I have been compiling a list of things to consider when buying or renting a house, since I found and rented my first apartment in Calgary back in 2013.
In the beginning this list was simple: solid and plentiful windows, clean bathroom and walkable neighbourhood. (I only scored 1/3 on my first place, but the rental market at the time was tight.)
Since then I have lived in five different apartments or houses and worked at three different newspapers, often hearing complaints from people who have bought a home and seeing what can go wrong.
Thus, the list has grown.
Let’s skip the obvious things like how the house looks, structural reliability, parking, yard space, etc. and talk the nitty gritty.
What is the property zoning? What are the neighbouring properties zoned for? Knowing this informs what you can do with your house in the future as well (secondary suite or carriage home) as well as what other people can do in the neighbourhood. You may not want to live across the street from a property with a tear down home that could legally host a 24-hour night club. (Or maybe you do. I’m not judging.)
What possible noise is there in the area? A dog boarding house across the street might seem cute and convenient, but groups of dogs are loud.
And don’t forget about smell! Is there anything in the surrounding area that, when the wind changes, could trigger a migraine with it’s stench? (Think animal farms, sewage lagoons, pulp mills etc.)
Where are the property lines, and legally required setbacks? That garden shed may not be a problem with the neighbours now, but if it’s breaking a bylaw the next owners of the home have a right to complain and it could be costly to move.
What does the Official Community Plan say for the area? This will indicate what bylaws may be amended in the future and what long-term changes could happen.
Are there road and sidewalk right of ways? Some streets in Revelstoke do not allow direct driveway access in order to keep the traffic minimal along emergency routes. Other places, such as the homes along Airport Way where a multi-use trail is planned, will be required to give up the first few metres of their property for said trail.
There are also utility right-of-ways to consider, I have friends whose house has a natural gas right of way through their back yard. A big chunk of their hedge recently had to be cut out and there is a large portion of their yard that cannot have anything permanent built on it.
How would the fire department access the property for a fire? Would that fence have to be knocked down? That tree or hedge cut through? (I have seen this happen.)
Think about the landscaping in other ways as well. Is that tree going to affect your foundation in 10 years? What kind of view do you have now? What will it be like 25 years down the road when you have finally paid off your mortgage?
What kind of privacy do you have? (Do you want people walking by to watch your family eat dinner? Or sunbathe in your back yard?)
Of course, I can go on and on. Where will you store the snow from your driveway? What are your neighbours like? How far to the nearest grocery store? How much would it cost to cab home from the bar you might want to frequent? What is your commute going to be like? Is the neighbourhood bike-able? How far to the nearest latte and book store?
Personally, a big factor in a house choice would also be what direction it faces. I want a south or west facing backyard, so I can enjoy the sun at the end of the day out back instead of sitting out front where everyone walking by can judge how big my glass of wine is or ask about the embarrassing book I am reading.
Just thinking about this incomplete checklist, on top of the pile of money needed to buy a house, makes me anxious. And considering our market and the short time houses are listed for, many people can’t afford to be that picky. Nothing will every be perfect and compromises will be necessary. You just have to decide what is most important to you.
Personally, I can handle a little bit of noise as that is what headphones are for, but no direct sunlight, or constant wafts from the sewage lagoon. For now, I think I’ll stay in my apartment.