Whether you’re expecting your first child or your fifth, what you need from a home changes, too. A one-bedroom condo that’s the perfect place to start your adult life probably can’t handle the demands of life with kids.
Some 29 percent of homebuyers age 36 and younger move with life changes, such as a having children, and 37 percent who sell their current home say it’s because they’ve outgrown it, according to a 2017 study by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
Upsizing your residence and your family is an exciting time, one that’s also filled with decisions about this next chapter of your life, from the type of childhood you envision for your kids, to the size of your home, and your budget. Maybe you imagine them playing in a big backyard, or, living in a neighborhood where everyone walks to school.
Maybe you envision a family pet, siblings sharing bedrooms, or a kitchen large enough to form a family gathering point. All of those dreams should be a part of your home buying process.
Here’s what you need to know to find your perfect new home when starting or growing a family.
Some couples purchase a family home before they have children, while others wait until the line for the bathroom is too long. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to timing — it’s about making the right decision for your family.
- Before kids
Buying a home that offers room to grow can help you stay put for a while. You won’t have to worry about moving while you’re busy worrying about becoming first-time parents, or how big brother or sister will handle a new baby and a new abode. If you have a current home to sell, you can wait for the best offer. The physical part of moving will be easier before one of you starts waddling for two.
The downside to this timing is that you might not know what your parenting decisions and philosophies will be, and that could impact your home purchase. For example, do you plan to use public or private school or homeschool? Sometimes it’s hard to know what you’ll want until you’re actively making those choices.
- While you’re pregnant
If you wait until you’re pregnant, you might better understand what you need from a house as your parenting radar kicks in. You can also take advantage of the nesting instinct, which is a real thing, according to a study from McMaster University. During the third trimester, women often get an urge to clean and organize, and that can help you get settled before the baby arrives.Moving is taxing, however, and it may be difficult for a pregnant woman to help with physical tasks, such as lifting boxes. Moving is also stressful, potentially adding to the emotions expecting parents feel. A pregnant woman might be too exhausted to look at a lot of new homes, and that can limit your choices.
- After kids
Waiting until a new baby arrives gives you time to develop your new routine and understand how your needs have changed. You might prefer bedrooms together, instead of a master suite that’s on a different floor, so you can better hear young children at night.
However, looking at homes with kids in tow, especially when they’re young and tire easily, can be stressful. You might also use up your maternity leave on moving instead of bonding. If you’re also selling a home, showings can interfere with nap schedules.
For Laura and Jim Boldin of Phoenix, the decision to have a third child prompted them to upsize. With two young girls and three dogs, their current home was bursting at the seams. Adding to the family would only add to the demands of their house. Moving can be challenging when you have young children, and the Boldins chose to skip the hassle of listing, showings, and months of uncertainty and sell to Opendoor, so they so they could make an offer when they found their perfect future family home.
The next step is knowing how much you can afford. When setting your price range, consider your future. If you are buying a home before you have children, for example, decide if both parents will continue to work or if you should base your price range on one income instead of two.
A new home will also impact your monthly budget. A larger home will cost more to maintain, with more square footage to heat and cool, and your property taxes might increase.
Motley Fool recommends the “28/36 rule” that lenders often use when they’re qualifying applicants. It states that your total housing expenses should consume no more than 28 percent of your gross monthly income, and your total debt payments should consume no more than 36 percent of your income.
If you have a current home to sell, determine the amount of equity you may have that might be applied to the purchase of your new home. Subtract your mortgage and any home equity loan balances from the appraised value to get an estimate of the amount you’ll walk away with at closing. This figure will play a big role in what you can afford.
If you’re not married to your partner and want to purchase the home together, decide how you’ll legally structure ownership. While options vary depending on your state, there are three main methods, according to Nolo.com, a legal resource.
- Sole ownership: In this arrangement, just one name is recorded on the deed. This is a good option if only one person has good credit. The downside is that the person not on the deed has no legal ownership in case the relationship ends.
- Joint tenancy arrangement: Similar to the way a married couple purchases a home, this option gives each person half ownership of the property. If the relationship ends, both parties must agree and sign to sell, or one person could buy the other out.
- Tenants in common: This third option allows for unequal ownership. For example, one person owns 75 percent while the other owns 25 percent. This can be a good choice if the financial contributions, such as a down payment or mortgage payment, are uneven or if one person has a better credit score and might be approved for a larger amount. It assigns equity equal to contributions.
With timing and numbers in place, it’s time to start looking. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, this can be exciting and a little overwhelming. Create a list of wants and needs based on your family.
If you’re expecting your first child, a one-bedroom home will work for a while. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping your child’s crib in your bedroom for the first six months. Eventually, though, you’ll want to reclaim your room, making a second bedroom desirable.
If you’re expecting a second or third child, you may want a home with at least three bedrooms, assuming that fits your budget. Siblings may eventually share a room, but a baby might disturb an older sibling’s sleep.
If you have teens, you may want to look for a home with as many bedrooms as you have family members. Teens often want their own rooms as well as a place where they can hang out with friends, such as a family room or finished basement.
In addition to your immediate family, consider other situations your home may need to accommodate. If you regularly host out-of-town family or friends, you might want a guest bedroom. If you work from home, you might need a dedicated office with a door for privacy.
Once you decide on what size home is best, consider child-friendliness.
It can be helpful to make a wish list of features when looking at houses, and here are several that can be helpful to busy households with kids:
- Storage: Kids have stuff—lots of it. When you’re in the baby stage, look for places to stash large gear such as strollers and car seats. As kids age, a garage might house bicycles and sports equipment. Look for ample closet space for clothing and toys.
- Stairs: If you have a baby or toddler, make sure stairs can be safely gated. Open staircases may be beautiful, but they won’t be so pleasing when a toddler veers too close to the edge.
- Bathtubs: Kids love bathtubs. Look for a house that has at least one with enough space that allows you to sit on the edge.
- Fenced yard: Kids also love to be outside. A house with a fenced-in backyard provides a safe place for them to play.
- Laundry: Children mean lots of dirty clothes. If your washer and dryer are in the basement, navigating the stairs several times a day might become tiresome. Also, make sure the laundry room isn’t adjacent to your child’s room. While some kids can sleep through anything, others might wake when the dryer buzzer sounds.
- Hazards: Parents can baby-proof their homes with outlet covers and cabinet stops, but look for bigger features that could present a safety hazard. A home with a swimming pool, for example, may need legally mandated fencing or alarms. Outdated electrical systems could pose a hazard too.
- Open floor plan: A family-friendly floor plan often means an open floor plan, allowing you to cook dinner while your kids play in the living room. Look for a home with a kitchen that overlooks the family room. Open spaces can provide extra room for family bonding over game night or movies.
Location, location, location
With kids, you’ll probably want a safe neighborhood that has family-friendly amenities. Realtors are not allowed to divulge information about school ratings, crime or neighborhood demographics, because it violates the Fair Housing Act. However, you can do research on your own.
If you plan to use public schools, check out ratings of the local schools by visiting the school district’s website or GreatSchools.org. Look for student-teacher ratios and standardized test scores — the lower the former, and the higher the latter, are generally good indications of quality. You might also consider the age and condition of the facilities.
Drive around neighborhoods where you might consider living. Look for families with children, and clues such as swing sets or basketball hoops. Consider visiting after school hours or on weekends when kids might be outdoors playing.
Finally, check into nearby recreation options, such as parks, recreation centers, pools, museums and gyms. Park districts often hold events like parades or fairs, so visit the city’s website for a schedule. An active event calendar could indicate a family-friendly community.
Upsizing your family and your home are reasons to celebrate. Make sure you’re prepared by planning out the move as much as possible. If your budget allows, take your future plans into consideration when you look for a new home to save the hassle of moving every time your family changes.
Home and family go hand in hand, so get ready to settle into a place where you’ll make memories that last a lifetime.
Also check out our blog with house selling and buying tips for other life events:
- How to find a multi-generational family home that makes everyone happy
- How to sell your home and move in with a blended family
- Real estate options to consider when planning your retirement
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