(the views below are my own, and are no way professional opinions or necessarily the views of my employer)
Yesterday I signed a lease on a new place to rent for the next year. 2013-2014 will be another year that owning the space I live in eludes me. Several friends though, have made this the year and know that I have opinions about their position. I haven’t bought a house. There’s a huge amount on the internet that covers this topic. Several friends have requested this post repeatedly of late. I wanted to share the top three things I’ve thought about digging into their questions from the perspective of a contractor, engineer, and fiscal tightwad.
Track Your Money.
Use Mint.com. If you can’t say exactly how cash positive you were in the last 6-12 months, you’re probably not ready to buy a home.
Learn About Mortgage Finance
Make sure you understand exactly how much money a bank is about to extract from you. Spend an hour on the Wolfram Alpha Mortgage Calculator and write down what you learn. This is going to determine how much house you can actually afford. The number one headache I see clients struggle with is being unrealistic about what they can afford for both new buildings and additions. Don’t buy more house than you can afford.
Look Around Carefully
People will tell you all kinds of things, and NOT tell you all kinds of things. There are three things that are a barrier to doing other (more fun) energy efficiency improvements down the line. Here’s what I look for:
- Look for white PVC pipes sticking out of the furnace and hot water heater- this is the sign of a “sealed combustion” appliance. These are more efficient than code minimum systems, but more importantly they are much, much safer. The first step in doing any other energy efficiency work is having sealed combustion systems. Learn more about the relationship between energy efficiency and combustion appliances here. Even in brand new houses, speculative builders will still prioritize granite counter tops over seal combustion appliances.
- Look around the crawlspace. Crawlspaces are prime sources of mold, mildew, and radon, as well as energy loss. They are expensive to retrofit, and again are more pressing than doing other sexier improvements. You are looking for plastic on the floor that is sealed to the foundation wall. Look at the foundation wall and make sure that it is solid, smooth concrete. I would not buy a house with a rubble foundation, or a crawlspace that I wouldn’t be willing to crawl to the outer extents of.
- Look (and listen) for a dedicated kitchen range vent, and a functional bathfan in each bathroom (be prepared to negotiate several thousand dollars out of the purchase price). If the fans whine like your 1985 Corolla driving up the mountain, it’s probably not working right. Dedicated ventilation does increase your energy bills, but it reduces the risk of ending up with a mold or mildew problem in your house. Even better, look for a house with a heat recovery ventilator. Again, having a functional ventilation system in the house will give you more options down the line to make other improvements.
The Energy Vanguard blog is one of the best contractor perspectives on the internet. While it does focus on energy use, Dr. Bailes covers a wealth of knowledge and experience. Set aside a Tuesday night and just start reading.
I hate to bang this post out, but it’s the weekend in the spring and people are shopping. Happy hunting.