By Mark Taylor: Ottawa City Councillor (Bay Ward)
Buying a home is a big deal. For many people it is one of the biggest decisions they will make in life - where to live. This is especially true if you plan to marry and/or have children.
There are lots of realtor sites and agents that can give you advice on neighbourhoods and housing trends, advice on buying one time or considering flipping up and then back down as life changes. They will tell you about getting your new prospective home inspected as well.
So now its my turn…
As a City Councillor I hear from residents every day who have real concerns and real issues about their neighbourhood. I like municipal politics - it really is where the rubber meets the road and is all of the government that many people care about (whether they know it or not). After two years of listening to folks who have issues with their community I realized at least for the newly settled residents, a lot of their concerns could have been addressed in advance if only someone had told them. So here are some thoughts, share them far and wide with anyone you know (in any city really) who plans on putting down roots in 2013…
- Who are your neighbours? Before you look too deeply at the property you want to buy, look at the community around it. Is there an age or demographic difference and is that an issue for you - and would your answer change if you had kids? Do you hear or see lots of dogs in the area parks or being walked by?
- Is there a local Community Association? If so, do they have a website you can look at? Take a look at what their issues are with the neighbourhood. Do they just advocate or do they participate with street or park parties etc.
- Is your new street a transit route (does it have bus stops on it), is it a school bus route (do you see kids being picked up or dropped off at end or beginning of the day), is it a designated truck route (do you see signs directing truck behaviour)? These things are not good or bad - it depends on if trucks bother you, you have kids that will attend school, or if you plan to be a frequent transit user.
- Based on the last point: How ‘removed’ is your street from activity? It might be nice to have a truck and bus free, quiet street, but keep in mind that places it way down the list for City operations like snow clearing or road resurfacing. Again - not a good or bad thing, just something worth knowing.
- One more thing about your street - look at it - is it exceptionally wide? Does it have sidewalks, parking restrictions, what is the speed limit? Find out your road’s designation. If it is a ‘collector’ or ‘arterial’ then you can count on increasing trafic volumes over the years as well as intensification from new or rebuilt development. I always think it’s unfortunate when folks move into a new home, only to call our office a month later to say that the road is ‘too busy’ or their frequent guests have nowhere to park.
- What are the local parks & paths like? Do you bike, walk, run or enjoy using parks (perhaps with your kids?) Take an inventory of local amenities like these, once you settle in they will be big determinantes of your quality of life in the neighbourhood.
- On the parks issue - look for signs that indicate what the ‘Dog’ status is (no dogs, Dogs on leash, Dogs off leash). Dogs can be fun but they can also be messy and energetic. Most dog owners are responsible but its worth keeping this in mind, particularly if you have small children.
- While you are looking at the park - what features does it have that may interest you. Does it have play structures? What about a water feature like a splash-pad or pool? How about a community garden where you could grow your own food to eat & share?
- Full circle back to the home now, think of it in all 4 seasons. Think about snowblowing or shoveling in winter, where will you put the snow? Do you have hydro boxes or hydrants to keep clear? Do you have storm sewers or drainage ditches? Will your kids build snow forts? Do you love Halloween and will you decorate for local children? Do you host large summer BBQ parties? Where will your guests park and gather? Try to picture the house throughout the year and how you will deal with the changing seasons and holidays.
These are just a few thoughts you should consider when finding your new home. Remember, its not just a property you are buying, you are also buying into a local community. Each one is different and attracts different kinds of people who all value different things - make sure the wider neighbourhood is what you want in addition to that dream home.
Two last quick points:
1. Once you think you have done all of the above, call your local Councillor’s office. You can find an addressed based tool on the sidebar here that can help you find out who would represent you. Ask their office for local issues or feedback on the community you are considering, often they are aware of upcoming changes or plans.
2. Once you have purchased your home and are moving in - make it your first order of business to figure out how to get you and your family out safely in an emergency. While we all hope for many happy years in our home, accidents can happen and they always happen without warning. You can click here to make sure you are fire safe with some guidance from the Ottawa Fire Service and also click here to visit the City of Ottawa’s Emergency Preparedness page.
Once you have done all of this and are safely moved in - my best advice to you is knock on your neighbours doors to introduce yourself and say hello. They will be glad to meet their new neighbours and you’ll settle in faster once you start to get to know folks around your new home.
Happy house hunting in 2013!