Kishor Pate, CMD, Amit Enterprises Housing
Buying a home, though a momentous step for most people, is usually not a final thing in and by itself. Most home owners will upgrade their homes at some point, which makes their first homes 'starter homes'. The seemingly diminutive term aside, it is a fact that we tend to buy our first homes with the maximum resources which are available to us at that point in time. Starter homes may yield to a bigger, better deal in the future, but right now it is all that one can afford. As such, starter homes are as significant to their owners as anything that will follow.
Buying a starter home is also significant in another sense - it is the point where most people step into 'adulthood', in the sense that they are finally transitioning from living on rent to a self-owned property. It marks the end of one's association with landlords and the beginning of autonomy.
The autonomy that a starter home affords is first and foremost financial in nature. Rather than spending a significant amount of money every month without the hope of seeing any returns on investment, one is now investing a certain sum of money every month into a self-owned, appreciating asset. However, the autonomy extends beyond the financial aspect, as well. Regardless of how small and humble one's starter home is, one finally enjoys the full gamut of freedoms vested in home ownership.
Most changes and modifications to the flat can be carried out with complete confidence, with no permission from the landlord required (of course, some structural changes will still require the approval of the housing society). Unlike in the case of a tenant, a property owner has an active say in all matters that come up for discussion at housing society meetings. His or her vote is required and sought to pass new rules, regulations or initiatives undertaken within the project.
That said, starter homes are often just that. They are purchased to serve as transitional homes and will in most cases not be the 'final' home one lives in. Until the time for upgrading comes, however, it will serve as a place to set down one's roots, start a family and work on one's career. Because it is bought at a time before the buyer reached his or her peak financial capacity, it needs to come at an affordable price and also involve affordable maintenance costs.
Luxurious amenities are not expected in such a home, but most buyers will still look for a decent size of living space and a balcony. Reliable water and electricity supply are of course indispensable and should not be compromised upon regardless of one's purchasing power.
Location is a critical consideration for starter homes as much as for the more expensive upgrades which are to follow. While a small family can live in adequate comfort in a 1 or 2 BHK flat, a remote location which does not allow for a relatively easy commute to and from work is not acceptable. The area must be well-connected by public transport, as many people will only buy their first car for regular use at a later stage. The area must also offer an adequate selection of retail outlets to meet daily shopping needs and access to a good school and hospital.
Location is in fact very critical when buying a starter home, because many first-home buyers find that their lifestyle quotient takes a backward step when they stop living on rent and buy their starter home. After all, one of the advantages of living on rent is that one can live in central locations which offer a lot of conveniences. When it comes to actually buying a small home of one's own, one may find that the only locations that are affordable are the under-developed or emerging ones.
To avoid such a trap, it is all more necessary to launch a detailed and patient search when looking for one's first home. The first options that crop up while doing an online search for properties within a certain budget often tend to be in emerging locations, but that does not mean that no better options are available. This is the best time to contact real estate brokers who have good databases to access. Some of the cheaper options in a project may not be advertised online, but other often exist.
Also, not all emerging locations are created equal. Some offer much better geographical advantages than others and reputed developers will often launch township-style projects in which most needs of residents are easily met. Obviously, properties in such locations and projects will appreciate must faster than others, meaning that one is buying into a much more advantageous base for a future upgrade to a larger home.