A starter home is typically viewed as a short-term stepping stone to help homebuyers get on the property ladder, while a "forever home" needs to satisfy many more requirements to meet the homeowner's changing needs over a longer period of time.
The decision of whether to focus on searching for a starter home versus a longer-term home is usually dictated by the buyer's pocketbook. In addition to finding something that fits their budget, first-time buyers also need to focus on looking for a home with a good layout and a good location that will provide the potential for an easy sale down the road, when they need to use their equity to upgrade to a bigger or more permanent place. The mortgage in a starter home should ideally leave some financial breathing room to allow the owners the opportunity to continue saving toward their forever home.
Size and layout take on more significance when looking for a longer-term home, as housing needs will typically change as the buyer's life evolves. Buying a bigger home you can grow into becomes more of a priority as partners, children, pets or even aging parents enter the equation. The location of the property also needs to be weighed with a view to the future. The home itself can always be modified but the location can't, and that's why it's important to do your research before you set down roots.
Check out the ratio of owner-occupied properties versus rental properties surrounding your potential new home, as this balance can alter the dynamics of the area and affect how vested people are in the community. Also, find out about any planned developments in the area should they impact the future of the neighborhood you envisage living in.
Buyers for both long and short-term housing need to weigh not only the size, location, and pricing of a potential new home, but also overall affordability versus commutability. A home outside the city core may give you more bang for your buck, but that may quickly be erased when taking into account the cost —both in time and money—of the daily commute to work or to see friends and family on a regular basis. If your job is a substantial distance from your home, the excitement of having lots of green space for your kids to play in can quickly be dampened with the realization that the added travel time means you have less time to enjoy the great outdoors.
If you're planning on your next home being the one in which you'll enjoy your twilight years, then the proximity to doctors, drug stores, health facilities, shopping and everyday amenities will become more of a priority. The layout of the home itself also needs to be viewed with the mindset of allowing an aging homeowner to maintain an independent lifestyle.
Preparing a home that allows the owner to age in place begins with minor additions to ensure safety, such as installing handrails on both sides of any steps, adding grab bars in bathrooms and ensuring good lighting, with easily-accessible light switches, is placed throughout the home. A buyer preparing to spend his or her later years in the home will also take special note of stairs, main floor layout (including kitchen and bathroom accessibility) and possible future renovations necessary to accommodate a walker or wheelchair, such as widening doorways and lowering countertop heights.
Be sure to share not only your short-term wishes, but also your long-term lifestyle plans with your real estate representative to help hone in on the perfect home for your needs, both today and into the future.
*Information Provided by Nick Tavernese, RBC Mortgage Specialist*