [what it will be like] living in that environment,” says Katherine Loflin, Ph.D., a consultant and expert in place science. “I compare it to focusing on the wedding and not the marriage. It makes for trouble.”
With the housing market projected to cool off in the coming months, buyers should have more breathing room to consider the big picture before they put in an offer. But even with less pressure to bid, experts say many buyers typically overlook things that can significantly affect how happy they are in their new homes. Here’s what to consider to make sure you pick the right home for you and your family.
Condos and gated communities often are governed by a homeowner association (HOA). Depending on location and the amenities they cover, HOA fees can be more than your mortgage. Some HOAs might be relatively hands-off, with modest dues covering grounds maintenance. Others might have strict rules about, say, whether kids’ play structures are permitted in your yard, what kind of pet you’re allowed to have, or what size and style your mailbox can be. It’s likely any major improvements to your home would need to be approved by the HOA.
HOAs are generally subject to state laws but typically can charge homeowners whatever they want in dues. Theresa Raymond, a real estate broker in Sevierville, Tennessee, says buyers should be aware that “HOA dues are rising and might not be the same at year's end as when you made the purchase.” They also might vote to collect additional fees for special community projects.
Ask whether the HOA of a home you’re considering will want to meet with you to approve you as a potential buyer, Loflin says.
“Also look at the HOA budget and ask to see a history of budgets,” she says. “Do you see huge increases annually? Where do they prioritize spending?”
2. School Districts
Parents will typically check out the ratings of a home’s nearby schools, but school considerations can be complicated and nuanced for many families, says Tyler Keith, a licensed clinical social worker in Wilmington, North Carolina. Some parents might assume their kids will go to private school, so it might not matter if the local schools near their new home are poorly rated. But that could become a problem later if unexpected financial difficulties necessitate considering public school options.
Parents should consider the county as well as the individual schools, Tyler says.
“In family therapy sessions, we've talked a lot about school systems,” he says. Schools and counties responded to the pandemic differently, for example, with some offering a remote option while others didn’t. So parents should consider whether they’d approve of how their potential local school might handle future pandemic protocols, Tyler says.
Tyler also has had clients who ran into problems when they moved to different school districts or counties in more rural areas that didn’t offer the same services for kids who need more academic support, he says.
It’s difficult to plan for everything, but try to make sure there are at least a couple of acceptable schooling options for kids. It also might be a good idea to research local news about the schools to look for, say, book bans by school libraries that might not jibe with your family’s values.
Don’t rely on what your Realtor says about the schools, either, says Andrew Westphal, a licensed real estate broker with The Corcoran Group in New York City.
“They should take no part in helping you pick a school. Do your own research,” Westphal says. “Blogs and social media can help here, but I recommend going to the school board meetings and seeing where the resources (your new tax payments) will be going with regards to schools.”
Give some serious thought to whether schools appear to be a priority for the neighborhood or an afterthought, he advises.
Neighborhood demographics can cover everything from the age of the population — a mix of generations, mostly young families — to the social environment. To get a sense of the community, take a walk in the neighborhood and try to observe what’s going on, recommends Jeff Tricoli,, a real estate professional in Palm Beach County, Florida.
If you’d enjoy waving to neighbors and chatting now and then during nightly walks, a vibrant neighborhood where people spend time outside might be a good fit. Maybe you’d like to see kids playing in the street, or maybe you’d be better off someplace more quiet. There are no right or wrong answers; you’re just looking for an atmosphere that’s right for you and your family. Be as realistic as you can with yourself about whether a community might be a good fit.
But even a good fit can take getting used to.
“There’s a comfort level that changes when you move,” Keith says. You simply won't know how a community works until you've spent time forming relationships and getting to know neighbors.
“You have to create a whole new inventory of who are the people I go to and for what?” he says. “It’s not just one new next-door neighbor, it’s the hair stylist and grocery store clerks and other parents. When everything and everyone changes all at once, it can be overwhelming.”
4. Political Climate
It’s important — with school board and city council meetings frequently becoming hotbeds of political discourse — for parents to thoroughly research the political climate of a potential community, says Bob McCranie, a broker associate with Texas Pride Realty Group.
“Don't ask your agent, as they may or may not be tuned into the local boards,” McCranie says.
Instead, look for physical indications of diehard political views such as yard signs and flags, especially, as Loflin points out, if we’re nowhere near an election of any kind.
The biggest concern, from a psychological standpoint, about living in a community in which people have opposing political views is loneliness, Keith says.
“And not in the traditional ways you think of, like you can’t wave to your neighbor,” he says. “But feeling like you can’t express yourself, whether it’s knocking on doors to support a local politician or speaking your mind at a PTA or school board meeting.”
Many people seem to have forgotten how to navigate conflict, Keith says, which makes them more likely to withdraw into their own “camps” and makes living among people with opposing political views more challenging.
5. Land And Logistics
If possible, ask neighbors what the area is like during different seasons. The most popular time to sell a home in most locations is in the spring and summer, which means many buyers won’t get a glimpse of how muddy or snowy it might get in winter months. Florida’s housing market, by contrast, traditionally heats up in the winter, when it’s drier and Northerners are dreaming of driveways that never need shoveling. New Florida homeowners are sometimes surprised by flooding in their homes, yards, and streets during the rainy summers, months after they’ve moved in.
It’s also in your best interest to look carefully at the streets in a potential neighborhood. Technical markings spray painted on the road or orange flags in the yard could indicate an infrastructure change is coming that could affect your property, Loflin says. If you see any, find out how difficult it might be getting in and out of your home during the work or what services might be disrupted.
If you're buying a home built in the last five to seven years, ask if there was a public improvement district (PID) or similar organization created when the neighborhood was built, McCranie says.
“Builders are starting to defer the cost of the community pool, park, or community feature into a PID, which then carries the debt of that construction,” McCranie says. “The homeowners in the neighborhood end up each owing a share of that debt for several years until it's paid off. Always ask your title company upfront for details.”
When buying a home, try to remember that stress and even buyers’ remorse are incredibly common and getting comfortable in a new place can be overwhelming no matter how well you plan.
“Among families I work with, there tends to be a ‘grass is always greener’ mentality like, ‘If get this house in this community, all my problems will be fixed,’” Keith says. “People get overwhelmed and can lose perspective.”
As you search, make a list of your family’s values to refer to when you look for a home to ensure that you’re prioritizing communities that offer what’s most important to you. Also take the time to talk to your broker, neighbors, and even a few community leaders to help you understand what the next five or 10 years of your life will look like in a certain home.
“The market is so tight that an accepted offer might look like a gift,” says Westphal. “Make sure it's the home you want, not just the one you can have.”