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Hunting for a house part 2: what you need to pay attention to when searching for a house

This is part of a series: my search for a house

I find writing about my hunt helps me focus what I want and hopefully it will help me make a good decision at the right time. In this blog I list all the requirements and things I look at when searching for a house. If you are looking for a house then I strongly recommend to go trough the bellow list. You might find a lot of things you didn’t think about before that will help you what to pay attention to. Be careful that if you plan to follow the full list it could also make it much more challenging to find a house!

Requirement 1: a garden

My first requirement is that the house needs to get a garden. And how big? If its to small then I will not feel like its a garden at all. If its to big then I will be faced with a large amount of maintenance work. Additionally land is expensive.

Image result for garden small

Right now I am interested in land in the range of 500m2 – 1000m2. Depending of the location I would be okay if the plot was closer to 500 then to 1000. I realize that by putting this requirement I make it impossible for me to find anything in the city, at the same time I do not actually want to be in the city itself. Even if it is nice to have the Christmas market, cinema and shops on walking distance, I am okay to take the car if I need to. But lets not get ahead and talk about the location a bit further down.

Requirement 2: size

The ideal size for me is about 170m2. I know it sounds a bit large, but I figure I can rent out some rooms on Airbnb until I need them, and if I do need them I will be happy I do not need to buy a new house. Buying a house brings a lot of costs with it, so the less you need to do it in your life the better. Maybe its also because I grew up in a bigger country-house that I am more used to space.

I noticed that houses from around 160-170m2 usually have everything I need. A large living room, a kitchen to receive guests, a bathroom with a decent size and three actual bedrooms of at least 12m2 each. Extra’s like laundry room are welcome of course! If I can find all these requirements in a smaller house then this is fine for me to, but I do not think I will find it much smaller then that.

Example plans of a 168m2 house: ground floor
Example plans of a 168m2 house: second floor

Requirement 3: location

Of all requirements determining the location is the hardest. For along time I wanted to be in the city close to everything and friends. It really has something to be able to walk to a Christmas market or a city festival or take the bicycle to visit friends.

Image result for gent christmas market
The Christmas market in Gent (my current city)

My first apartment was actually very close to plenty of my friends. But the thing is they almost all moved away to further locations. Still most of them are only a 20 minutes drive from me, but I can’t walk or bicycle there anymore.

So I should not let the location of friends influence my decision. Now what about family? I doubt any of my family will ever more to the city. My mother and sisters both live far outside the city actually. Although not that far. I don’t see them moving soon.

My mom will probably live there forever, although she did purchase a cabin in the south part of the country where she spends a lot of weekends. My youngest sister is a doctor so in reality cannot really move because of her profession. My older sister expressed often that she wanted to move, although I have no idea where she would want to move. Just somewhere where she has more space.

That being said: probably more then anyone else they would be okay to drive 30 minutes to visit me, so I shouldn’t let them affect my decision to much.

I do feel home in the region I was born and grew up. Out of a strange nostalgic feeling it would feel good to “return home”. The city I am talking about is “Destelbergen / Heusden” and you can see it bellow on google maps. Its just next to a big (more famous) city called “Ghent”.

The main downside is that Destelbergen has no train station. Now I am driving a company car so I don’t really care about that, but I need to face reality that at some point I will lose my company car and then a train station nearby could come in handy.

In that case choosing a location near a big train station would increase my freedom in job opportunities:

These train stations are also closer to the city center then I where I am living now, so that could be an additional advantage.

Lucky Belgium has a good Bus network, so you can take a bus to the train station from almost anywhere. But of course this will make the journey much longer.

But there is one advantage of no train station nearby and that is that you have no noise from trains! And that brings me to my fourth requirement…

Requirement 4: no noise

More then anything I want it to be peaceful. I don’t want to hear cars from the highway or a train storming by when I’m sitting in my garden. I don’t want to hear music when Im in my bed (or worse), or neighbors shouting in the morning. Shouting can be interpreted quite freely here. All of these I had in the past. In Belgium this is not so easy to find. We have the habbit of building a road and then build this road full of houses. We call this lineair settlement. Bellow is a photo of what it means. The large majority of houses in Belgium will be like this. That means that the fourth requirement can limit my options by quite a lot.

Image result for lintbebouwing

Requirement 5: future proof

By future stable I mean that it should be able to withstand any natural disasters coming in the next 100 years. If the current global warming continues then this century water could rise for 3m and next century it could rise for another 5m. So ideally I want something above 5m. That does make it a lot harder to find something since some of the areas around Gent are just 2m above the sea level, but not impossible, there is areas 9m above the water surface.

I use this map as a guideline to check how future proof my house will be. I still believe that mankind will come together and solve this, but when I travel to countries like South Africa, climate change is the last thing on their mind. The only continent that really seems to care about it is Europe, I do not see any country anywhere else caring about Global Warming. The Paris agreements where one small lightpoint in the sky, but it looks like the light is fading.

Image result for overstromingen belgie
I rather not live here

Requirement 6: clean air

I also find it important to live in a location that has clean air. I already spend a lot of time in cities for work, so if I can get out to more fresh air then I should take the opportunity. It falls already together a bit with my requirement 4: noise. If there is a lot of noise from cars the air is probably not so clean.

There has been done a major investigation on the air in Flanders by a newspaper called De Standard, you can find the results here. I actually check this map before I go to see a house

Image result for china air pollution
This location does not look very healthy…

Requirement 7: open or half-open

An open house means the house has no other houses attached to it. Half open means it has one house attached to it. Closed means that there is two houses attached to it.

I would prefer to have an open or half open house. I think it would be the best way to meet requirement 4 to have no noise. An open house is unlikely to be disturbed by neighbors, especially when you are inside the house. Outside the rule of the more garden the less chance you have to have noise can be applied.

Image result for open bebouwing
I could live here..

The main downside is that half open adds 100k extra needed to the budget, and an open house adds another 100k. So a huge bite in the budget, something I might not be willing to do. At least not for my second home. So it is possible I end up with a closed house to be much more safe on the budget side.

Requirement 8: orientation

As I want to grow a vegetable garden I would ideally want my garden to be oriented to the South. If the garden is big enough then maybe it will be less important. If I can’t get it to the South then the West and East would be second best. Last place would be the north, especially in a small garden this would mean that you need to grow a whole different kind of plants.

The bellow photo’s shows the difference. The photos itself are in Dutch, but you can read bellow what orientation its at. The first photo always shows the morning, the second midday and the last the evening.

Image result for tuin orientatie
Garden on the North
Image result for tuin orientatie
Garden on the South
Image result for tuin orientatie
Garden on the East

Eventually West is the opposite of east: no sun in the evening, some during midday and a lot in the evening. As much as I enjoy to have breakfast in the sun in the morning, I spend more time outside in the evening, so in order of preference: South, West, East and eventually North.

Requirement 9: The house structure

If falls a bit together with requirement 2, but it goes beyond that.

Here I look at what the house structure is like. More in a general sense. Most of these things are not dealbreakers as long as the structure can be changed within my budget to what I need. These are things I pay extra attention to when I go to view a house:

  • What is the state of the roof? What tiles are on the roof? Ceramic tiles can last for 50 years or more, so they are my preference. Concrete tiles last only for 30 years.
  • Is there any water leaks? Are the walls and ceilings dry? Is the basement dry? Drying up a basement can easily cost 20.000 EUR. Water leaks to the walls could indicate the roof needs to be replaced, and that can also come with great costs.
  • What about the first floor (and possibly the attic), is the flooring wood or is it concrete? Wood does not carry my preference, only very old houses still have wood. If the first floor has a wood floor its a deal-breaker for me. Concrete makes for a much better structure and if it has wood it can’t really be changed to concrete without tearing down the house.
  • What is the state of electricity, has it been approved?
  • What kind of heating is there? Electric heating is a deal-breaker for me, gas would be my preference, although this could change along with changes in tax policy
  • More importantly plumbing. If the pipes need to be replaced it means the floor needs to be broken open, this will for sure also cause some damage to the walls.
  • What about isolation? Are the walls, floors, and roof isolated? What kind of windows are being used? Isolating windows and walls can be extremely costly. Depending of the roof or floors usually this is not so costly to isolate, although it is quite messy to break open a floor

These are some key points I pay attention to. Most of the above list are not deal-breakers, as long as changing them falls within my budget its not really an issue.

I generally do not look at new houses since they are taxed much higher, and usually have less land to go with them. But most likely they do not suffer any historical problems as mentioned above, so if I could afford it, I would place something new for sure. For now I must admit that this is beyond my reach unless I part with plenty of other requirements.

Requirement 10: budget

If all above was not yet enough, I also want to stay on budget. The idea would be that I can pay it off in 20 years. So I need to include both renovations and purchasing of the house inthere. Very often I go to my excel sheet and start calculating again if I can afford a house I found on the market. I do have a good idea about my budget now. I started low, but now I am more realistic and slowly my budget and the requirements are starting to come together.

Right now I am looking in the range of 300.000-400.000. If its closer to 400.000 that means I would have very little renovation budget. However I noticed that houses closer to 300.000 often do not fit Requirement 1 (=land / garden).

Conclussions

Every requirement I add is lowering the amounts of houses on the market, and increasing the price. As they say when searching for a house… “its always something”, that means you can never be satisfied. So what is it that will make me pull the trigger?? I still hope I will walk into a house and just feel at home. Feeling at home might be the most important requirement of them all. If I feel at home I can live there.

Finding a house was one of my goals for 2019 and will be again in 2020. While I do search and hope to find something in 2020, I do already own a property which luckily takes some pressure off in finding something quickly. At the same time, it risks having such a low pressure that I will not find anything next year either.

Then again if I found it to quickly I would not have much to write about. Subscribe and stay tuned to follow me in my search to find a house!

7 thoughts on “Hunting for a house part 2: what you need to pay attention to when searching for a house

  1. Very interesting to see such a long detailed reasoning how you will select your house. Hope you will find your ideal one soon.

    Some comments though.

    In reading your post, two clear contradictions emerge. Firstly you mention you have a company car, so “you don’t really care” on mobility, on the other hand you want a location with no noise and clean air, annoyances mainly coming from … your car. Do you understand the strange reasoning here?

    Secondly, you want to be future proof. I would consider it a risk not to be within 1km from a train station. Company cars will be gone long before the sea level reaches Gent…

    PS: on this map you can find the chances of flooding for a possible location: https://www.geopunt.be/kaart?viewer_url=https%3A%2F%2Fmaps.geopunt.be%2Fresources%2Fapps%2FGeopunt-kaart_app%2Findex.html%3Fid%3D8ab272956f2adfe3016f5278ebf8003a (more relevant than the link you gave)

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    1. Thanks for your input M. Yes I do understand your point. Legislation is very unsure about company cars, but I do feel they will continue to exist except under a cleaner form. I do drive less then average miles with my car, I mainly use my bicycle and estep, and as good as always for home – work commute. What I meant to say was that I do not want to live near highways or main roads as studies have shown pollution is very high on those parts. Same for noise. Additionally I want to avoid noise coming from trains, but yes ideally I want to live close to a train station, but Ill have to find something that balances out all my requirements.

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  2. Aah, the search for a house, it was my main quest in 2019 as well though my main focus was that I could rent it out at a high enough price. That quickly led me to the expat market in Brussels. In the meantime I bought it and it’s being build as I’m writing with a delivery date of beginning 2021. The benefit of the apartment is that I can easily rent it out and I don’t have to worry about paying off my mortgage. This way I can look for a renovation project that I can again rent out and live in at the same time.
    Anyhow, good luck with your search in 2020 and do keep us posted :)!

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    1. Thanks I think you made an excellent choice with buying that apartment. I followed your blog and what you wrote about your search. I also started with an apartment, for me with the idea I had to have “something”, I don’t think I ever considered to rent it out but now this is exactly what I plan to do when I purchase a house. I can’t wait to read more about your renovation project 😉

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