A home is an ever-changing place, but there are some things that new homeowners can't change - or can't afford to change - when they become parents.
Whether they're planning to have children soon or years from now, there are some things homebuyers should look for in a home and its location if parenthood is in their future that go beyond the basic advice of being near a good school. Here are six things parents may want to consider before buying a home:
1 - Other kids to play with
Are there many children living in the area? Or couples who could have children? Or are many homes owned by retirees?
"It's wonderful to have a community where impromptu play can be a daily occurrence," says Cara Day, a behavioral and educational therapist in San Diego and CEO of Daychild.org
Also find out how safe the streets are in terms of traffic. A quiet road, cul-de-sac or sidewalk are preferable to busy thoroughfare streets without sidewalks, says Amy Jurek, a real estate at RE/MAX Advantage Plus in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. "Imagine your children riding their bikes," Jurek says.
Having a lot of children in the neighborhood, or at least couples who may have children, is a positive, Day says. "If there is a street with 20 houses and 10 of them have children, you're well on your way to having fun block parties, street obstacle courses, and multi-age games of kick ball," she says.
2 - Bedroom layout
Is the master bedroom far from the children's bedrooms?
"If the children's bedrooms are very far from the master bedroom, you may not sleep as well if you are prone to worry about them needing you in the night, whether for a nightmare or physical need," Day says.
"Consider the proximity that provides both the security and privacy you want to have in your home between the parents' and children's rooms," she says. "This will depend on the ages of your children as well as any health or emotional considerations they may have."
Children will need bigger rooms as they age so they can accommodate their growing interests, but don't let large bedrooms be a deciding factor. A small bedroom may encourage a child to leave their room, says Anita Wagoner-Brown, director of sales and marketing at Home Creations.
"Most of a child's time is not spent in their bedroom, except for sleep, and their time is better spent outside or with their family being together in large living spaces," she says.
3 - Crime
Go to your local police department or search online for crime statistics for the neighborhood you're considering buying in. Are car thefts, burglary, domestic violence or gang activity high? Getting a crime report for the entire county can help compare areas you're looking in, Day says.
In California, for example, a database called Megan's Law lists registered sex offenders by their home address. After entering the address of the home you're thinking of buying, you can see how many sex offenders live in the neighborhood.
4 - Large living areas
A large family area near the kitchen, where small children can be watched while they play, can help pull people out of their bedrooms so they can interact as a family.
"When buying a home with a growing family in mind, consider buying a large enough home to comfortably handle as many children as may be planned," says Bill King, senior vice president of valuation solutions for Platinum Data Solutions, and an independent real estate consultant. "Consider individual and family activities also. Some parents may find that homework is more effectively tackled outside the bedroom, so a dedicated den or study area can make a big difference to the success of the student."
King also suggests make sure the home can accommodate increasing space demands. "Spend time in each house you are considering," he says. "Sit down in the kitchen or family room and imagine the children you might not yet have running to and fro. Think about how the floorplan might impact day-to-day activities."
A 10-year growth plan where parents imagine their children at various stages of life is important, says Jurek, the real estate agent in Minnesota. Young parents often live in the moment, she says, but time flies and little ones are quickly moving from highchairs and gated staircases to sleepovers and theater rooms.
"Look for spaces that will host the soccer team, offer smart study spaces and still have room for mom and dad to have their peace of mind," she says.
5 - Commuting to work
Having a short commute to work can be beneficial in many ways, and it can be especially beneficial to parents, says Linda Carnevali, regional sales manager at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Pittsburgh, PA.
"Knowing that at times you may need to rush home for a sick child, take your lunch break at home or to drop one off with the babysitter or daycare, or to a practice or school in the future, having a quick commute to work would make every new parent's life easier," Carnevali says.
6 - Affordability
Spending too much on a house you can't really afford, or having a mortgage requiring both parents to work long hours, may not make sense for new parents.
Michael Lecours, who runs a financial and investment advisory services firm in West Hartford, CT., bought a house with his wife two years ago that was in a great neighborhood and school system, but the house was run down and needed a lot of care.
"We were able to look past the warts and could see this as our forever home," Lecours says. "It gave us some room to grow into."
Most importantly, he says, is that they got an incredible deal on the house, allowing them to have low mortgage payments.
"That's something a lot of my clients and friends forget about," he says. "They get a great house but it comes at a huge price and then when they have kids, both parents have to work to pay the mortgage."