My husband and I are looking to move to a new area of the country, and although we don't have kids now, we're planning on at least 3 kids, probably 4. We're hoping to take advantage of the housing/economic crunch and buy the house we're going to live in for the next 20-odd years, rather than getting a teeny starter home. Any advice on "must have" or "wish I had" features when it comes to a big family?
Ah! Yes! I HATE to move, and so when Paul and I bought our first home, we were looking for a home that we could live in until we, um. Died. Or whatevs.
And what we did was, we bought a house with POTENTIAL. It's a 3-bedroom 1-bathroom raised ranch (also called a split-level), so it was listed and marketed as a starter home. But my dad, who is Very Handy (the kind of Handy that can, like, build a garage) took a look at it and what he saw was the unfinished basement. In a raised ranch (or split-level, have it your way), the basement is only partly under the ground. The basement can still have regular-sized windows, like a regular floor of the house. That meant that what we were buying was an 1100-square-foot house with the potential to be a 2200-square-foot house.
Furthermore, it has a good empty back yard, so theoretically we could build OUT if we wanted to, though I don't think we will. I guess we could put on an upper level if we really wanted to---though again, I don't think we will. We could add a garage out to the side, because there's space there too, and that's something we probably WILL do some day, so we can go from the car to the house without slipping on ice and breaking our elderly hips.
The house also had a porch built on a house foundation instead of an a porch foundation, which is something I never would have noticed but the inspector went nuts over (the happy kind of nuts, saying, essentially, "OMG SQUEE! You could totally convert this into house-space!"). This meant that when we thought, "You know what would be awesome? A dining room!" we could enclose the porch.
Of course, if your dad isn't Very Handy, this plan might not work for you. It's worked for us because my dad contributes his labor free of charge, and so when he makes a change to our house we only have to pay for the supplies. If we had to pay for the labor, we wouldn't have a dining room OR a semi-finished (2 bedrooms, a linen closet, and a family room) basement.
In that case, we still would have ended up here, because this was the most house we could afford. But if we'd had more wiggle room, I think I would have looked for two bathrooms. It is a major pain to have to wait in line or to have someone dancing outside the door waiting for you, and that's with three of us not potty-trained yet.
I'd also be looking for something that wasn't Too Big. That seems like an odd thing to do, but it's not going to be ALL that long before the kids are gone and Paul and I are here by ourselves again. It'll be nice at that point to just close off the basement except for when we have guests, and go back to our "starter home"-sized house.
So! Those are the two things---no, three things---I think are good to look for in a house for a larger family:
1. Potential (room to expand)
2. Not Too Big (can still live here after the kids leave)
3. Two bathrooms
Oh, wait! I have one more thing! Look for a good driveway! Or room to make the driveway bigger! When the kids are older and there are more cars/drivers, it's nice not to have to park on the lawn, or have to have everyone move his or her car every time someone wants to go somewhere.
4. Good driveway, or good driveway potential
Oh, wait! Another thing! The YARD! Oh, heavens, the yard. It's so nice if it has a yard big enough to KICK EVERYONE INTO. The house can get so loud and so nuts, and it is wonderful to be able to just go *BOOT* and send everyone to a relatively safe, enclosed back yard.