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San Carlos Real Estate April 1, 2009

First-Time Buyers: Top 5 features to look for when you tour a home…

by Chuck Gillooley

viewing a home

Touring open houses can be a bewildering experience.   As soon as you step through the door of a home that you haven’t seen before, your senses are immediately bombarded with new information that you have to digest.   There’s the paint color, furniture, floors, landscaping, and on and on…  Multiply that times the number of homes you view on a given day, and a single Sunday afternoon can leave your head spinning.

The end result is that you end up losing sight of what key features are important to you in the first place — that home that you’re suddenly in love with that’s as “cute as a button” may not have ANY of the things you thought were important when you first walked in the door.    I wanted to share with you the first 5 things I look for when I’m previewing a house.  I’ll tell you why I picked these at the bottom of this post.  Here goes…

#1: Master Suite.

This is a biggie, and probably the first thing I look for when I enter a home for the first time.    A “master suite” is just a fancy name for a master bedroom that has a private bathroom.   Many older homes in San Carlos were built with shared hallway bathrooms.  Now there’s nothing wrong with hallway bathrooms, and I have seen many of them have been exquisitely remodeled — and if it’s just two of you starting out in your first home, it’s probably not a big deal.  But once your family starts to grow, or you have guests over for an extended stay, the privacy you lose by not having a private bathroom becomes painfully obvious.

#2:  Lot Size and Situation.

Generally, I think that the larger the lot size, the better.  Why?  Because if you decide to remodel your home down the road, the lot size will dictate how much you’ll be able to do — I wrote a post entitled “Does Lot Size Matter?” that discusses this in more detail.  But size isn’t the only concern — you should also be looking at how the home is situated on the lot.  Is there an ample back yard?  Is the home right on the street?  Is there any usable yard at all?   The bottom line is that the size and characteristics of your lot are vital — you can always change the structure, but you can’t create more land….er, unless you’re Larry Page of Google and you simply buy out your neighbors.

#3:  The Street.

Take a minute to stand in the front yard and observe your street.   Many streets in the older part of White Oaks are narrow, and street parking can be tough.  Is the home on a busy street, or a quiet one?    Is it close proximity to a busy street that generates noise and traffic?   If you’re far along in the process of buying a particular home, I highly recommend that you drop by and observe the street and neighborhood at during the morning and evening commute hours to see how bad traffic may get.

#4:  Garage.

This is less important to some buyers than to others.  But it’s important to know that many older homes in San Carlos have a single-car garage, and many buyers want a two car garage.  OK, on the subject of one-car garages;  these homes were built in the 40’s and 50’s, right?  Then how in the world did they fit bad boys like these…

1936 Cadillac. Photo Credit: Specialty Sales

…into a one-car garage?????   But I digress.  Just remember to check the garage.

#5  Forced-air furnace.

Another relic of the 40’s and 50’s is the radiant floor heater.   As the name suggests, these heaters operate without fans — heat just radiates from a gas heater in the crawl space.   These tend work fine for small homes, but the further your room is away from that heater, the colder it gets during the winter.    Look for the tell-tale heater outlets in each room (either on the floor or in the ceiling.)   If you can’t find one of these…

Photo Credit: Daily Home Renovation Tips

…then chances are good it doesn’t have a forced air furnace.  Your next step is to check the disclosure packet.

Why These 5?

Are these the only things you should consider?  Absolutely not.  There are MANY other things to take into consideration, and your list may be very different from mine.   But I picked these 5 features for two reasons:

  1. I get asked about these more often than any other.
  2. They’re probably the most costly things to change later down the road, if you can even change them at all.  Other things like appliances, cabinets,  floors, and even some walls can be changed relatively easily — it’s time and money.

These are the things I tend to zero in on (among many others.)  Whatever makes you tick, make sure you stick to it and don’t get distracted by the sensory overload you get when you first walk into a home.


For First-Time Home Buyers” is a new category on the site that’s a resource for first-time home buyers in San Carlos, and for those who have general real estate questions.



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