Once you become a parent, picking a place to raise your family becomes a major decision. A house isn’t just a place for you to rest your head — it’s also the center of your family life and can affect everything from your kids’ education to your social life. Before you start mocking up family house plans, take some time to evaluate what your family needs most in a home.
“When I was searching for our first home, sidewalks, a big backyard and big bedrooms for desks were my main concern,” says Francesca Messercola, a realtor at Betters Homes and Gardens Rand Realty who has been helping families find new homes for nearly a decade. “Today, with the increase of dual income families and children’s demanding schedules, those items aren’t as needed because they spend less time in the home.”
Think about your own family dynamic. Do you bustle around to organizations and activities or do you like to hole up at home? The things that make your family unique play a big part in choosing the perfect home.
Here are seven factors to consider in your family house plans when purchasing a new home with kids.
And for great advice to help you with the moving process, go to Care.com/moving.
- Master Bedroom Placement
Many people overlook the placement of the master bedroom in their home search. Depending on the age of your children, you may feel uncomfortable sleeping downstairs with your children on the second floor (or vice versa). Think about what worked in your last home and try to recreate those qualities in your new home, says Dr. Kristin A. Perret, a child and adolescent psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
- Outdoor Space
The most requested home amenity is a yard/outdoor space, according to a 2015 Zillow.com survey of real estate agents.
When making your family house plans, you should also consider a great outdoor space for your child — but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a backyard. According to Messercola, “Whether it’s a basketball court, grass area, park or lake nearby, look for something that draws kids out from the technology age we are currently living in.” Not only do these outdoor areas offer free fun for your kids, they also can act as a hot-spot for meeting new friends in the area.
- A Playroom
As far as the house itself, Messercola recommends having an additional space for the children to hang out. This could be a den, basement or playroom. “Look for a space that is theirs — preferably one that with a door can be closed to hide the mess or sounds,” she says. An extra room for the kids also provides a bonus for you: more storage space for your kids’ growing collection of toys.
Remember that “Every family is different, and your needs will change as the kids get older,” says Amy Bohutinsky, chief marketing officer of Zillow. “Bonus rooms are great because they can start as a playroom for little kids, turn into a rec room for teenagers, and then become a guest room or office after the kids leave the nest.
- A Mudroom
Messercola also recommends a mudroom area — somewhere you can drop athletic equipment, school bags and extracurricular belongings. This small area (which can even be a small foyer) can save the rest of your house from clutter and mess, and finding one with built-in shelving can save you from having to hunt down a new cabinet for the space.
- A Family Neighborhood
Choosing a family-friendly neighborhood can do wonders for your child’s social life and your own. Your real estate agent can fill you in on all the best features of a neighborhood — from playgrounds to organizations such as sports, dance and theater — but it can be hard to get an accurate idea of what it’s like to live there. To get the real-life scoop, talk to parents in the BigTent communities that already live in the neighborhoods you’re looking into.
- A Great School District
Finding a home with a strong education system is essential when you have kids. Check out informative sites like GreatSchools, which can help you research schools based on class size, student-teacher ratio, test scores and more. Also consider the distance to the nearest schools in relation to your work place. Having a convenient drive every morning can make the difference between a good location and great one.
- Your Child’s Input
It’s important to get some input from the family as a whole. Have each family member make a list of wants — you’ll be surprised to see what’s important to everyone. “Constructing a ‘dream wish list’ for the new house can open your child’s mind to the possibility of new and different aspects of a home being a positive experience,” says Perret. Try to incorporate everyone’s top desires into your search criteria (within reason, of course).
Want more tips? Check out these 6 Tips for House Hunting With Kids.
Rebecca Desfosse is a freelance writer specializing in parenting and family topics.