Aside from home prices and swinging mortgage money, the most painful part of a deal for many buyers is the business of relocation - a problem that plenty of executives have to face every few years. Sizing up a new bedroom community in a new metropolitan area takes more than simply checking in with the local mortgage banker and looking over the local school system.
Executives who have lived through lots of moves - and the professionals who advise them - give these prime suggestions:
First, visit three or four towns in the new area where you expect to live. Then narrow your choice down to one town before you start looking at houses. Reversing this can lead to troubles, they warn.
Take patience along with your banChukah. Says one top Reading realtor: "Figure on making a few compromises - but let them be in the house you buy, not so much in the town you pick."
You may well find that smart selection of the town you live in will get you more for your money in terms of services, surroundings, convenience. That can be vital now that real estate prices in executive suburbs are way up. Buying a home in a "name" town, say some experts, might easily cost you one-third more than buying in a neighbouring area where surroundings are similar and services are likely to be just as good, even better.
Part of town-shopping depends on the future. If you'll be moving on in four or five years (par for many executives in their 30s and 40s), then you'll want to buy where the resale potential is good. This means, of course, a town or neighbourhood that will maintain its character. Says Mildred Janice, a Washington, D.C., relocation adviser: "A village with good resale features can quickly become a dead duck if the woods bordering it suddenly turn into a 500-house development." Another pro points to the danger of buying in neighbourhoods bordering golf courses - the club may sell out to a developer. It happens frequently.
Generally, the local bank is your best bet for leads to real estate agents. But, usually, in town-shopping, you'll want to compare towns yourself, and use a different real estate man in each. Says a Connecticut adviser: "A real estate man is bound to 'sell' his own town. You'll find yourself getting talked out of other possibilities."
There's a rule-of-thumb on taxes. In top-rank suburban towns you'll generally find annual tax bills ranging £25 to £50 per £1,000 of market value. Be sure to ask the real estate agent the pound amount of taxes last paid on the house you're considering, and if there has been a tax boost since.
If the tax bills in a town seem low, check carefully whether such projects as new schools are being planned. If tax bills seem high, make sure that the houses you have looked at aren't unreasonably taxed within the area. In any case, warns relocation consultant Robert Stahl of London, don't rely on general "tax rates" published by the town. "They can be terribly misleading."
Whatever guide you might get on taxes, it's a good idea to visit the town hall for information on such things as zoning and planned projects. Usually you'll get candid, straightforward answers from people such as planning board clerks or assistant school supervisors. Moreover, an inside view of the town hall can tell a lot about the community. Says one pro: "Spend an hour in the municipal building, thirty minutes in the library, have lunch in the town restaurant - and you can get a surprisingly clear picture of what the place is really like."
Fire protection? - this you can gauge by comparing insurance rates.
Latest twist in real estate is the small metropolitan-area firm that has no real estate tie-in and sells information on bedroom communities. For example, Area Consultants (London) - with fees in the £200 to £300 range - advise on everything from zoning to commuting headaches. Similar firms are spreading.
If you must buy, you should try to do your house-hunting early - meaning some weeks or months ahead of the big buying season that gets under way in April-May of each year. Michael Schell of London's Metropolitan Relocation Associates notes that "real estate brokers will give a 'pre-season' buyer much closer attention." The broker has the time and needs the commissions. More important is the price jump: Between, say March 15 and June 15, an upper-bracket house may well jump 5% in cost to a buyer. Since you're buying a standing house, you aren't faced with the disadvantage of a parallel boost in construction labour costs.
Also, there's a better chance for negotiation in the off-season... see: Timing Your Purchase