By Jason Robie
Well, we have finally decided to grow our family. We have arrived at that point where the 32-ounce French press coffee maker is not quite big enough for those weekend mornings. We have upgraded to the 50-ounce coffee maker so we can both enjoy a second mug of coffee on those lazy Saturdays. OK, in reality she now gets three mugs and I still just have one.
While we are very fortunate to live in this amazing part of the country, it turns out there is more to buying a home than hundreds of miles of hiking trails. I actually wasn't sure what else there could be so I did a little digging. If you are house hunting with ankle-biters in tow, here are a few things to bear in mind during the search.
It was not that long ago that proximity to downtown and a variety of bars and restaurants was the top priority for me in my housing searches. I wanted to be within a rock's throw of a decent sushi place, my favorite bar and a spot to get an awesome burger.
On top of that, I wanted to be able to get home without driving in case of an emergency like a "super" game over time. For parents or parents to be, the priorities have shifted a bit. Rather than their favorite bar, parents are after a quality school district.
Unless you're like my awesome cousins who home-school your kids, you will want to research the schools in your target area. Go beyond the obvious things such as online ratings and historical test scores (which are super important by the way). Actually drive around those schools and get a clearer feel for the neighborhoods that feed those educational institutions. These are not only obvious options for your home purchase, but these neighborhoods will give you a good feel for the region as a whole. Also, try and visit the school if they allow it.
While my brother and I were in college, my mom had to make a quick trip to our former high school. Later that week, as we were chatting, she explained her visit and vowed that, were we of that age now, she would never let us attend that school. It was over-crowded, dirty, they were packing students into classrooms and she didn't feel all that safe. There was also a sparse showing of administrators and teachers milling around. All the best scores on paper don't hold up to an in-person visit. This is the reason you walk through a home before making an offer. Nothing beats in-person.
When we were searching for our home, the primary focus was distance from neighbors and distance from the hustle and bustle of town. If you have kids, your focus will be on having a strong community around you and (depending on their age) having other age-appropriate kids for yours to play with.
At one point growing up, we lived in an apartment complex down in Amesbury, Mass. We would walk out our door in the morning and have a dozen or more kids to play with all within our little oasis of buildings. We would get booted out the door after breakfast and be home for food. It was awesome. So, as you are driving around searching for your new "nest" keep an eye out for signs of kids.
"Toys and bikes in the front yard are always good giveaways," Badger Realty agent Kathleen Sullivan Head said. "I also like to see families out walking together or having barbecues. It leans towards a sense of community and something that families will want to take part."
When you are cruising around looking for homes, try and take note of the traffic passing through. I would strongly encourage you to visit that neighborhood during morning rush hour as well as after school and after 5 p.m. It will be a very educational experience if the house you are considering becomes the start-finish line at Daytona every morning at 7 a.m.
Lastly, besides all of the amazing, scenic, breathtaking and natural wonders we are privileged to be near, you will likely want a park or two to allow your kids to spread their wings. Just like we want to see families out walking together, we also want to see families enjoying these parks together.
The best part about these family-friendly spots is you will almost always find someone you know. Make sure the area you are considering enjoys proximity to a few parks and playgrounds. Your kids and your sanity will thank you.