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Home Buyers’ Biggest Mistakes and Other Traps to Avoid

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By Kathleen Lynn

Q: In the book you say that a smaller back yard, if it’s designed well, can be more useful than a larger yard.

A: If you can walk outdoors and feel that your neighbors are not just staring down at you, you’ll go outside. When the space doesn’t work, you’re not going to use it. You can plant trees and help to define the space.

It’s learning to read a house and knowing what you’re looking for. Other things to look for: How the house flows. Is there privacy between rooms? Can you have a private conversation? Does the furniture fit?

Q: What should people look for on the street?

A: One of the big things is: Does the streetscape form an outdoor room? Elements like pushing the garage back and the porch forward — that actually helps the space because it puts the person as a primary element and the car is secondary. When the car is primary it’s hard to get out and walk, and that’s led to a lot of isolated places.

Q: You mention mother-in-law apartments, but zoning laws often prohibit them. Do you find that zoning sometimes stands in the way of changes to housing policy, such as allowing for denser development?

A: Zoning laws are usually quite well intended but they have consequences that go deeper than people would plan on. There’s nothing greater to enrich a community than being able to have a mix of incomes — which doesn’t mean we’re bringing housing projects in. It means you could have an accessory apartment in the back of your house for an aging parent, or a young professional or your college-age kid who’s home for the summer and needs a little more privacy. When you add those demographics into a community, you enrich the community. It can also help the homeowners offset their mortgage costs.

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