Whether you are renting or buying, choosing the right place to live is not only difficult, but can also play a big role in your future health and well-being. It is less expensive making a mistake when you rent than when you buy, however.
Obviously there are factors that influence your choices. If you've recently been retrenched, you will not be looking for rental accommodation in Sandton or Llandudno. In fact, you may be very grateful for a spare room in a friend's flat – regardless of whether it is above a fish and chips shop or next to a daycare centre. Cashflow dictates taste.
Or, if you have recently remarried and you and your new wife have four children between the two of you, you will not be checking out bachelor flats in the city centre. Urgency is also a factor – necessity is not only the mother of invention, but sometimes also the mother of lower standards. If you have two days to rent a house before you start working in a new city, you are not going to turn a place down because the exact shade of the wallpaper in the toilet doesn't quite do it for you.
But, let's imagine a perfect world for a moment, where you have oodles of time to chance upon the perfect piece of paradise. What are the things you should look out for?
Position, position, position. Yes, the three most important things when choosing a place to live. How far you are from things like shops and post offices and transport and your friends and family all play a big role in whether you will be happy in your new home. If you like silence, don't buy a house next to a pub. Noise pollution, such as from an adjacent car wash or highway or shopping centre can also make your life a misery. You don't need the added stress.
Industrial activity. Check where the nearest industrial area is to your possible new home. It might be a lot closer than you think. If you or any of your family members have an asthma problem, find another place to rent or buy. The proximity of an oil refinery or a tannery could make your or your family's life miserable.
Rising damp. This is bad for your health and is also very expensive to fix. Watch out for paint peeling off the lower parts of walls, or walls that have been repainted recently. Damp can often be felt – put your hand on the wall and if it is extremely cold, chances are it's waterlogged. Steer clear of this one.
Lighting up your life. Is the house light and bright? There is nothing as depressing as a home, which is dark and dank where you have to switch on lights on a bright summer's day. Preferably get a place which has some north-facing windows, as these will provide you with sun in winter and light in summer. Small windows will also make any house or flat depressing and prone to damp. Who needs bronchitis three times in a a winter?
Be size-wise. Get a place that's big enough for all of you. There are few things more grinding than confined living spaces. Conversely, if you're on your own, don't get a place in which you're going to rattle around.
For sale: bottomless pit. Swimming pools and gardens and thatched roofs and Jacuzzis may look wonderful, but unless you're the outdoor type who'll do all the maintenance yourself, these things could add hundreds to your monthly bill. Also check that there are fences around the pool, especially if you have kids.
Off-street parking. If you park your car on the street, it's only a matter of time before it gets stolen or broken into. Buy a house with a garage – it's expensive to build one later. It's also a safety consideration; while you're getting in and out of your car in the street, you are a crime target.
On the road again. Busy roads are not only noisy and irritating, but they are also dangerous to your pets and children. Try and get something that is at least a block away from busy thoroughfares. Generally, houses along busy roads are also more vulnerable to crime as nobody notices when strangers lurk around there.
Right next door. Bad or noisy neighbours can make your life absolute hell. Cast an eye next door or preferably chat to them. Especially before you buy. Few things can increase your stress levels as much as constant problems with the neighbours.
School's out. If you can get a place to stay within easy walking distance of the school, it will cut out a huge amount of fetching and carrying. You might even get a life of your own. Just check that it's safe for the kids to walk to school, and preferably accompany the younger ones. It's good exercise for you as well.
Lifting the roof. Your house must give you a roof over your head. What sort of state is the roof in? If it leaks, there will most likely be evidence of that on ceilings, carpets or floors. Replacing a roof can cost you thousands – money you may very well not have. Before buying a house, check it from the top.
Lights out. The last thing you need the week after you move in is a burst pipe or a complete power failure. If you're buying, insist on getting your own plumber or electrician to check the place out – you could be saving yourself a small fortune. Wiring problems can be downright dangerous, not to speak of the health problems posed by dodgy plumbing.
All cracked up. Structural faults or moving foundations could be lethal and could cost you thousands. It is also possible that the house could be beyond repair and you could lose a lot of money. If a house has cracked walls, your search for a home is not over.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated January 2009)