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Friday, January 25, 2008

The impact of pets on house hunting...

Some people will openly admit that they treat their pets like children. Many who feel that way have chosen to delay parenthood or simply not to have children. Others such as baby boomers whose children have grown up and left home, sometimes substitute their pets for the kids who have moved out. But when a pet lover turns into a home buyer, there are several things that they should be looking for, just like parents who research the best school districts when considering neighborhoods in which to shop for a home.

1) Check County & City Code Restrictions
There have been numerous stories about homeowners at odds with local government bodies over ownership of more exotic animals, such as goats, alpaca or pot-bellied pigs, not to mention large snakes or lizards. Most Michigan townships have some rules about farm animals or exotic animals and Villages and Cities may be even more restrictive about the number and types of pets allowed within city limits. Michigan Townships tend to focus upon providing the proper space and accommodations for animals like horses, cows and sheep or goats and some define the number of animals per acre of land owned in their formulas. I get inquiries about horse facilities most often in this area.

2) Read Home Owner Association Documents
Not every HOA allows pets. If the homeowner association permits pets, most likely the association bylaws will address restrictions on numbers, types, sizes, heights, noise factors and whether pets are allowed to freely roam the premises. Many HOAs strictly enforce their bylaws. Don't fall into the trap of thinking the bylaws are silly restrictions or that the HOA won't enforce its own rules. Many homeowner association covenants carry severe penalties for those who violate their HOA regulations. You could be forced to get rid of your beloved pet or move.

3) Consider the Home's Features
If you have dogs or cats think about the impact of them on the homes flooring, especially if it’s carpeted throughout. Even the most beloved pets can make mistakes and end up costing you thousands to replace ruined carpeting. And if you feel like you have to put in those cute little cat doors on several of your interior doors, plan on replacing them when you leave. Perhaps an outdoor faucet is important for bathing your dog? If so, check to make sure the home has exterior faucets.

4) Examine the Home's Layout
Aging pets might have trouble climbing stairs, so for some home buyers with senior pets, a single-story home is ideal. Cats like windows, and those with window ledges or low to the ground are preferred by felines. Is there a playroom for your pets? Is there plenty of closet space for storing pet supplies? Your cat will appreciate a private place for a litter box, and you may prefer to keep the cat box out of sight.

5) Consider the Street Traffic
Sometimes, even the most well behaved dogs bolt when the front door is opened. Cats are inquisitive, and a curious cat can find a way to push open a screen door to get outside. In an unfamiliar surrounding, pets can dart into the street. To prevent tragedy, it's better to pass on buying a home that is located on or near a busy thoroughfare. It’s better to be the last house on the cul de sac with no through traffic.

6) Ask About Previous Pets in House
If the seller is selling a home where pets live, check for pet damage, especially under rugs. Look at the backs of doors for scratches or gouges. Ask about pet accidents. Inquire about fleas in the house. Pet odors are almost impossible to eliminate from a home but might not be noticeable to you, so bring along a friend who does not own a pet to act as your official sniffer. Cats, especially, mark territory; and if you own a cat, you don't want the process of improper elimination to repeat itself.

7) Find Out if the Neighborhood is Pet Friendly
Drive around the area to see if you can spot neighbors outside walking their dogs or notice cats sleeping in sunny windows. Look for community-placed receptacles for waste deposits. Consider whether you would prefer an area where dogs are on leashes and the owners carry plastic bags, or a community where dogs run free, chasing cars and bothering other dogs?

8) Locate Pet Services
If you are buying a home in a new area, ask your agent and the neighbors for referrals to pet vendors. For example, where can you find the best:

Pet food store
Veterinary clinic
Doggie day care center
Pet sitter

9) Search for Local Dog Park
A great way to meet your neighbors and make new friends is at the local dog park. Here are few questions to ask about the dog park: Will you be expected to keep your dog on a leash? Are dogs encouraged to play with one another and socialize? Who maintains the park? Does the park provide stations and containers for picking up after your dog? Are you restricted from going to the park during certain hours of the day? Can you hear dogs barking at the park from your new home?

10) Is the Yard Fenced? Are fences allowed?
If the yard does not have a fence, and you want to provide a safe play area for your pets, find out if fences are allowed in the sub/complex and get an estimate on how much it will cost to construct your own fence. If only “electronic fences” are allowed, consider whether or not your dog will respond to training to stay in his “fenced” yard and get an estimate for one of them, too. If the home has an existing fence, make sure it is gated, the gate latches, and the fence is high enough so your dog can't jump over it.

I've had more than one couple discover, while out house hunting, that they have major differences in their feelings about this issue, which they didn't realize existed in their relationship. When the husband or wife drops a line like "We'll just get rid of the dog," watch out, sparks may be about to fly. This is probably something that is best discussed ahead of time and not while sitting in the car with your Realtor. It is purely happenstance that this post follows yesterdays post on divorce and real estate. Had I been overtly thinking about it, I would have reversed the order.

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