Evidence-based house hunting

Since my daughter was born this spring, our family has felt a bit crowded in our three-bedroom ranch home.  So we decided to put our house on the market this spring and look for a new place that will provide more space.

Like most things in life, we’ve found house hunting is a fairly subjective activity.  There is a range of features we’re looking for: a nice yard for the kids to play in, a modern kitchen, storage space, a two-car garage, and a friendly neighborhood.  Of course, we haven’t found one house with everything we want, so we’re weighing the pros and cons to make the best choice for us.

But there are some elements of house hunting where the evidence comes into play. It’s these items you don’t necessarily think about when you walk into a house for the first time, but seem to be those important basics that can cost a lot of money, or can make living in a new home a miserable experience. 

To find out what I needed to know, I turned to Cornell Cooperative Extension.  They have a whole topic area dedicated to home, including some useful information about buying a home.  Their research-based fact sheets on mold, lead, and radon have helped us to keep an eye out for potentially hazardous conditions.  Thanks to the information they provided, here are a few specific actions we’re taking in our house hunt:

  • If we find a house that was built before 1978, we plan to test for lead-based paint.
  • No matter what house we find, we will have a radon test to make sure that it doesn’t have high levels of this dangerous gas, especially since Tompkins County is considered a high radon-risk zone.
  • Moisture in closets and basements will be a sign for us to check for mold in potential new homes.

In addition to these safety aspects, the Internet now provides financial histories of houses with only a few mouse clicks. Most county assessor’s offices offer background such as previous sale prices, tax bills and a list of renovations made. While this has always been public information, it’s now much easier to access. In addition, web sites like http://zillow.com and http://trulia.com  compile assessor’s data to provide neighborhood averages and comparisons.  

When making a large purchase like a home, it’s wonderful to have all of this data – literally at your fingertips.


  1. There are some great house hunting tips here. I hadn’t ever thought about getting radon tests done before, but that is a good idea. I have heard that radon can be pretty much anywhere, so it’s good to have your home checked, no matter what.

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