It’s All About Location

Choosing a state is fairly straightforward: Find the one that reflects your political, philosophical and economic principles. For example, if you’re not a fan of labor unions, select a right-to-work state—currently there are 23. If you dislike paying taxes, choose a place that has no state income tax. Such states include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. When possible avoid states with high sales taxes like California and New York and consider Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana, Oregon or Alaska, which do not collect sales taxes. Also, given the trend toward restrictive gun laws, make sure you’re considering a state that reflects your thinking on the Second Amendment. Whatever the case, vote with your feet.

If you have children, look for solid schools. If you’re a believer, seek good houses of worship. You need to find work in your chosen place, so make certain that you have options (more than one source of prospective employment). Is there violence in the bad parts of town? What kind, and how much? How long has it been going on? A chamber-of-commerce representative will tell you about a community’s benefits, but a fair-minded reporter for a local news source is more likely to provide both sides of the story. Look for diversity in demographics—a place with mansions, working-class homes, apartments and mobile homes is less likely to restrict you than a master-planned, cookie-cutter community. Do your research—where the locals eat breakfast can be a font of information—or live with regrets after unpacking.

Consider whether your children will have playmates close by. How far is your prospective house from a park or wild area? Is it near a waterway that has flooded? Is it in a flood plane? Visit city-data.com to discover more about your neighborhood. You probably don’t want to be the only conservative or liberal in your neighborhood, so ask questions.

Will you be the only person with a graduate degree in English literature on a blue-collar block? Will you be the only working stiff in a retirement neighborhood? Drive the neighborhood and count the number of houses with security bars on the windows or doors. If you see more bars on homes than not, you may want to look elsewhere. Insurance agents and adjusters are a great source of information about a neighborhood’s benefits and drawbacks. Ask questions of law enforcement personnel in the neighborhood. Visit neighborhoodscout.com for crime rates. Most realtors will tell you what they think you want to hear. They earn a commission for each transaction, not for telling the truth. If someone says a neighborhood is in “transition,” make sure to ask for specifics.

You know what you can afford, so consider whether a house, townhouse, or condo will best protect your family. Having lived in all types of housing, my recommendation is to buy as much freedom as possible. For example, a house in a covenant-controlled neighborhood restricts your options more than a neighborhood without covenants. Likewise a homeowner’s association can become an ongoing annoyance. One controlling board member can prevent you from having a doghouse, sandbox, swing set or brightly colored doormat.

Size Up The Build

Depending on the scenario you foresee, choose a type of construction that addresses most of your concerns. Bear in mind that no type of structure is ideal. Before highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of each kind of construction, I’d like you to understand that decades of experience have shown that basements boast numerous advantages: They are cool in the summer and quiet and, being concrete, can bear the mass of a concrete-block safe room, which often weighs tons. And while they’re not in fashion, small windows (as opposed to having a virtual greenhouse) are easier to replace after a windstorm or other event and release less heat, saving the owner money.

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