Tips for the First Time Home Buyer

By Amanda Rose, Sales Associate

If you’re a first time home buyer, the stress of choosing the perfect house for your family can feel overwhelming at first.  While that stress may seem very real, it is often unnecessary. Instead of entering the market trying to find a house that is perfect in every way, keep an open mind. Approach the situation with a willingness to hear ideas and you are much more likely to find a home that you and your family will love. The process can be long and require work, but it will be worth it in the end.  And it doesn’t have to drive you crazy.

Here are some tips to guide you when you are trying to find a new home and how to know if it is the right one for you.

DECIDE ON DEAL BREAKERS

The easiest way to narrow down the right house for you is to start by deciding what you either can’t live without or cannot tolerate. If two bedrooms will never work for you, or you must have a large backyard for your pets, create a list of those things so that you can rule out properties that just aren’t worth your time. 

TRUST YOUR GUT

There may be times when you walk into a home and it seems like it may fit what you need, but there is just something off that you can’t shake. On that same note, if you tour a home and you instantly fall in love, don’t doubt your feelings. Sleeping on a house you love for too long can result in you losing that home to someone else. Trust your instincts and you will end up in the home that is perfect for you.

TRY TO VISUALIZE

Can you see yourself in this home? Can you imagine your children playing in the backyard and doing homework in the kitchen? If you are touring a home and can already picture of what it would be like for your family to live there, you are heading in the right direction.

KEEP LOCATION IN MIND

While a house may check most of your boxes, don’t forget to consider the neighborhood. Are things that are important to your family close by? Are you close enough to good schools or your place of employment? Make sure that you consider location factors so that you don’t end up in a home that becomes an inconvenience.

TRUST YOUR AGENT

While it is important to know what you want and trust your gut in the process, don’t forget that your agent has your best interest in mind. Your agent wants to find you the perfect home and will work hard.   An experienced agent knows the “ins and outs” of the real estate world. Trust your agent.

The experienced buyer agents at Abbott Properties can help you find that perfect home.  Give us a call.

Consider This” is a series that provides tips to buyers and sellers of residential real estate.

Amanda Rose is a buyer agent who specializes in working with first time home buyers. She is a team member of the Sheridan Realty Group at Abbott Properties.

The “Colonial”

  By Karen Catuogno, Broker/Owner, Abbott Properties LLC  

When someone describes a house by saying “It’s a Colonial”, different things will come to mind to different people. That’s because the term “colonial” refers to several different building styles. 

Why is that?

What a colonial looks like depends upon where you live. Let’s look at the term “colonial” first.  The term comes from the word colony, meaning a group of people who settle in a new, usually distant, place but keep ties to their homeland.   It’s the ties to the homeland that defines the specific colonial style.  Keep in mind that people from many different countries settled in America.  English, Dutch, French, Germans and the others all wanted “a little bit of home” in this new world.   They built what they knew.

New England colonists built primarily of wood, in a style similar to the homes found at that time in the southeastern areas of England.   Both the steep rear roofed structure called the Saltbox and the simple rectangular house called the Cape Cod are common examples of a New England Colonial. 

“New England Saltbox”

In what is now New York, New Jersey and Delaware, many of the colonists were from the Low Countries, like Holland and Flanders, and from Germany.   A style known as the “Dutch Colonial” developed there.  The gambrel roof, a symmetrical two sided roof with two slopes on each side, is its most recognizable feature.  You are more likely to see stone or brick construction, not just wood, in an original Dutch Colonial. 

“Wood Dutch Colonial”
“Brick Dutch Colonial”

The southern colonies of Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas favored a style known as the Georgian Colonial.  It also looks back to styles form England, but you will likely see a two story symmetrical brick or wood house with a central passage hall and large chimneys on either end of the house.

“Georgian Colonial”

The Swedes introduced the log cabin to America.  The French in the Louisiana territory built houses with raised basements which supported the living area reached by an exterior staircase that led you to a veranda that stretched the length or around the entire exterior.  Roofs were typically steep, sometimes with dormers.   

“Log Cabin”
“Louisiana French Colonial”

The Spanish colonized a huge area over a long period of time.   Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California as well as parts of Louisiana were once Spanish colonies.   As a result, a Spanish Colonial looks different in Florida than what it looks like in California or Texas.   Floor plans varied, and it could be asymmetrical. Roofs were typically low pitched or flat, frequently with a tile roof.  Half round arches might appear over doors and windows.  Stucco was a commonly used building material.   The variations are many.

“Spanish Colonial in Florida”
“Spanish Colonial California”

Of course, no one style of an original colonial was restricted to any one area. Colonial builders used materials that were readily available to them, so that homeland styles were modified. As people moved, they brought their distinctive styles with them.  And as time passed, these original colonial styles underwent series of changes and saw periods of “revival”.

Stay tuned for more in this series in which each of these styles and many more will be explored in more detail.  The architecture in America is as varied as its people. 

American Architecture” is a series that explores the many styles of homes found throughout the United States.

Karen Catuogno is a commercial and residential broker licensed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She maintains, develops and grow business at the agency as it relates to sales and listings. She also works to recruit agents, in talent development and leads the agency’s marketing program. Karen is a retired attorney.

Historic Districts

  By Karen Catuogno, Broker/Owner, Abbott Properties LLC  

If you’ve driven through an older neighborhood and noticed all of the houses have something in common that makes you go “wow”, chances are you have come across a Historic District.

Historic Districts are groups of buildings or properties recognized as historically or architecturally significant and linked together in some fashion. Think Greenwich Village in New York, the French Quarter in New Orleans or Ocean Road in Narragansett RI. 

Historic districts are tangible links to our past.  The buildings and neighborhoods bring meaning to history and to peoples’ lives.  When you can see and touch something, it is more real.  In the less than 100 years since the idea for historic districts was born, there are now more than 2300 historic districts in the United States.  They are an important part of the American real estate fabric.

Is a historic district home right for you? If you are considering a home in a historic district, be aware of what it means. If you are looking, it’s probably because you want to be a part of that special feeling.  There’s a certain prestige and pride associated with owning a home in a historic district.  You become a part of a large, like-minded group of people interested in keeping history alive.  But there are some constraints.

So what are the pros and cons?

Two of the biggest benefits of historic district home ownership are value and aesthetics, two factors intertwined.  Property values in local historic districts appreciate significantly more than value in the market as a whole and even in terms of other neighborhoods in the same town.  That boundary line makes a big different.

And you will be protected from your neighbors’ bad taste, something you can’t protect against under the building code. Being assured that a sliding glass door and deck will never be installed across the street in that pristine Second Empire neighborhood gives you peace of mind and value stability.

The quality of design is better. The local economy is also positively impacted because of tourism, resulting in a more stable tax base. Plus there are the social and psychological benefits of living in an attractive and walkable neighborhood where the existing resources continue to have a purpose and use.

But what if you need to make a repair or wish to build an addition?  The purpose of a historic district is not to make change impossible.  It’s to make sure that the change is appropriate.  Repairs and changes are permitted, but there’s a process which takes extra time. There will likely be materials and construction requirements which may cost you more out of pocket dollars.

Take that pristine Second Empire neighborhood you live in.  Neighbor’s house is in dire need new siding and your neighbor loves the ease and cost of that “in stock” vinyl siding.  Before a building permit issues, your neighbor must first go to the local governing agency, probably the Historic District Commission, to have the proposed change reviewed. A hearing date will be scheduled.  Residents of the neighborhood like you have the right to appear and voice an opinion.

The Commission will apply standards to determine if the change is appropriate to the aesthetic of the district. If that vinyl siding doesn’t meet the “appropriateness” standard, it won’t be allowed. Neighbor will then have to buy that custom wood replica of the original, plus pay for a specialist to install.   And that addition?  It will be reviewed and allowed if the design and materials “fit” the district.  Think architect costs, not Bob the Builder. 

The cost of that “wow” will likely mean more time to secure permissions and more out of pocket dollars for repairs, additions and other improvements. 

Like any other decision in deciding to buy real estate, do your research up front and make an informed decision.  Rules and laws vary from state to state, and even from town to town, so know the rules and regulations that apply to the specific Historic District that interests you.  

Lastly, consider hiring a realtor with expertise is historic districts who can help your with questions.  The agents at Abbott Properties can provide helpful guidance in navigating those Historic District questions.

If you do buy, enjoy your “wow”! 

Government Rules and Your Property” is a series that explores how federal, state and local laws and regulations affect your property. Karen currently services as a Member of the Historic District Commission in Narragansett RI

Karen Catuogno is a commercial and residential broker licensed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She maintains, develops and grow business at the agency as it relates to sales and listings. She also works to recruit agents, coaches in talent development and leads the agency’s marketing program. Karen is a retired attorney.

Zoning and Use

 By Karen Catuogno, Broker/Owner, Abbott Properties LLC  

            One of the biggest factors that determine what you can do with your property is zoning. 

Zoning is a set of local laws or regulations that dictate how property can and cannot be used in a certain geographic area.   Cities and towns, as well as its residents, are always concerned about the orderly development of its land, which is the reason for zoning.  By dividing up by zones, everyone can be reasonably assured about what is likely to happen with the land near to them.  

            Zoning and “use” are concepts that go hand in hand.  Zoning is the designation.  Use is the things you can actually do in the zone.  All cities and towns maintain zoning maps to tell you the zone designation.  They also maintain lists or tables of “use” that explain what you can and cannot do in a particular zone.

            What is the purpose of zoning?  In very simple terms, it makes sure things that belong together stay together.   Think Mary Smith, who bought that vacant parcel on a lake and built her beautiful dream home.  Can Big Gas Company buy that 20 acre vacant parcel next door to build a supersized 20 pump truck stop for long haul truckers?  Probably not.   Mary will be protected by local zoning ordinances that will limit what can go into this area while Big Gas Company will be allowed to build its complex in an area that’s better suited for that purpose.

            While the types and number of zones can vary from municipality to municipality, they generally fall into similar categories.  Residential zones are where people live, and can be divided up into small sub-zones that separate out single family from multi-family units.  Business zones, where you see restaurants, gas station, stores and offices, are separate zones.  Industrial is also a special category that puts heavy duty uses like manufacturing into their own areas.  Each of these zones can be divided in smaller type zones, depending on the size and location of the municipality.  And municipality with bodies of water, farms and other special features can have special zones, like waterfront and agricultural.

            In many cities and towns, what people actually use the land for can sometimes seem inconsistent with the designated zone.  That family market on the street level with the apartment upstairs doesn’t fit in with the designated business zone. It’s probably allowed to exist because the apartment existed before the area was zoned business.  When that happens, it’s called a “pre-existing, non-conforming use”. 

            Zoning is not usually a big concern for most people buying a house. Look around the neighborhood and you can probably guess the zone.  But it can be.  If you want to buy that big old mansion and divide it into four units, be sure to check that the residential zone allows more than one unit.  When in doubt or if you have questions, check with your local zoning office.

            Zoning is a bigger concern for people looking for property for business use.  The “look around” approach doesn’t work here, because even though an area might “look” right for business, not every type of business is permitted in every type of business zone.

            For example, Main Street Everytown is a beautiful oceanfront town and is lined from end to end with all types of restaurants, specialty stores, and coffee shops.   John thinks it’s a perfect place to open a tattoo business.  Can that happen?  John should not automatically assume yes just because everything on Main Street is a business.  The list of permitted uses in that particular zone may limit what type of businesses can open in this area.  If John’s tattoo business isn’t on the list, he can’t open there. He may have to look in an area off of Main Street.   The same is true with vacant land.  A developer may think that 20 acre parcel is the perfect place to build 15 new houses.  But if the land is in a residential zone that requires 4 acres per house, he’s out of luck. 

            It’s always important to work with an experienced agent when buying residential property.  It’s absolutely critical if you are buying for a business use.  The residential and commercial agents at Abbott Properties are experienced with zoning issues and will get you the right answers.

Government Rules and Your Property” is a series that explores how federal, state and local laws and rules affect your property.

Karen Catuogno is a commercial and residential broker licensed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She maintains, develops and grows business at the agency as it relates to sales and listings. She also works to recruit agents, in talent development and leads the agency’s marketing program. Karen is a retired attorney.

Flood Zones

     By Karen Catuogno, Broker/Owner, Abbott Properties LLC     

It’s important to know if that property you want to buy is located in a flood zone. 

What is a flood zone?  In simple terms, a flood zone is a geographic area where it’s been determined there’s a risk of flooding.  The zone looks at the elevation of the property in relation to the nearby water areas. The risk of flooding can be low to very high.    You might automatically think ocean property because that’s obvious.  But flood zones exist all over the country. They are found next to rivers, lakes and streams when low lying land is close to water. You would be surprised where you will find a flood zone.

There are three basic types of flood zones. 

The “V” zone is the most hazardous type of area.  It includes beachfront properties where the hazard of flooding is increased because of wave velocity.  Waves can grow to enormous heights during a hurricane and high winds will push that water with great force and long distances inland.  The “V” Zone can include that waterfront cottage, but it might also include those houses going several streets back if the area is flat.

The “A” Zone” is the next in line for risk because it is subject to rising waters from a body of water.  That body of water can be near the ocean is right and might be right next to that “V Zone.   But an “A” Zone can also be near a lake, river or stream.   Remember, lakes, rivers and streams are everywhere.  That lazy, gentle creek next to the rural house in the Mid-West can turn into a raging floodwater under the right weather conditions.

That last major zone, the “X” Zone has minimal risk of flooding.  Again, it’s safe for now.  But keep in mind that could change in the future.

Knowing if a property you own or plan to buy is in a flood zone is critical because it affects your ability to borrow using your property as collateral. Think mortgage.  If you plan to buy a property in a “V” or “A” flood zone, you will be required to purchase flood insurance in order to get a mortgage.  Flood insurance is different than your homeowners’ insurance.  Homeowners’ insurance typically excludes flood damage.  Think two insurance policies, not one.

The yearly cost of flood insurance can sometimes be very significant.  Because the bank or mortgage company always wants to make sure you can afford that house, it will look at the cost of that flood premium and the homeowners insurance premium, in addition to the taxes, principal and interest payment. And if you already own that home?  If you decide to refinance or take out a line of credit, flood insurance will be alomost always be required, even if you have never had it in the past.  

There are also the non-financial factors.  Flood insurance will get you cash if you have a loss. But it won’t replace your precious family photos and mementos.  If you have a major loss, it could be months of rebuild before you are able to live in your house again, And that’s after you go through the red tape of filing that flood insurance claim.  Are you ready to live in temporary house for months while you rebuild?  That’s an emotional cost. 

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is responsible for determining whether an area is “in” or “out” of a flood zone.  These determinations are updated from time to time.  After Hurricane Sandy, for example, many of the flood zones on the east coast were updated.  A property once considered “out” of a flood zone, can find itself “in” a flood zone when the flood zone boundaries are updated. Keep that in mind if you buy in an “X” Zone.

If you do make the decision to purchase in a flood zone, there are two ways to buy a flood policy.  You can purchase insurance through the federal government under the National Flood Insurance Program.  That program will get you a maximum of $250,000 coverage for your home’s structure and $100,000 for the contents.  If your house costs more than that to rebuild or repair, that’s an out of pocket cost for you.  Or you can buy flood insurance through a private insurance company.  That will provide you with higher coverage limits.  The cost will depend upon the coverage you buy as well as the zone in which you live.

There’s a lot to think about when buying any house.  Flood zones is one big factor most people don’t think about upfront.  That’s why it’s important to work with an agent that knows how to help you determine if the house is in a flood zone and where to go for information about flood insurance.   

The real estate professions at Abbott Properties are always happy to help with any  questions you have on Flood Zones. Give us a call.

Government Rules and Your Property” is a series that explores how federal, state and local laws and regulations affect your property.

Karen Catuogno is a commercial and residential broker licensed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She maintains, develops and grows business at the agency as it relates to sales and listings. She also works to recruit agents, in talent development and leads the agency’s marketing program. Karen is a retired attorney.