4 things you should know before you buy a home

Experts provide the inside scoop

first time home buyers

Leigh Quintana, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Hudson Valley North in Kingston, and her husband have three children. She knows the drill from personal experience on how tricky it can be to find and obtain the right place to call home. After a setback on their first choice, the couple settled on a raised ranch that needed work but was in the neighborhood they wanted. "We know it isn't our forever home,
but it's working well for our family for now and is a good investment for the future.

That was a practical choice, but purchasing real estate is often a highly emotional experience and those new to the process need to do plenty of homework.

It's a hot real estate market in the Hudson Valley right now, according to Quintana. That means young families, often first-time buyers, need to be prepared and ready to jump in when a property they're interested in shows up.

Pay attention to the little things
"There's always something that comes up," says William Duquette, an attorney and senior counsel who practices real estate and banking law with Blustein, Shapiro, Frank & Barone, LLP. One category that may come with a few surprises are subdivisions, condominiums or other communal associations that may have private restrictions over and above those covered by local zoning.

"They're all a little different," he says. For instance, private restrictions might have rules on clotheslines or parking such as no trailers or limits on the number of pets allowed.

An attorney should highlight these restrictions for the buyer who otherwise may not be aware of them. Duquette says, "Buyers need to ask themselves 'What do I want to do with this property?'"

Stephen E. Diamond, an attorney practices law specializing in real estate planning with Stenger, Diamond & Glass, LLP, located in Wappingers Falls. He recommends paying attention to every day conveniences as you assess potential homes.

"It might be as simple as how far is parking from the door, which could be a hassle when you're carrying groceries," he points out. Or there may be rules about parking a commercial vehicle or that forbid changing the oil in your vehicle. Those types of restrictions may not suit your situation.

Inspect before you commit
Duquette advises buyers to take inspection reports seriously and address issues before making a commitment. Perhaps an inspection raises mold as a potential problem and the buyer doesn't pursue that concern with the sellers and their agent. "That's a mistake. You should always have problems further investigated," Duquette says.

Another big issue that may be downplayed is underground storage tanks for home heating fuel. "It can be an environmental nightmare," Duquette insists. "You can have it tested and still not know if there will be problems. Even if an inspection reveals no leakage, there still could be some or it may develop later." While costs to remove before a problem is identified are around $1,500 to $2,000, once there is leakage into the surrounding soils, clean-up of the contamination cost can get into the $50,000 range.

"You want the current owner to put it above ground," Duquette says. "Once you own the property it's your problem."

Avoid financial turmoil, don't overextend
Lindsay Stevens is a realtor with the Stevens Realty Group in New Paltz, and works with clients in Ulster, Dutchess, Sullivan, and Orange County. She emphasizes that those new to home buying often go into it with emotion, not information.

Stevens advises potential buyers to find an agent who understands that it's scary and who will take the time to understand their needs. She's had home buyers who look for two years before finding the right property.

"A realtor really needs to understand the buyer's financials and what is comfortable for their lifestyle. While a bank might be willing to loan more, you must ask yourself if you can afford it. Don't be house rich and life poor," Stevens says.

With a growing household that includes two daughters, Stevens now lives in the second home her family has purchased.

"I get it. It's a lot to take on and manage for a young couple," she says. And that's one reason she believes that a realtor's job is to not only help home buyers to understand their financial life but also their everyday life and how overextending themselves can be a bad move.

"If one spouse loses a job or if a baby arrives, circumstances may change and you want to be able to avoid financial turmoil," Stevens says.  

Quintana agrees, "A lot of times dreams are bigger than the budget." This is especially true in the current market, as buyers from the New York City area, often with salaries outpacing local folks, are creating a highly competitive situation. "Buyers may not get the first house they put an offer on," she says.

Get a feel for the community
Stevens tells new clients to visit the property at least two or three times at different times of day. "Put your feet to the ground and really explore" she says. Visit local restaurants and coffee shops and get acquainted with the local scene. Walk around the neighborhood and see if it suits your level of convenience, privacy and other daily living concerns.

"Get a feel for the neighborhood and the community," Stevens says, adding that she often takes clients on a back-roads tour of Hudson Valley to help them get a better understanding of the area.

Other parents sound off! We asked parents: What do you wish you knew before you bought your first home?

Don't get a massive fixer upper! —
Erica H.

I wish I knew how different well and septic really are. —  Michele D.

No house is perfect, but try to make a decision based on finances, school district, neighborhood, etc. There are many things you can change about a home, but some things are set. Also, kids and houses are expensive, so live below your means. — Kerry D.

Don't get distracted by shiny things. Decide what is worth sacrificing. Make a list of your must haves and prioritize them. Little issues can become bigger and shouldn't be ignored because the house is pretty, etc. Pamela P.

Make sure there are a lot of closets! I didn't pay attention to that when we were looking. I love my house in every way but just wish we had more closets/storage space.Daniella R.

I wish our property was flatter. We can't put a pool in without a ton of major landscaping. Annie M.

Main roads and short driveways are bad ideas for growing families. Meg C.

Olivia L. Lawrence is an editor for a news organization and is currently scanning the seed catalogues and planning for her summer garden.