[Boss me around] What to look for as an urban homebuyer

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[Boss me around] What to look for as an urban homebuyer

Post by Crakkerjakk » Sat May 02, 2015 10:44 pm

I am planning on buying my first house. There's a fair amount of threads on here that touch on various aspects of buying a homestead, but I am buying urban which most of them don't seem to cover, and this is my first rodeo, so I'm looking for people who have been through this rodeo a couple times.

Non-negotiable constraints you have to work within:

Urban - It will be within a ~500k city, though not downtown.
Lot Size - 1/4 to 1/2 acre.
Cheap-ish - I can't afford anything super fancy. Any improvements will likely be pay-as-you-go long term stuff.
Existing House - There are very few large lots within the city that don't already have a house on them.


Food - I want to do intensive gardening (raised beds, close planted crops, containers) and a small fruit/nut orchard.
Efficiency - I want to retrofit any house (or build from scratch, if it's cheap enough and by some miracle I can also get a construction loan to tear down the existing house and replace it with a new one) to utilize passive solar heating and cooling, generally require as little exterior power to make livable, and be as self-sufficient as possible. I'm also planning on doing greywater recycling and rainbarrels for the roof, but we get about 10" a year here. Figure maaaayybbe 10,000 gallons a year captured from the roof.
Trees - Ideally, I'd like to find a place with some old growth shade trees so I don't have to wait any time to enjoy sitting in a chair in the yard.

Probably won't be happening:

Livestock - At MOST some chickens or goats. I mostly plan on growing food.
Subterranean - While I would like a basement, it's just not gonna happen. There's very few here, and I can't afford them. Maybe someday I can dig one and then extend the house over it. But best not to plan on it.
Grass - I think watering things you're not going to eat is dumb in the desert. I won't be doing any sort of lawn.

Eventually I plan on surrounding whatever property I have with a haybale and stucco privacy wall, and motion sensor activated lights and cameras are a definite go.

So. What should I look out for in older properties as common/expensive problems? What should I make sure is/is not nearby to the property? What should I make sure of with respect to the house? What should I make sure of with respect to the lawn? Suggestions? Criticisms (beyond "don't buy a house in an urban area/you will need way more land than that")?

Thank you all for reading.

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Re: [Boss me around] What to look for as an urban homebuyer

Post by Stercutus » Tue May 05, 2015 8:31 am

You are lucky in regard to your city code that allows you up to 15 chickens and up to 1 goat per 4000/sqft of open grazing land (not lot size actual open land). Most cities don't allow this.

The most important questions up front will be whether or not you have kids, will they go to private or public schools and is the neighborhood safe enough for them to play outside in. You can change a lot of things but you can't change your neighborhood. No kids makes things a lot easier.

If you want a loan to do a renovation I'd check out homepath. I see a few dozen houses on there that might be a bargain. If the house needs a renovation they already have it packaged with the sale and it is usually low cost.
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Re: [Boss me around] What to look for as an urban homebuyer

Post by boskone » Tue May 05, 2015 6:28 pm

For the house, the most inobvious thing in a used (especially older) house I can think of is aluminum wiring. It's cheap, but there are a lot of downsides (including, all too often, improper installation causing a fire hazard). It's not a complete no-go (my grandmother's house has Al wiring, and it's been fine), but it's a point to watch. Similarly, look for mismatched plumbing; mixing metals can be bad.

I would pay attention to local business patterns. My house is in most respects a very tidy little property (efficient, decently laid out, very nice kitchen)...but my dumb ass didn't consider the fact that the pipe plant a mile or so away runs 24/7, and very nearly 365.

I would, in NM, seriously consider looking into windcatcher cooling: it's a passive evaporative cooling that can be very efficient. There's a park office in Utah that's proved very efficient (no mechanical cooling), and the middle east has used it for millenia (there are water reservoirs cooled this way that stay in like the 60s). Basically you need a water source (like, say, a rainwater cistern), a chimney, and some wind.

For a basement, if you build, consider at least a partial earth berm.

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Re: [Boss me around] What to look for as an urban homebuyer

Post by jnathan » Wed May 06, 2015 3:39 pm

In terms of the home buying process, I'd familiarize myself as much as possible about the process, especially as it relates to where you live. Do people typically use real estate attorneys or is that handled entirely through an escrow agent? How long does it typically take to close? Are there salaried agents in your area who are motivated more by your satisfaction than their commission (such as Redfin agents vs. traditional)? Other than the typical home inspection (which, given the right inspector, can be very thorough), are there any other area specific inspections you should have performed? Keeping in mind you typically have at most about a week for your inspection(s) from the time you sign a contract.

Other things to consider are gathering information from public records on previous sales of the home to see when it was last sold and for how much; this can help you get the best price. Determine when (if ever) major work was done on the house - has it been a long time since the kitchen or any other part of the house was re-done and if so, was this taken into account in terms of the price of the home?

I'd familiarize myself as much with the the local area, the city, the county and the state politics and finances to understand what might be coming down the pike in terms of tax changes, construction, zoning, and anything else that might impact your home.

When looking at each house, I'd get into the nitty gritty about seeing it from a lot of angles: thinking of the house both how you plan to enjoy it as well as how you see it from a prepping standpoint. From a prepping standpoint, thinking about what makes the most sense right off the bat in terms of cost/benefit: Commercial fire extinguishers (the ones that can be recharged), new smoke detectors, high quality locks, ensure the doors and frames are all solid from a security standpoint, determine if you'll install any sort of video surveillance. Your home inspector can tell you if the roof, plumbing, electrical, windows, and other things are all in good shape. But they won't tell you how sound the house is if you ever need to bug in.

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Re: [Boss me around] What to look for as an urban homebuyer

Post by duodecima » Wed May 06, 2015 4:46 pm

Stercutus wrote:The most important questions up front will be whether or not you have kids, will they go to private or public schools and is the neighborhood safe enough for them to play outside in. You can change a lot of things but you can't change your neighborhood. No kids makes things a lot easier.
Even if you know you will never have kids, unless you are also absolutely certain you will die in the house, the neighborhood/school district thing is worth considering - if you ever need to move, having a house that families with kids will look at seriously makes it easier to sell. (But I agree with Stercutus that it does give you some options if you don't have to consider this for yourself.)

I've said this before in other threads - talk to the neighbors. Sometimes there's a neighborhood association (not like a HOA, just a community group) or mailing list. If you're serious about a house, consider knocking on adjacent doors and asking the neighbors about the neighborhood. (You may also find out some good stuff about the house you're considering). We parked on a street and just sat there for about 30-40 min on a Saturday night, before we moved in, to see if things got noisy or busy then.

If you're serious about a house, you can probably get them to supply the last year's utility bills, to know what you're potentially looking at for utility costs. Check existing zoning rules about that fence.
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Re: [Boss me around] What to look for as an urban homebuyer

Post by eugene » Wed May 06, 2015 5:45 pm

The most important is location. Don't let the realtor/friends/family talk you into the nicer house in the older neighborhood as those old people will move away/die and someone will buy their house to rent. We ended up with a nice house in the ghetto after a decade and if you add up all the $ I put into it we didn't make a profit. Lesson learned, went and bought the smallest house in the nicer neighborhood within walking distance of everything and if/when we sell it will still be desirable.
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Re: [Boss me around] What to look for as an urban homebuyer

Post by Evan the Diplomat » Wed May 06, 2015 9:49 pm

As the owner of three homes, I would say that all of the home buying threads are worth reading as buying a house has a lot of common issues.

As a generality, you want to buy the crappiest house in the best possible neighborhood. No kids? Where is the hippest part of Albuquerque? Do some leg work and figure out which direction in the hip trend going, try and get a mile ahead of it buy a house there.

Where are enough of a certain type of people in Arizona that you could raise a straw bale home with their help.
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Re: [Boss me around] What to look for as an urban homebuyer

Post by tony d tiger » Sun Jul 05, 2015 6:56 pm

Nobody mentioned checking local authorities for neighborhood crime(?) - also consider rentals in the neighborhood (not desirable) and simple utilities like sewer or septic, streetlights and sidewalks, clear property lines... other recommendations like hanging out for awhile are what I have done, definitely consider the other perspectives. I wish I had bought in a nicer neighborhood, but hindsight is 20/20.
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Oh yeah, and I'd skip the 'professional' home inspector - half won't even FIT in a crawlspace...
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Re: [Boss me around] What to look for as an urban homebuyer

Post by Dabster » Mon Jul 06, 2015 1:43 pm

It took my wife and I about six months to find our current house. Much like the post above about being surprised by a local business running 24/7, my suggestion is to visit the neighborhood several times at different times of the day.

My last house was somewhat close to some railroad tracks and a railroad yard. I thought the sound of their horns was kind of romantically nostalgic at first but the blaring horns and getting caught by a train got to be annoying.

The current house is much quieter and lacking streetlights -it is far more peaceful. When we visited it late one night we knew we had to have it.
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