It’s not unusual for parents of young children to find themselves on the hunt for a new home. Here are five key questions parents should ask when deciding whether or not to buy a particular house.
Are there child-related amenities nearby?
This includes community centres, libraries, sports facilities, swimming pools, drop-in centres and the like. This question is especially important if you’re a one-car or no-car family — you’ll need to know if you can walk to most of these places, or if they’re at least an easy commute by public transit.
And if both parents work outside the home, don’t forget about daycare. Are there good daycares nearby? If so, how long are the wait lists? “If someone calculates how much they’re able to pay for mortgage, but then all of a sudden they learn they’ll need to pay for a nanny because they can’t find daycare, that’s something they’ll need to consider,” says Marian MacKinnon, an agent with Real Estate Homeward in Toronto and a mother of two.
What is the neighbourhood crime rate and “night vibe”?
Nobody wants to raise their kids in a high-crime area. You or your agent can find out a neighbourhood’s crime rate by contacting the local police department, many of which also have websites listing this information.
As for “night vibe,” people often don’t realize that a neighbourhood can appear very different during the day vs. at night. If the house backs onto a ravine where local teens get together to party, for instance, you might end up with noisy revellers walking by at night, disturbing your family’s sleep. “I advise my clients to go back and check out a house at different times of day,” says Desmond Brown, Toronto real estate agent with Royal LePage and father of three. And it’s always a good idea to ask people in neighbouring houses for the scoop on what the street is really like.
What is the school district for this address?
While parents of school-aged children aren’t likely to neglect this question, sometimes it just doesn’t occur to parents of babies and toddlers — who then panic when their first child is about to enter kindergarten and they realize their local school is less than ideal. “If you have your heart set on a certain school and the house you’re looking at is not in that school district, walk away,” says MacKinnon. “Forget thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll talk my way in [to my preferred school],’ because it’s not that easy.”
Is the home’s design child-friendly?
Since most for-sale houses are so beautifully staged these days, it’s easy to fall in love with a house without considering the practical details. “There are a lot of really cool-looking renovations out there; however, they’re not always practical for young children,” says Brown. “You could end up impaling yourself on some of these modern railings — your kid could lose an eye!” MacKinnon suggests doing a very thorough walk-through with your agent to assess the “child-friendliness” of the house itself. Are the kids’ bedrooms on a different floor from the parents’? That might not work well if your little ones are prone to nightmares. Is there a place to put bikes and strollers? If you’re hoping to have older kids play on their own in the backyard, is the yard fenced-in and easily visible from a window? And is there room to grow if you decide to have more children?
Where can I find a reliable home inspector?
It’s never a good idea to buy a house without getting a home inspection done, and your agent should be able to recommend a top-notch inspector.
Home inspections can reveal various problems that may need to be addressed for health and safety reasons, including the presence of asbestos, lead paint (which can be especially hazardous for young children) and problems with the electrical wiring. Many of these issues are fixable if you absolutely have your heart set on that house, but you need to ask yourself whether you have time to make the repairs before you move in — and if not, whether the upheaval caused by the repairs will be worth it. “You won’t want to be in the house when you have the wiring redone, because there will be 50 holes in the walls. That’s a drywall mess for your kids to breathe in,” explains MacKinnon.