House score: Victorian 95, Colonial 73
How to sort out house hunting? Let's try putting some quantitative on the subjective.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - What's better: A 4-bedroom, 2-and-a-half bath colonial in a so-so neighborhood or a 3-bedroom, 1-and-a-half bath Georgian in a trendy neighborhood? What about a perfectly maintained Victorian with major driveway and commuting issues versus a neglected ranch within walking distance of a good school and a train station?
My wife and various real estate inclined people have no problem balancing these equations in their head. Me? After a few weeks of house-hunting, all the candidates have melded into one big psychic conglomeration of architectural style and varying levels of upkeep. I know what I like and don't like ... I just can't remember it so well after about four house tours.
And that gets to be a problem when the spousal cross-examination begins about the relative merits of the hardwood floors in House #2 versus the condition of the driveway of House #4.
So I've devised this score sheet, based on a score of 0-100. This gives us a basis for putting some quantitative on the subjective. And in a pinch, you just need to check one number.
Neighborhood. 25 points. I'm giving this hefty pointage. You could be living in the Taj Mahal ... if derelicts are routinely wandering past it on their way to the corner liquor store, you won't be feeling that kingly.The total score is based on safety, environment, house to house distance, street traffic, commuting ability and local attractions ... like churches and restaurants (not liquor stores).
Bedrooms/rooms. 10 points. I'm surprised at what people advertise as a "bedroom." Anyway, the number and usability of rooms should be workable. (I score higher if there's a possibility one room could turn into my very own office).
Kitchen. 10 points. A lot of family time gets spent in the kitchen. And counterspace, at least in my mind, is often undervalued.
Bathrooms. 10 points. Most agree the number of toilets in the house is important. But at least five of my points count toward size. I like space. I don't want a bathroom where I have to decide what I'm doing before I enter.
Curb appeal/yard. 10 points. Look, I know it's vain. But what would you rather hear? "Hey, nice place" or "Gosh, what a dump." Thought so. And kids and adults alike should have a place to run their toes through the grass.
Driveway. 5 points. We saw this one place that we liked ... well, I did at least ... but our van wouldn't get past the driveway entrance without bottoming out. Maybe folks in more country areas don't have to worry about this so much, but in the more urban New Jersey areas, well, this is worth at least five points.
Bones. 15 points. This is what I call the house infrastructure. Sure, I'm a bit of a Harry Homeowner handyman, but if the stuff isn't there to work with -- solid flooring, good wiring, intact plumbing -- the house is going to cost more, eventually.
Ceilings/Stairs. 8 points. Huh, you say? Look, I'm a fairly tall guy. I see no reason why I should feel claustrophobic in my own house. And if I hit my head coming down the stairs, it's an automatic veto. (Okay, if everything else in the house scores perfectly, I might reconsider this).
Neat stuff. 7 points. C'mon, you don't just want to buy a house ... you want something cool to live with ... a vast family room, a pool, a greenhouse, a hot tub, an indoor volleyball court, an Elvis Presley mural.
Now a lot of people will argue with this list (as my wife commented ... "Your list and my list are not the same"). That's okay. Such a list and the scoring will have to vary with personal tastes and geography. And some people will point out it doesn't include things like schools and taxes. Those I'm sort of taking as settled. My wife and I, for instance, are already looking at certain towns based on school and tax ratings.
The big thing absent, of course, is price. I'm still working on a formula for that one. Maybe my House Score (as a percentage) times the asking price plus or minus some spousal premium.
Anyway, it's a start. At least maybe now I'll remember more about why I liked the Victorian with driveway issues.
Allen Wastler is Managing Editor of CNNMoney.com and appears on CNN's "In the Money." He can be emailed at email@example.com.
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