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Quality of life is just as important as construction quality. Learn what to look for at open houses to ensure comfort in your new home

By Laura Gaskill

Houzz Contributor.

If you are in the market for a house, you’ll likely want to make sure you have a roof that won’t leak, a solid foundation, proper wiring and so on. But what about the things not covered by the inspection? Sometimes it’s these less obvious factors that end up making the biggest impact on your day-to-day experience of a house — things like the quality of light, flow from room to room and the amount of time it takes to shovel the driveway. Here are 20 things to look for — and happy house hunting!

1. Indoor-outdoor flow. The ease with which you can move from indoor to outdoor living areas and back again can make a huge difference in your day-to-day experience of living in a home. If this is important to you, look for French, sliding or accordion glass doors leading from the main living spaces to the outdoors.

2. Size of rooms. Not too big, not too small. Channel your inner Goldilocks to nail the just-right room size for your lifestyle. Imagine setting up your own furniture in the rooms as you walk through — bring measurements if you can.

3. Interior layout. Like indoor-outdoor flow, the interior layout, or floor plan, can have a big effect on your daily life. Walk through the rooms, imagining your typical day. Are there sharp corners and narrow passages to navigate, or is there an easy, natural flow from one room to the next?

4. Lot grade. The steepness of a lot is in some ways even more important than its size. After all, what good is an acre if it’s too steep to walk on? Think about not just what you want today but what you might want in the future. If down the road you were to decide you wanted to add a deck, an extra room or a backyard studio, would that be possible on your lot?

5. Window size and placement. You can of course can add and modify windows, but it’s not the cheapest change to make to a house. Ideally, look for a home with ample, well-placed windows.

6. Amount of natural light. This is a big one, yet it’s surprisingly easy to overlook when attending open houses. Once you have a few homes on your list that are strong contenders, make appointments to give them a second look at a different time of day. This will give you a fuller picture of what the light is like in the home.

7. Regional weather considerations. Live somewhere with cold winters? You may want to put an attached garage, covered entrances and an easy-to-shovel driveway on your checklist. Those in warm climates may want to focus on shaded walkways and cooling trees. 

8. House orientation on lot. The way a house is positioned on its lot affects how much natural light it gets and can influence heating and cooling bills as well. A south-facing home will maximize natural light — though a north-facing home can be just as bright if the main living space is in the back of the home and there are ample windows all around. In hot climates a north-facing home with deep eaves may be preferable to keep your house cooler.

9. Driveway length and width. It seems silly to even consider this — until you buy a house and realize your car won’t fit in the ridiculously narrow driveway, or you have to shovel that extra-long driveway after a mega snow storm. (The too-narrow driveway? Yep, that happened to me.)

10. Street parking. Though street parking is not usually an issue in the suburbs or rural areas, some towns and cities have strange rules and regulations regarding it. Where I live, for example, we are not allowed to park overnight in front of our own house. (Combine that with the too-narrow driveway situation described above, and oy vey!)

11. Staircase steepness and length. You may not have the slightest problem with stairs — but this is one of those times it’s helpful to think about the future. If you think you might ever want or need to take in an elderly relative, or you plan to age in place, a long, steep staircase may not be the best feature.

12. Architectural details. Great architectural details, like exposed beams, beautiful molding and mantels, will make everything else you do to your home look even better. Start with good bones.

13. Heating and cooling systems. While not as big an issue in temperate climates, if you live somewhere that gets very hot in summer or cold in winter (or both), good heating and cooling systems will make life much more pleasant. And because putting in central air conditioning or heating can cost a fair amount and the work is disruptive, finding a home where it’s already in place will save money and hassle.

 14. Laundry room location. Is the laundry in a convenient spot, or is it hidden away in a dingy corner of the basement? Since this is a chore that usually needs to be done frequently, having a laundry near a main living area can make life easier.

15. Kitchen features. Ask whoever does most of the cooking in your household to make a wish list for the kitchen. Does he or she prefer to work on a gas stove? If so, be sure to check for one, and failing that, ask if the house is connected to a gas line so that you can add your own gas stove. Other things to consider in the kitchen could include its shape or layout, natural light, number of sinks, storage area and overall size.

16. Number of bathrooms. Adding abathroom is expensive, so choose a home with enough baths to meet your family’s needs. Even if you are a household of only one or two people, an extra powder room on the main floor can be a big boon.

17. Ceiling height. Some basement and attic rooms have less than adequate ceiling heights. If someone in your household is tall, bring him or her along to the open house to make sure the fit in all the rooms is comfortable.

18. Zoning and town ordinances for animals. Have a notion that you may one day want backyard chickens or another unconventional pet? Check local ordinances before committing to a house, or you may never get the pets you have your heart set on.

19. Closeness of neighbors. Though the general area (city versus suburb) has much to do with how close your neighbors are, there can still be a big difference between how private one house feels over another. If privacy is important to you, be sure to check the views from every window and walk the perimeter of the property to get an idea of how close you will be to your next-door neighbors.

20. The neighborhood. This may be where you started your search, but have you really considered all aspects of your potential new neighborhood? School districts are of course important for families with kids, and proximity to work and family closely follows on many folks’ wish lists. But you may also want to look into how walkable (or bikeable) your neighborhood is, what community amenities (libraries, parks) are nearby and what public transportation is available.

by Caroline James

Top or bottom?

Ground floor apartment pros

Courtyards

“The main advantage of ground level apartments is they often include courtyard areas that are much larger than balconies, which can almost act as another room if positioned well.”

Absence of stairs

“For areas with an ageing demographic, easily accessed downstairs apartments can be desirable.”

No neighbours below

No need to worry about bothering underlying neighbours, especially if you have children.

 

Ground floor apartment cons

Privacy/security concerns

“This is particularly so in inner-city areas, where a high proportion of the population are professional single female tenants and security is a top concern, and is reflected in rent prices,” .

Noise and disturbance

“Ground floor can be very noisy in regards to foot and vehicle traffic and being close to a side driveway means vehicle lights can often shine into living rooms.”

Upstairs neighbours

“The noise produced by apartments above can be a huge concern for buyers and tenants.”

 

Upstairs apartment pros

Improved views

Views attract a premium when selling, especially in cities and near water.

More security and privacy

“Upstairs apartments are positioned further away from the street and generally have windows that are not accessible,” .

More natural light

This is important in the inner-city, where there is often more overshadowing from tall buildings.

 

Upstairs apartment cons

Less appeal for retirees and elderly

“For areas where there are larger populations of older people, stairs are a major concern so investing in an upstairs apartment without lift access can be unappealing to buyers/tenants,”.

Can be hot

Depending on the apartment’s aspect, upstairs and top-floor apartments can sometimes produce much heat during the day time in Sri Lanka.

1. Orientation

A property with a rear yard to the north of the property offers potential to place the living area to the rear of the home, if not already located here, and direct sunlight to these living areas. This orientation also gives best access to outdoor spaces from the living areas, and ultimately gets the best use of your outdoor spaces as part of the living area.

2. Ventilation

Do the window types and locations offer good cross ventilation? Awning windows offer more limited ventilation then a casement window or louvers. Another impact on this might be any noise source that is external to the house that would prevent the window being used for ventilation, such as heavy traffic. Good cross ventilation of a home will not only reduce the reliance on an air conditioner, but will also reduce the likelihood of mould growth and make the property a healthier place to live over time.

3. Adaptable layout & structure

Over time, renovations or alterations are like to be carried out on the property. Having property that offers easy adaption will help. Well-located bathrooms and kitchens are especially important. These are costly items to be moving and make future renovations more complex. Don’t forget to eye that layout carefully!

4. Existing character & integrity

If you are considering buying an older home watch out for poor quality renovations. Sometimes these will devalue a property as there is allot more work to be done to correct the poorly thought out and poorly constructed owner builder projects. On the other hand you may find a home that is small, as most of it is original, and well looked after. If you find them, these can offer great value. High ceilings will always make a space feel larger than it is in floor area. It will also make the home feel cooler. For new properties, keep an eye on the quality of workmanship, and ask questions if you want to know more.

5. Neighbours

What impact do nearby properties have on the one you are considering? Do they overshadow your whole back yard and render it dark or damp year round? Or will they impede any future changes you’d likely want to make to the property? These factors can have a big impact on how you – or possible tenants – live in the property – and not items that can be easily changed. Other things like features, paint colours and floor coverings are things not likely to be around in 20 years time anyway.

How to Buy as a Sri Lankan National

If you have Sri Lankan citizenship or dual citizenship then buying in Sri Lanka is a fairly straightforward process.

You may buy in your own name or set up a local company through which to buy the property, though this is not really necessary if you are simply intending the property to be your residence and not a business.   There is a 4% stamp duty to be paid on the purchase of any property, however there is no capital gains tax payable on selling your property.  We do advise that, when buying, you get the deeds checked by two independent lawyers if you can.  The most common problem that arises here with property is unclear title and lawyers are prone to overlook things and make mistakes that are costly and time consuming in the long run.

How to Buy as a Foreigner

As in most developing countries there are restrictions on foreign ownership of immovable assets such as land and property. In the recent past there was a 100% tax imposed on foreigners, or local companies with over 25% foreign ownership, buying freehold property, however under the new Rajapakse government, this tax has been removed.

As of 15th August 2014 a new bill is being presented to parliament under a Gazette Notification issued on 8th August.

View the full transcript of the Gazette Notification Here:  http://documents.gov.lk/Bills/2014/land/landE.pdf

 

Summary of Gazette Notification pertaining to foreign ownership:

1) Freehold.

Any foreign national wishing to buy a freehold title can purchase shares up to a maximum of 49% in a local company that subsequently buys a property.  Thereafter further transfer of shares within said company to a foreigner above 49% in total can only be made after a period of 20 years. In this instance a foreigner may use a local friend or nominee for the purpose of holding the balance shares in the company.

A stamp duty of 4% is due on any purchase of property, however if the property is already the sole asset of a locally owned company and the company is transferred to the foreign buyer and his local partner then only a share transfer tax of 0.5% is payable.

2) Leasehold

A foreigner, or a local company where any foreign shareholding is 50% or more, may purchase a lease of up to 99 years. However this is subject to a 15% Land Lease Tax in addition to the 1% stamp duty.

An exception to this rule is if the purchaser is a local company with 50% or more foreign shareholding and has been in operation for 10 consecutive years or more. In such instance the Lease Land Tax is reduced to 7.5%.

3) Condominiums

A foreigner, or a local company where any foreign shareholding is 50% or more, may purchase a condominium apartment on the 4th floor or above without any restrictions, as specified in the Apartment Ownership Law.

Please note  that the above is still being debated in Parliament so please contact us for any updates.  The most important thing is to shop around for the best lawyers who not only understand the latest amendments to any land laws pertaining to foreign buyers, but most importantly are thorough in their title search.

 

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