New (older) Home Purchase - List of Must Haves and Must NOT Haves
July 24, 2015 5:10 AM   Subscribe

Hello! We were asked by our RE Agent to provide a list of "must have, " "would like to have," and "definitely must NOT have" items as we start our search. We pretty much have the first two sections covered, but haven't really thought out the "must NOT haves" for our future home. We've started a short list, but we don't know what we may be missing... any suggestions?

Here's our MUST HAVES:
- Privacy: private neighborhood - or no neighborhood at all; limited foot and vehicle traffic
- Nice outside space - large, flat, sunny yard
- 3+ bed; 2+ bath

- ranch style
- fireplace
- carport or garage (attached or separate)
- central AC (or at least central AC can be added)

- HOA fees
- mold/moisture problems
- flood zone location

What are we not thinking of that should definitely be list as a drop-dead NO??

Thank you!
posted by funfunfun to Home & Garden (81 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
For me it would be not on or very near a major highway or train tracks.
posted by cecic at 5:15 AM on July 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

So many must-haves are going to be your personal preferences...but for me it's "corner lot." We rented in one and found it to have a lack of privacy. Depending on the layout you also wind up with outside space that isn't really very usable (like all the yard is side yard, not really a proper back yard) and you can also be arranged on the lot such that any addition/expansion can't happen due to setback requirements. Some people probably love them for other reasons, but it was a deal-breaker in our house hunt.
posted by handful of rain at 5:17 AM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Thinking about kids while you are here? What is the immediate school district like?
posted by nickggully at 5:20 AM on July 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

As in the "must have" and "would like" lists, the entries in your "must not have" list would be reflections of your personal preferences. If I were making the "must not have" list, though, I would include items like cookie-cutter houses, zoning that allows for tear-downs (I've seen too many lovely older homes hemmed in by looming monstrosities on both sides), a pool or other features that require considerable upkeep relative to the benefits they offer, or well & septic. Any of those would be deal-breakers for me. And if I were looking to get settled in quickly, I would avoid any house that needed a lot of work before I could move in.
posted by DrGail at 5:22 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

For me, an in-ground pool is an absolute no.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:27 AM on July 24, 2015 [16 favorites]

Here are some possibilities off the top of my head:

- neighbors who [fill in for yourself: think about things you could see, hear, and smell]

- yard overrun with ivy, bamboo, or other difficult-to-deal-with vegetation

- swimming pool

- giant unsightly utility thing/transformer/switch box visible in front yard

- standing water that breeds mosquitoes

- pond (attractive to the lovely but aggressive Canada goose, or an opportunity for you to stock koi and ducks)

- adjacent public park? Adjacent land that's available for hunters or developers? Adjacent land owned by farmers with roosters?

- utility easements (need to be more specific, but e.g. Duke Power can cut down trees at will in this area, seemingly)

- superfund site rating (or other old industrial chemical problems)

- swamp

- proximity to interstate highway (noise, pollution)

- proximity to dumping or industrial site

- old wells (giant hole hazard)

- ghosts :)

Thanks for this question; I need to think about this too.
posted by amtho at 5:28 AM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Kitchen stuff: if you have a clear preference for gas vs. electric, or some other kind of cooking setup - i.e. oven separate from the cooktop vs. a range. If you use a lot of small appliances, do you use them at the same time frequently and will the kitchen's electrical circuit be able to handle that kind of load? Things like counter and cabinet finishes are relatively easy to change compared to converting from an electric kitchen to gas.
posted by LionIndex at 5:29 AM on July 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Swimming pool, or anything else in the garden that's a serious hazard to kids and would mean they couldn't be left to play unattended.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:32 AM on July 24, 2015

Not under the flight path of an airport.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:33 AM on July 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

For me it would be no propane, no septic and no electric stove. Might also consider drainage issues. We just finished a year long battle with our neighbor over a busted drain pipe downhill of our property.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 5:36 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your list of must-haves might send you into the boonies, so consider if you are ok with a septic tank or want to be connected to the sewer.
posted by Drosera at 5:36 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow! You guys are fast!

Thanks for the suggestions - so many things we haven't thought about - simply because we haven't run into these things to have to deal with.

We don't have any kids - and don't plan to, so schools weren't even on our radar. Not a deal-breaker for us, but a good school system would be nice for resale value - but the ratings can change by the time we decide to sell anyway. So many factors...

I'm we're okay with living in the boonies... we just want easy interstate access (which will be added to our list of "must haves").

Thanks, MeFi!!!
Please keep the suggestions coming.
posted by funfunfun at 5:45 AM on July 24, 2015

This only applies if you're looking in an area that has bike lanes that you intend to use, but one of my "must not haves" for my next home is unprotected bike crossings between the house and shopping/public transportation areas.
posted by neushoorn at 5:46 AM on July 24, 2015

On a busy road. There are so many studies coming out about the health effects.
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:46 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Recognize that things can shift from one list to another. Years ago, I would have said UHNO to near a highway and under the flight path of an airport, but my place ended up being both and I got used to it.

To me definite no's are things that are not only unlivable but unfixable. Stuff like propane-only, well-water or septic and there is not and there are no plans for town services, those are things you can't fix. Ditto for living in a flood zone or next to hazardous waste. House is right off a highway exit, which means you'll have people doing u-turns in your driveway 24/7 or worse, coming to your door for directions.

But in ground pool? You can get that filled in if you want. Electric stove? You may be able to get a gas hookup. Overrun yard? Landscapers to the rescue.
posted by kinetic at 5:49 AM on July 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

- existing and planned flight paths for takeoff / landing (airports do change flight paths to 'share' the noise) - check your local airport's website
- general proximity to an airport
- too far from (and too near) public transport
- proximity to 24 hour shopping outlets
- proximity to fast food outlets (smells, noise, litter)
- planned power lines (may have to check with local electricity utility for that one)
- bold colours / patterns especially on tiles or other hard-to-replace-or-conceal items
- dark painted walls (you would not believe how many coats of paint are needed to turn a dark red wall to cream!)
- age of domestic equipment - stoves, hot water systems, aircon, heating, etc. etc.
- external wood decking (cost and effort of maintenance)
- side / back entrances - can make it easier for a burglar to get in / out and hide their activities
- too many windows facing afternoon sun (if you live somewhere hot) or inadequate shading
- single glazing or rattling windows (if you live somewhere cold)
- large trees close to the house (roots can cause issues with foundations, large trees also topple over in storms)
posted by KirkpatrickMac at 5:51 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding easements, large trees very close to the house, septic vs sewer, and well water.

If I was going to be living out in the boonies, depending on where you are, I would be concerned about hunting on or near my land. I don't want a bunch of sportsmen with rifles or bows around my house. That might be hard to find out though... probably something you'd talk to the nearest neighbors about.
posted by kimdog at 5:56 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

The other thing to find out is where stuff is in its lifespan so you can be aware of emerging costs. Is the heating (or cooling) system on its last legs? What state is the wiring in? What state are the windows in? Has anything being done by the previous owner when it should have been done by a professional?
posted by biffa at 5:57 AM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

My "must not" list includes maintenance issues that are impossible or extremely expensive to fix.

- 3/4 basement or no basement at all
- Fieldstone foundation or major foundation problems
- Boiler or baseboard heaters instead of forced-air heat
- Knob-and-tube or aluminum wiring
- Galvanized plumbing

Also think about high-speed Internet - if you're going to be out of town some lots may have limited (or no!) DSL or cable available. Well water and a septic tank are a bit of a hassle, but IMO not that big a deal.
posted by pocams at 6:04 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

My own, most gained through painful experience:

--airport flight path

--too close to freeways/railroad tracks

--relative decrepitude of the heating system (hot water heater is a minor repair, but replacing the furnace is not)

--in-ground pool (upkeep) (note: if there's an above-ground pool that has been there for a lengthy period of time, restoring the lawn may take a while)

--additions/renovations performed without a permit

--lots of DIY work (I've spent several thousand dollars repairing mistakes by my own home's previous owner)

--if in a college area, proximity to student housing (even if you're cool with the noise, this will tank your resale value)

--corner lot (my previous house was on one, and people used my yard as a shortcut)

--messy trees (#*@! chestnuts!)

--surrounding homes in poor condition
posted by thomas j wise at 6:05 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

"Recently refurbished to high standards" always rings alarm bells to me.

Why was it refurbished? Who did it? Was it the home owners? What did they have done? Who carried out the work? How do they define "high standards".
posted by kariebookish at 6:05 AM on July 24, 2015 [12 favorites]

Kariebookish makes a very good point--that's often a sign that the house is being "flipped," and just because the work may look fine doesn't mean that it was executed well.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:07 AM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

For me it would be the placement of the kitchen in relation to the backyard. I want to be able to walk out of my kitchen into the backyard without walking through the living room -- makes grilling easier.

Also, on your point that school districts don't matter to you because you don't want kids -- that was me, and we bought in a poor district (both poor in income and poor in school performance. I regret that choice because there are implications of being in a poor neighborhood that weren't apparent upfront -- like a ton of foot traffic early in the morning as people walk to the bus, low-level vandalism in the neighborhood (broken windows, graffiti), vacant homes. So maybe you don't need the best district, but you probably want to think about the implications of living in one near the bottom.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:08 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

This isn't directly on point with your question, but this relates somewhat to a finding problems with a house you've never thought about before:

Start looking for a housing inspector now, interview and speak with a couple highly recommended inspectors and ask to see their work product/final reports, and think twice before going with an inspector your realtor refers.

A good housing inspector is really important because the problems they find are helpful during the negotiation processes, but also to point out the things that may make you think twice about buying. Once you put an offer in and get emotionally invested in a house things can start moving VERY quickly and you may end up with a housing inspector that isn't all that great or worse, referred and liked by your realtor because the inspector doesn't kill deals or significantly impacts the price because he minimizes the extent of potential problems.
posted by Karaage at 6:15 AM on July 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Definitely very individual, but here is some stuff that we have accumulated over ten years of living in our first home, that we now know will be "no way in hell" dealbreakers for our next home:

- Major basement moisture issues
- Casement windows; double-hung all the way for us, form now on
- Really limited sunlight; I need to be able to have plants indoors in the winter
- Proximity to a major city attraction where traffic gets totally fucked at certain times of year
- Lack of proximity to public transit
- Lack of walkability to at least basic groceries
- So close to the property line that work on the side of the house requires going onto the neighbor's property; it sucks being at the whim of a neighbor who doesn't like you, as to whether you can do needed repairs on your home
posted by Stacey at 6:23 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

A couple of things that we were very glad to have when we got our dream house:

No carpet. It's basically impossible to clean them sufficiently, particularly if you have a pet. Our house had wood floor and tile, and we were damn glad for the work we didn't have to do.

A North-facing front door. This is huge. I previously lived in a second story apartment that faced West. It was just fine until summer at about 5pm, when the sun would hit the windows and basically bake the apartment until sundown. Sunrise is less brutal than afternoon sun, but if you find a place that faces north or south, all the better.

A fenced yard. For the dog.
posted by Gilbert at 7:07 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Suggest radon testing before you make an offer if possible.
Also, avoid buried old fuel tank.

Both of these can cost a lot to repair.

On the nice to have list: a root cellar or cold storage would be lovely for me.
posted by Frenchy67 at 7:10 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

This may or may not be something you can choose - but think about municipal water/sewer vs well water/septic. If you have a well, you'll lose water during a power outage unless you have a serious generator but municipal water (in the places I lived, anyway) keeps working during blackouts.

Also, look at the zoning codes to see if anything you might want to do in the future (solar panels, pool, addition) would be prohibited.
posted by snaw at 7:18 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

but for me it's "corner lot."
People tend to walk across the corner of the corner lot. That means you have to maintain hedges or fences to keep them off your property, which can lead to sight line issues with the cars at the corner.

I want to be able to walk out of my kitchen into the backyard without walking through the living room -- makes grilling easier.
Be careful with that - you do not want kids running from the backyard through the kitchen while you are lifting a turkey out of the oven.

- What is the local drainage like? Will the storm drains or sewers overflow into the basement during a heavy rainstorm?
- Do you work on any projects that require space like a table saw or a potting table? Does the house have something like a garage or shed to accommodate your projects?
- Is the insulation sufficient for the local climate? Does the house have cold spots or drafts?
- Some jurisdictions don't allow you to hang laundry on an outdoor clothesline. Is that an issue for you?
- If there isn't enough space at the side of the house to push a wheelbarrow into the back yard, you are going to have a difficult time trying to do any yard work.
- Are there any noxious weeds growing on the property? Are there any vermin living on the property? Is there any history of marijuana cultivation on the property?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:21 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are the real estate taxes proportional to the neighborhood and/or house value?

What are the broadband choices? Don't get into a neighborhood that only has copper lines and 128kbit DSL if you're going to try to work from home and/or watch Netflix, etc.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:25 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Would need all major structural things to not be a headache. Issues with an *extremely charming* older home faced by my mother: uneven, cracked foundation with a funny grade to the surrounding ground, making it hard to deal with; old and bad wiring; old pipes (many plumbers don't know what to do with them, parts are hard to find, the pipes may or may not have lead in them); plaster and lathe walls (not a problem per se but needful of care); roof needing repair; just, tons of expensive maintenance. I probably wouldn't get an older home myself without $50k + handy for those and other eventualities, no matter how "charming" it is.

If the house has changed hands many times, would worry about previous owners' fixes and patches. So not a home that's been lived in by too many people (also I'd ask myself why no one wanted to stay for long).

New homes aren't necessarily better, though, some are made quickly with cheap materials. Would ask around about the builder's reputation, real estate agents do know about that kind of thing.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:26 AM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't rule out corner lots or ponds, and I wouldn't stress too much about good neighbors. These are highly changeable attributes. My corner lot has big level sunny yards front and back, and nobody cuts across my property or impinges upon my privacy because of fences (picket in front, six-foot cedar in back). Ponds can be filled in if you don't want to do the (minimal, compared to the benefits, IMO) maintenance - and in an area with lots of Canada geese, I've never had one at my pond. (I did get a great blue heron once, but I scared it off.) My neighbors when I moved in were lovely people, but two years later they sold to a crazy woman who is the worst. neighbor. ever. She's now selling (yay!) and I will probably get good new neighbors.

Neighborhoods change too. Mine was marginal when I moved in. Now it's one of the most desirable 'hoods in town and property values have soared, even with not-great schools. The not-great schools means that most of my neighbors are childless couples or singles, which is not a bad thing, IMO. They spend their money keeping up their property.

Another thing that is variable is living on a somewhat busy street across from a light industrial or commercial area. My neighbors on that side are a (soundproofed) music rehearsal studio, the city data center, and a plumbing supply. On weekdays, there is some traffic, but outside of morning and evening commute time and on weekends (when most people are home) it is blissfully quiet.

On review: I'm curious. What's the downside to former MJ cultivation?
posted by caryatid at 7:29 AM on July 24, 2015

Flood zone.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:29 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

No west facing full sun windows. This may be less of an issue in higher latitudes, but summer afternoon sun is brutal here. And, if relevant to your latitude, equator facing windows with eaves to keep out summer sun but let in winter.

Also, good sound proofing.
posted by kjs4 at 7:33 AM on July 24, 2015

Repeating what pocams said because it's so very important (to me at least): I would NOT go to a place that didn't have high-speed internet. Many places in the boonies lack cable and DSL, and satellite internet is inadequate.
posted by anadem at 7:39 AM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

What's the downside to former MJ cultivation?
Unwelcome attention from the authorities.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:40 AM on July 24, 2015

For me, personally, it's well water and septic tanks. If these go bad, it get so expensive. If you are looking at a home with a well, test for volatile organic compounds in addition to nitrates.

One other must have for us, don't know if it would be for you - first floor laundry.
posted by notjustthefish at 7:41 AM on July 24, 2015

(But probably for me the #1 aesthetic thing would be a bad layout with no flow, can't fix that without $$$).
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:41 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're looking for a place in what we call the "exurbs" or outer ring suburbs, and a lot of the things that have been mentioned previously (public transit, walking distance to groceries, etc) is going to be not really applicable.

Must have
-- good windows, lots of 'em (years in the upper Midwest have taught me the value of natural light in the winter)
-- laundry facilities on main floor
-- good "bones" -- foundation, walls, etc. (no cracking or settling, stay away from rubblestone foundations)
-- decent internet access (friends two miles away have a choice of satellite or a cellular data plan with a hotspot)
and cell-phone coverage (we have cable, but our cell service is suboptimal (there's an AirRave in the basement to boost the signal enough that the phones work inside)) (and we're only 25 miles from a major university)

Would like
-- if there's a deck or patio, access not through the dining room or kitchen unless there's a defined traffic path that doesn't detour around the table
-- detached garage (reduced fumes/noise in the house, lowers insurance rates)
-- whichever your preferred cooking surface is
-- dishwasher
-- ceiling fans or at least ceilings high enough to put them in
-- attic exhaust fan

Don't want
-- pool or hot tub
-- fireplace

I prefer gas heat to oil or propane (having lived with all three), but, really, as long as the furnace works well, it doesn't matter (do check with suppliers if it's oil or propane -- see if they do a budget plan). Probably want to stay away from pellet or wood stoves as the main source of heat, though.

(As an aside, I really do *not* get the hate for well & septic systems. Good ones are nearly problem free, and only require a bit of regular (every 5 years, maybe) maintenance. I've had far less trouble with well/septic than with city water/sewer.)
posted by jlkr at 7:42 AM on July 24, 2015

When I think about these lists, I particularly think about things that may be unique-ish to me. Like most people would be concerned about a house right on the train tracks, for example, but I have one and it's not that bad. Meanwhile other people might not care if there was a streetlight that shined into one of the front windows, but it would bother me. So I'd go down the list of your senses and think about whether there are things you would like to avoid.

sound - is the house near a school/train/airport/factory? What is the neighbor situation like-- right next door, a little further, are there noise ordinanaces in the neighborhood? are they enforced? What's the traffic like?
smell - do the neighbors BBQ? Garden? Paint cars in the driveway? Is there a transfer station nearby, or a restaurant with a gross dumpster?
taste - do you care about well water vs. town water? Do you need soil you can garden in?
touch - how are the bones of the house, does stuff rattle when trucks drive by? Does the place have fixtures and appliances and hardware that you enjoy interacting with (some of this is minor but some might not be)
see - how is the light? How are the sightlines? Is there a view? is it protected? what do the neighbors' yards look like? do you care?

All of these are just situations where you should think about what you want personally but it's also worth having some thoughts about whether a thing a realtor might assume about you would not be how you might actually feel.
posted by jessamyn at 7:49 AM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


- A packed-earth yard where large expanses are just dry dust. Sometimes dogs with no other energy outlets will just run until the soil is unable to support plant life, or some other use (sports, etc.) also kills the soil. You might be able to fix this, or you might not.

- Either no sun at all (all trees) combined with regulations that prohibit cutting trees, so that no garden is possible, or a complete lack of trees, so that the house gets _all_ _sun_, and conditions (legal or otherwise) that prevent the growing of trees.
posted by amtho at 7:53 AM on July 24, 2015

Avoid houses with foundation problems, even if the problems have been fixed, and even if the fix has a life-time transferrable warranty. If a foundation is subject to shifts you can fix it so that things are square and true. However, the house will shift again, as time and weather cycles work on it. The company that did the original work may still be in business, and may be willing to back up their work. However, the relevelling will be messy and disruptive, and will require painting and wood work in most cases. Call the company for rework multiple times and they will look for ways to void your lifetime warranty.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 7:54 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

+1 to no corner lot, especially if there are sidewalks you will have to shovel, and especially if you have a dog - mine spent six years barking at the neighbors because we could never convince him all that sidewalk was not his personal territory.

"Central air" was a pretty good proxy for "updated to modern standards" when I was looking at older (20s-40s era) houses. Even if that's not a must for you, it's an easy way to narrow an MLS search.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:56 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of our big house hunting "NOs" was that we did not want a house previously owned by smokers. (I know deep cleaning is possible but our budget for renovations/repairs at the time was small and we just didn't want to deal with it).
posted by castlebravo at 7:59 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you or someone who might visit often have accessibility issues? How old are you and will you be reaching retirement age in this home? Most houses aren't 100% accessible, but there's little things like weird interior threshold bumpers or adding safety features in the bathroom that can be fixed for dollars, narrow doorways that can be fixed for hundreds, and massive outside steps or interior stairs that are going to cost thousands to mitigate.

I would want room to garden in a yard, but I would also want established landscaping.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:05 AM on July 24, 2015

No long commute.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:06 AM on July 24, 2015

Oh, yes:

- no stairs
posted by amtho at 8:12 AM on July 24, 2015

A drop-dead NO to me would be a previous pet owner. Relators will not mention it in the listings but when you do a viewing keep a sharp eye out for pet food, food bowls, leashes in the yard, kennels/gates, toys, etc.

Most likely you'll know by the smell alone, but anticipate that a serious portion of the carpeting will be soiled and/or wrecked. If there are hardwood floors underneath that carpet they will most likely be stained and/or damaged to the point where you'll need to rip it out and replace it.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:12 AM on July 24, 2015

For us, our must-not-haves were:
-fleas :-(
-swimming pools
-need for electrical work
-foundation problems, even if corrected (this killed an otherwise-perfect house for us)
-HOA fees
-steep or huge driveways (because I hate shoveling)
-well water or septic
posted by specialagentwebb at 8:27 AM on July 24, 2015

On review: I'm curious. What's the downside to former MJ cultivation?

If a property was used as an indoor grow house, the long-term high humidity will tend to cause severe mold problems. You may also have some really sketchy electrical going on. That would be an absolute deal breaker for me.
posted by pocams at 8:52 AM on July 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

I like jessamyn's approach: query your senses.

For the exurbs or the suburb/boonie hinterlands, one possible "don't want" is "on an emergency services route". We're between the local VFD and most of the places it goes on calls, which makes home insurance cheaper than more remote places, but also means daily sirens and speeding vehicles with flashing lights.

Your attitude to people shooting things / burning brush (or trash) / exploding things may also be relevant here.
posted by holgate at 9:09 AM on July 24, 2015

For me, it was a range hood that vents outside. Many houses don't have one, so I kept an eye on it and we bought a ranch that was easy to install one in - good access above and near an attic vent already. I really hate leftover cooking smells.
posted by Dashy at 9:15 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

For old homes, asbestos should be on your MUST NOT HAVE list (common in pipe wrappings and insulation). But maybe with an asterisk: during inspection, if it's determined that asbestos is present, see if you can have the seller pay to get it removed before you move in or at the very least, negotiate the price accordingly. Asbestos isn't a problem unless it is disturbed. But depending on where it is, that might become an issue; for example, if you have a pipe leak and start moving around and replacing the wrap around the pipe, it releases asbestos particles in the air and that's not good.
posted by Eicats at 9:21 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Depending on where you live (if it is in earthquake country), I would check city/county GIS maps for things like liquefaction zones. Environmental Impact Zones are another thing worth looking for. If it isn't obvious, both of those are places you DO NOT want to buy a house.
posted by matildaben at 9:32 AM on July 24, 2015

Nice outside space - large, flat, sunny yard

Be careful with the "large" part of this, unless you want to spend half of your summer weekends mowing. We currently rent a place with about 2/3 of an acre of lawn, and even with a riding mower it takes up a lot of time.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:58 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

(Also re prohibitions on cutting old trees when their branches reach near /over the roof: this is a perfect set-up for critters like eg raccoons to have access to and *tear up* said roof on the regular. Humane animal control laws (good for raccoons, bad for roofs) can mean you're stuck with that repair as an occasional expense. Also means you're vulnerable to falling branches making a hash of the roof in really bad storms.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:03 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

asbestos and lead paint.
really long driveway (plowing)
more than a couple of steps to get into house (I live in a very hilly town and watching my neighbors struggle to get up flights of steps just to get groceries into the house is painful, not to mention the one neighbor who broke a leg a few months ago)

a grocery or convenience store within a ten minute drive/walk depending on your favorite mode of transit
decent insulation
internet accessibility
garage or other outside storage shed (if there's a lawn and a garden then there's stuff that you need for them)
posted by sciencegeek at 10:04 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: MeFi!! You guys are awesome!

Thank you so much for your suggestions. It really helps to have all this written down - it will keep me from settling for something that doesn't meet my requirements. We are pretty flexible with the things that can be changed, but we are sticking to our list with the non-negotiables.

Here's our updated list:

Privacy: private neighborhood, large yard - limited car & foot traffic
Nice outside space: sunny, flat yard
Nice, natural lighting inside - lots of good windows
3+ bed, 2+ bath
Easy/quick access to the interstate
High-speed internet - cable/DSL

Ranch style
Carport or garage
Gas heat/stove top
Forced-Air Heat/Central AC - easy to add central AC
South facing front
Range hood that vents outside

HOA fees
Flood zone
Current or previous mold/moisture
A location on a major road; not right near the interstate or train tracks.
Propane heat/tank on property
No recent "flips"
Been owned by previous smokers/smell of cigarette smoke
posted by funfunfun at 10:09 AM on July 24, 2015

Most not have:

Plaster walls (if US based). You will never find someone who knows how to repair them, if you do it will be $$$$. Want to install a new electric box? good luck! Since one of your "like to haves" is forced air AC/Heat, you probably won't run into a plaster wall home - but be forewarned!
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 10:40 AM on July 24, 2015

Oh and thinking about HOAs made me also remember: is there any sort of neighborhood organization or are you in a historical district that might have some say over what you could do to the outside of your house/yard/etc. Where I am from, these sorts of places are the exception and not the rule and in other places it's the exact opposite. You might not care, but it's possible you might get a house in a place you really liked and then found out you couldn't change the color of your garage or hang laundry in the side yard.

Similar outside concern: parking. Maybe your house has a big driveway and a garage. Maybe you're in a more urban area and there is shared street parking. Maybe you're in a suburb and there is zoned neighborhood parking. Worth thinking about that as well as what sort of parking you are likely to need to make sure you have it.
posted by jessamyn at 10:46 AM on July 24, 2015

Must not have shallow bathtubs. (Ie. must have a deep tub in at least one of the bathrooms.)
posted by vitabellosi at 10:54 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ooooh, in addition to the PVC piping, in certain regions you need to avoid copper pipe. (Friend of mine in Oakton, VA had to have his entire house repiped, which cost something like $8K).

My "must not have" list would include a heat pump. They are, essentially, air conditioners that run backwards to provide heat. They work OK if your winters aren't too hard, but below a certain outside temperature they become ineffective at heating and rely on secondary sources. In fact, I would avoid any sort of primary electric heat. Possible exceptions: geothermal heat pumps or, say, San Diego.

Depending on your area, you might also want to avoid oil heat, since oil delivery is increasingly expensive. (So what I'm saying is, basically, natural gas or GTFO, unless geothermal is actually a thing in your area). If you're truly in the boonies you might have a big propane tank instead of a natural gas line, but it's below my personal hassle threshold. It's definitely less of a problem than oil is IME, but you will still have to deal with delivery (that said, if you're in an area where propane delivery is needed, you will likely be able to find out from the neighbors who delivers and arrange for scheduled deliveries in order to avoid crises).

If cooking is a thing you care about, you may wish to avoid electric stoves. Many people don't care. I do care. (Conversely, I'm one of the people who doesn't care if the oven is gas or electric, while there are people who insist that gas stoves and electric ovens are the ONLY WAY to cook).
posted by fedward at 11:37 AM on July 24, 2015

Interesting responses regarding no pools. It wouldn't ever occur to me that a pool—in-ground or otherwise—would be a dealbreaker. But there was a pool at every house my parents owned growing up. Above-ground pools are definitely thought of as less aesthetically pleasing aroud these parts, too.

On the must-not-have list for me would be: only one full bathroom, electric burners in the kitchen, a big yard to take care of, window-unit air conditioners and an an oil tank taking up space in the basement
posted by emelenjr at 12:05 PM on July 24, 2015

Things I learned I did not like after buying a house:

-think about parking for cars. I bought a house with no driveway thinking it'd be fine and it turned out to be a huge pain in the ass, especially in winters when we had no where to move our cars off the street so they'd just get plowed in. Or people parking in front of my house leaving me to bring in groceries from a block away.
-elaborate landscaping...our house had amazing plants because the prior owner was a landscaper. But then I found out just how time consuming it could be to manage all the plants. Also hiring a professional landscaper was expensive
-large yard...I was mowing all the time in the summer and it sucked. I'd rather have a very tiny yard now.
-make sure costs for soon to be needed maintenance is factored in to the price. We had to buy a new furnace and a/c unit within the first year and they are not cheap.
-make sure there will not be crazy drainage issues. The topography of our lot was such that heavy rains caused water to pool along the foundation and would go into the basement...not good. Try to see ahead of time the topography and what issues it may cause. Check the basement for water damage.

Other considerations:
-avoid flood zone
-check to see if there are any environmental concerns for the area such as superfund sites or hazardous waste sites. This info is partially available on USEPAs website and you can also check your state department of environmental protection or whatever they call it there - a lot of them post info about contaminated sites now online.
-consider landslide or slope creep. I see people buy houses on slopes that will eventually obviously want to avoid that.
posted by FireFountain at 12:46 PM on July 24, 2015

Not yet mentioned: fusebox. You probably want it to have already been upgraded to a breaker box. They're not dangerous in and of themselves, but they do indicate older wiring. Also, check exactly how many outlets you have in each room (also not optimal in older homes). You don't want to be permanently stressing the capacity of your electrical.
posted by timepiece at 1:16 PM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not a homeowner, but thinking about places I've rented and lived, some DNWs:
-Marine clay or other unstable sediment.
-Uneven flooring.
-Unfinished basement or attic - could lead to mold or animal problems.
-Sash windows, in older homes. They often break and are hard to fix.
-nthing trees; beyond those issues already mentioned (mess, blocking sunlight, potential hazard in storms) I would add that tree branches close to windows are a highway for conveying spiders and insects into your home
-Mostly a city-dweller issue, but take a close look at window placement within the lot...or you might get this!
-Also a city-dweller thing for the most part but: BEDBUGS. They are extraordinarily hard to remove. I would consider any history of bedbug removal to be a history of attempted bedbug removal.
posted by capricorn at 1:45 PM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Haha, and DNWs = Do Not Wants.
posted by capricorn at 1:46 PM on July 24, 2015

It wouldn't ever occur to me that a pool—in-ground or otherwise—would be a dealbreaker.

Unless you really really really want a pool, it's a) a pain in the ass, b) another damn expense, c) dangerous to your children and pets and wildlife, d) a legal liability, e) perfectly good lawn/garden space taken up by a wet hole in the ground.

If you definitely want or are interested in a pool, pay someone pool-specific (and like all inspectors, keep their identity secret from both your and the seller's realtors) to tell you the truth about the condition of the pool and equipment. Because you can't just ignore a pool if you don't want to use it, even if you drain it* you'll need to keep all the equipment working for resale purposes, or you have to have it filled in, which is a massive landscaping project/expense.

*Assuming you can, because sometimes when you drain a pool it raises up out of the ground and now you're back to a massive landscaping project or effectively putting in a new pool.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:57 PM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

My must not have list would include any house that sits below street level. In other words, no to any house in a hole.
posted by MelissaSimon at 2:10 PM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Even if there aren't any HOA fees, the neighborhood or development might still have CC&Rs. Make sure you know what they are, if there are any, and find out who (if anyone) enforces them.

You say you're fine living in the boonies -- if you do find a house outside of town, find out if it's in an area likely to be annexed any time soon. If it is, the game may change completely.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:25 PM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

My main must-not-haves were flood zone and being near a petrol (gas) station. I'd extend that to any locations that were built on what had been dumping zones or manufacturing areas or near such places. This can be surprisingly hard to research.
posted by kitten magic at 2:58 PM on July 24, 2015

oh and after that post on the blue about the Cascadia subduction zone; if you're looking in the pacific north west you have a whole new bunch of stuff to consider. In general 'not on reclaimed land' seems a good starting point.
posted by kitten magic at 3:02 PM on July 24, 2015

Hey so just another thought about the potential for environmental impacts thing- kitten magic is correct in that finding old polluted properties can be tough to research. I work in the environmental field and one thing you can do if you feel like spending money on this is you can order an environmental database report from a company like EDR (Environmental Data Resorces Inc.). It's like a hundred or two. The database report tells you what issues are identified within 0.25 to 1 mile radius of whatever property address you give them. If you want to go even further you can use historic to see what was there in the past. Companies like EDR will also give you this kind of info for a fee. I mean it totally depends how worried you are about the area. If you know it's reclaimed land or brownfield area then I'd totally spend cash to make sure I wasn't buying anything impacted. Ok also you are allowed to submit Freedom of Information Act requests to the city, county, and state environmental agency to see if they have records on the property of interest. They will tell you if there's a fee to provide records. With EPA there's a website called MyPropertyInfo where you can enter addresses and see if it's in EPAs database. You can also search superfund sites by state by going to

This may be completely overboard but knowing nothing about where you are looking to buy I just wanted to give you further help along this path.
posted by FireFountain at 3:22 PM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

"No popcorn ceilings" was on my list, as was "within walking distance of an okay grocery store."
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:25 PM on July 24, 2015

Inspired by our current rental, the first item on our do-not-want list: no two-story rooms. So much wasted space. Miserable year-round - it really affects our house temperatures.
posted by elerina at 5:45 PM on July 24, 2015

Roosters in the neighborhood
Car hobbyists (revving up engines on Saturday mornings, etc.)
Landscaping maintenance on a hillside
Homeowner's association with rules. (Collecting money for fun events and amenities is ok, policing what I can/cannot do with my house is not)
posted by ctmf at 6:28 PM on July 24, 2015

On the off chance that you are looking in California (or possibly other locations), you will also want to take into consideration whether the yard has been/can easily be xeriscaped.
posted by trip and a half at 7:47 PM on July 24, 2015

Is the house at the centre of a T intersection? i.e. if a cement truck loses its brakes, will it roll straight into your house?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:37 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Really late to the party, but a few other things:

1) If we buy again, I will be giving serious side-eye to a house completely done top to bottom with wallpaper, OR I will have to be in a situation where I can pay for removal & patching. Removing all the peeling wallpaper from a 2500 sq ft house - some of which was the old school linen fabric paper + animal glue - nearly drove me mad. I know I have issues but anything which has me crying in frustration at several points (and screaming into pillows) is a big "probably no" in my book.

2) Speaking of flood plains - see if there is a creek that has been moved underground. Look up the property in Google maps. For instance (not my neighborhood, but I'm familiar with it): all the creeks on this map have been moved underground:,+Michigan/@42.7305869,-83.1844684,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x8824ebf292d3eaff:0x800ab0e8d368cc54?hl=en

We have a similar creek in our neighborhood that has been put underground. However, the neighborhood still gently slopes towards the location of the creek, and the land in the area "remembers". So every time it rains, our neighbors across the street have to put sump pumps in their yard, because the creek is under the yard and the water just pools there, occasionally getting into the "uhm, that's awfully close to the house, isn't it?" territory. They have flood insurance even though we don't live anywhere near a flood plain (technically).
posted by RogueTech at 7:20 PM on August 10, 2015

My mother once told me, "Never live to the west of where you work, because then you'll have the sun in your eyes coming and going," and she was a wonderfully wise woman. (This assumes you work a regular 8-5 commute-to kind of job.)

Depending on where you live, a radon test might be a really excellent idea, because lung cancer sucks. Also, if you live in a mold-prone area, be really really really diligent about getting someone knowledgeable to check for black mold.

If you plan to garden, you will of course pay attention to how much sun the property gets, but please also put in the work to not only do a soil test but also to try to get a sense of the subsoil conditions. (Speaking as someone who bought a house with a yard that has hideous hardpan six inches below the surface, so I have to build raised beds everywhere I want to grow anything.)

The comments upstream about using an inspector hired independently, and shelling out the money for a *good* inspector, are golden. (Take some time to watch "Holmes Inspection" on Netflix if you want The Fear put into you.) I flouted this rule but I was just incredibly goddamn lucky, except for the hardpan.

If you are buying during the summer, when people have their windows open, visit the property at various times of the day, evening, and night, to assess noise levels. (I bought my house in winter, and so did not discover until the next summer that my neighbor across the street liked to open all his doors and windows, and then play the trumpet, very loudly and very badly, for hours on end, which also set all the neighborhood dogs to howling. It was funny for like the first twenty minutes.)
posted by Kat Allison at 5:51 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Proximity to a major city attraction where traffic gets totally fucked at certain times of year

I wanted to second this one. 0/10 would not do again. I lived in a place in the same neighborhood but not even that close to a Big Street Fair. It was literally impossible to drive. Like you'd make it 2 blocks in an hour or more. Our driveway got blocked by douchebags every year, and the cops would take HOURS to show up and ticket them so they could be towed(and the tow truck would take an hour or two as well, even when it was coming from 6 blocks away!). I lived in two different places in that neighborhood over the years, and it was a freaking NIGHTMARE. A lesser, but also huge nightmare, was the traffic surrounding the nearby city fourth of july celebration which was most of the same problems but with blackout drunk people running their cars into everything. This can be an issue even in small towns, if there's a nearby park that holds the yearly $HOLIDAY or town festival or whatever. It's fine the other 362 days of the year or whatever, but those 3 days you have wasted people pissing on your front door and throwing trash in your yard. Or you're trapped, essentially.

The internet thing is a serious concern for me now. I've moved to places that would seemingly be well served and had the only real option be "7mb" dsl that never worked faster than 3mb, and was 1.5-2mb 90% of the time. It was Really Crappy, and all i ended up getting out of it was lots of discounts and credits from the robotically sympathetic ISP.

Investigate the amount of time it takes hot water to reach various fixtures, and how well that stuff drains. Some bath tubs will NEVER drain well even if properly vented and recently snaked/not clogged. It's just poor plumbing design. All of these problems are fairly expensive to fix, or end up with kludgy solutions like booster heaters under the sink. This stuff is soooo much easier when it Just Works.

Try and visit the house on a sunny day if you live in an area that's unusually warm, or a colder day if you live in a warm area. This isn't always easy or possible, but i've moved in to several places where on sunny days one room was just uncorrectably hot despite the fact that there was "new windows and insulation" or whatever. At the worst places, it could be 74f outside and it would be 90 in the room, and never get below like 78 even with an air conditioner running full blast. Some places are just solar ovens. Inversely, some places have that one room that even though the heat register/heater dumps out heat, it's always cold and the floor is always freezing. Once again, this can be corrected, but it's not cheap or simple usually.

Also getting on the "corner lots aren't actually that cool" train. I've lived in two corner lot houses, and in both of them we drew the ire of neighbors for doing relatively normal things that no one seemed to care when our middle-of-block neighbors did. Like blasting music during the day and having a BBQ with friends over, or hanging out at a picnic table on a summer evening drinking beers, or whatever. It seemed like because the neighbors could see us hanging out there all the time, they got way more irritated by it or... something? I once got the cops called to "investigate" me sitting outside my second floor window on the porch overhang hanging out, on the back side of the house!... because there was no backyard, and that back side still faced the street. You will ALWAYS have one irritating busybody neighbor, and having no privacy from them is a no-go.

This one might seem obvious but it also seems like something most people don't think of or would think of as a positive at first... Not a block or two behind or otherwise off the residential-but-main street(like a two lane road instead of one lane) of the local neighborhood pub or tavern. I can't even tell you how many fuckwits i had to deal with because of this. Grown ass adults wasted at 3pm on sportsball game day stumbling in my("who the hell left it unlocked!?!") front door, messing up my yard, peeing at night, etc. I didn't even realize how tired of i was until i moved.

I've also had a place with an enormous yard(by city, not country standards. but still, like 3-4 houses could have fit on this thing all having decent yards) that was basically all lawn and i wasn't allowed to change it... and it was a NIGHTMARE to maintain. Like you could kill an entire day every few weeks just mowing and edging everything, cleaning of the flower beds around the house, etc. A small nice yard is something you can chip into occasionally. But a huge lawn? Nah, never again. I'd only do it if it was mostly planter beds or something.
posted by emptythought at 3:34 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

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