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When you're shopping for a home, it's tempting to focus on fun things like the cool granite in the kitchen or the attractive neutral paint colors. While these cosmetic details can make a home look awesome, they actually may not be the most important things that affect your enjoyment of the property.
In fact, there are six big factors that you may not take into consideration that could have a much bigger effect on both your finances and your ongoing use of the home. Here's what they are.
1. The HOA rules
If you're moving into a neighborhood with a homeowners association (HOA), the HOA may have a lot of specific bylaws that impact your ability to enjoy your property in the way you'd prefer. For example, your HOA could forbid you from parking your boat or RV in your driveway or from putting in an above-ground swimming pool.
You'll want to make sure you know the rules before you agree to buy so you don't move into your new home only to find out that you can't live with the rules the association imposes.
2. The deed restrictions
Deed restrictions, or restrictive covenants, are attached to the deed of a property. They often come along with homeowners associations, but not always. In fact, deed restrictions may exist from decades past when a neighborhood was first developed even if there is no active HOA.
These restrictions aren't as easy to change as HOA bylaws, which could be modified by the HOA board. Typically, deed restrictions actually can't be changed without a judicial ruling. And they're generally attached permanently to a plot of land so all future owners are subject to them. They can limit everything from the number of bedrooms your home can have to the minimum (or maximum) square footage to the height of the home.
You absolutely need to know what these restrictions require of you and what limitations they impose. Otherwise, you may find out that you aren't allowed to rent out your home or that you're restricted in the color palette or type of garage doors you can use -- or face a whole host of other surprises.
3. The zoning laws
Zoning laws are ordinances passed by the government that restrict the use of a property. For example, in residential areas, zoning laws may prevent the construction of a business, a landfill, or a factory.
Zoning is designed to ensure that communities are laid out in an orderly fashion. But if you want to do something that your home isn't zoned for -- such as run a business from the property -- you may find you'd have to apply for a special exemption or that you can't do so at all.
Finding out about these rules is essential if you have a desire to use your property for anything specific beyond simply living in it as the current owners do.
4. The school district
You may think a school district only affects you if you're a parent with a child who hasn't yet graduated high school. But that's not the case. Homes in good school districts tend to hold their value and even appreciate in value much more quickly than those in bad ones. Unless you want to limit your pool of potential future buyers by excluding parents of school-age kids, you need to make sure you're buying your home in a good district.
5. The age of the roof
A new roof is one of the most expensive home improvements. Unfortunately, if you're purchasing an older house with a roof that hasn't recently been replaced, you could find yourself spending tens of thousands of dollars when problems start.
You may decide you don't mind buying a house that will soon need a new roof if you love the property, it's priced right, and you can qualify for an affordable mortgage loan. But make sure you're prepared up front if you're going to have to incur this huge expense soon.
6. The HVAC system
An outdated HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system can also lead to a huge bill for repair or replacement. And it can make your home less energy efficient and more expensive to cool or heat.
Again, an old HVAC system probably isn't a deal breaker -- unlike deed restrictions or HOA rules you can't follow. But it's something you should know about when deciding whether a home you're looking at is worth purchasing.
By focusing on these six big issues, you can make a practical decision about whether a property is a good one for you. And you won't be caught off guard after moving in by finding out that you can't do what you'd like in your own new home.