Marianne Cusato doesn’t believe in love at first sight when buying or renting a home.
Instead, finding the perfect fit involves lots of research, checklists, charts and quizzes, which she provides in her new book, “The Just Right Home: Buying, Renting, Moving — or Just Dreaming — Find Your Perfect Match” (Workman, $12.95). Her paperback also devotes chapters to the pros and cons of renting and owning, why all square footage is not created equal, condo vs. townhouse and even mortgage basics.
We talked to Cusato, a home designer and lecturer on real estate trends and housing, about common buyer mistakes, “live-in value” and why she’s a renter.
Q: How can you determine whether you should rent or own in the current housing market?
A: All the news about real estate being back and low interest rates makes it feel like there’s a frenzy toward buying. But I caution people to step back. The best time to move is when it works for you, not when the rates are low. Home ownership isn’t a get-rich-quick ATM. I have a checklist of the pros and cons of renting vs. owning so you can assess what’s right for you. Where we live touches every piece of our lives. It’s a very emotional decision.
Q: Do you own a home or do you rent?
A: I proudly rent a condo in Miami. I’m not sure where I want to be in a couple years’ time. The mobility allowed by renting works for me. And Miami is a very walkable city.
Q: Why does proximity trump “location, location, location”?
A: Location is a place. Proximity is where that place is in relation to the things we go to during a day — work, school, stores. You have to consider the cost of getting to and from where you want to go and understand the lifestyle you are signing up for. What do you want within a five-minute drive? It’s different for everyone.
Q: What’s the difference between resale value and live-in value?
A: When the market was booming, you bought a house not for your wants but for the next person’s. There’s a whirlpool tub in every home for resale, even though no one uses them. Just buy the house you want to live in, and everything falls into place.
Q: What are the top factors to consider when house-hunting?
A: Function, cost and delight. Always think of them together as anchors, which can help articulate the pieces that matter most to you. And make sure you consider what your life will be like in a few years. Are the kids going off to school, elderly parents moving in, are you retiring? Plan for it.
Q: What are some common buyer mistakes?
A: They don’t fully understand how they actually want to live. Do they really need a big yard, or is it just a preconceived idea of a dream home? People are often focused on the number of square feet and not how it’s used.
Q: What are some points to consider when walking through a house?
A: Do a gut check — does it feel right? Then a reality check — can I actually afford it? Is it furnishable? Where do kids do their homework? Of course, examine proximity. Ask for a year’s worth of utility bills, so there are no surprises.
Q: Is it a good idea to pick a home with a high walk score?
A: Generally, the higher the better. The more things you can walk to make you less auto-dependent. But it’s not as simple as a high walk score. It might be more important to live right by your children’s school, which may have a low walk score.
Q: Why should you examine the type of street a house sits on?
A: You can tell the experience you will have by driving down the street. If you’re staring at garage doors, it tells you that you will have an auto-dependent lifestyle. If the garages are pushed back and homes have a front porch, it tells you that pedestrians are part of this community.
Q: Why has the average American home dropped from 2,277 square feet in 2002 to 2,100 square feet today?
A: Gas was cheap, and money was free, and that drove the building of McMansions, and square footage went up. When the housing bubble burst, sizes started coming down. Today people value things you can touch and feel: a front porch as opposed to an extra gable. Sarah Susanka, author of the “Not So Big House” books, said that when you really assess the space you need, it’s typically one-third less than what you think you need.
Q: What’s your overall rule of thumb for finding the just-right home?
A: Making the right choice comes down to being true to your instincts and honest with your realities involving your family, your finances and the things that matter most to you.