House Hunting With Pets

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Finding the perfect house to buy can be tough, and for pet owners, there are sometimes additional hurdles to overcome. Not only do you need a house that meets your needs and fits your budget, but you also want one that will accommodate your pets, perhaps within a pet-friendly neighborhood.

So, what’s a house hunting pet owner to do? We went to the experts for their tips on finding the right new home for you and your four-legged friends.

Step 1: Find a Realtor Who Understands You and Your Pets

Of course, it’s wonderful to work with an agent who won’t roll her eyes when you mention the fact that proximity to a dog park is a top priority for you and your pooch. But Rhona Sutter, president of Pet Protect, which owns The Pet Realty Network and Pet Friendly Rental Properties, says that there’s far more to a true pet-friendly real estate agent.

“Just because an agent has a pet does not make him a pet-friendly real estate agent,” Sutter says. She suggests asking him what he knows about town or city pet ordinances, what rules and regulations there are in certain homeowners or condo associations and whether he knows of any upcoming changes to ordinances or regulations. “Also, when out looking at homes, listen for mentions of local pet amenities instead of just, ‘Great home, great price, must move quickly,'” she says.

If your furry family goes beyond cats and dogs and you need, for example, stables for your horses, there’s more to consider. “The agent should be knowledgeable about the stables, running water and electricity, and whether everything is covered by planning ordinances,” Sutter says, as opposed to an agent who simply notes an outside building and says it would be a perfect place for a horse.

Still, even if you’re working with a real estate agent who is just as crazy about your pets as you are, it’s a good idea to do your own checking — walk the neighborhood, chat with people out walking their dogs (or cats!) and check out shops and restaurants to get your own feel for the pet friendliness of the area.

Step 2: Refine Your Needs and Wants — Present and Future

Consider what you really need for your pets beyond making sure everyone will be legally allowed to reside in the house. That includes current needs and what might become important as your pet ages or when you bring home new pets.

“Keep a look out for buildings that actively encourage pets,” suggests Michael Downing, co-founder and COO of Swapt, an online platform that helps renters find the perfect apartment, including those that are certified as pet friendly. “Some modern apartment complexes will go as far as having dog walkers on staff and designated dog parks.” Condos and planned communities may offer similar amenities.

And remember, just because your pet would be allowed in a home or condo doesn’t mean that dwelling is the right fit. A tiny one-bedroom with no yard might be fine for you and your cat, but your Weimaraner needs more space to play. And although your 120-pound Mastiff might navigate two flights of stairs perfectly well as a puppy, how will you help him up the stairs if his mobility is compromised in his golden years?

Dogs might come with a list of requirements, and there are also plenty when it comes to cats. Kate Benjamin, co-author with Jackson Galaxy of Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You) and founder of Hauspanther, has a number of suggestions.

First, consider a catio. “Look for a house or condo that has a porch or patio, ideally that’s connected to the house so the cats will have easy access through a door or window,” Benjamin suggests. Think about how you could safely enclose it (keeping your kitties in and other critters out) or add climbing shelves to make it a perfect room for your cats.

Windows are important, too, Benjamin says. “Look for a home with nice, deep windowsills for kitty to perch on. If the windowsills are narrow, think about how you might be able to hang a shelf… or even strategically place a table or bookshelf under a window to create a surface at just the right height.”

The types of walls in your potential abode can be a factor if you plan to hang cat shelves. “It’s
important to make sure that any shelf that a cat will be climbing and jumping
on is securely fastened to the wall, either in the studs or with heavy-duty
wall anchors,” Benjamin says. “Plaster walls, as are found in some older houses, aren’t the best
choice because they can crumble when you try to hang things. Block walls are
also a challenge and will require special fasteners.”

With both cats and dogs, you might also want to look for a home that’s not on a highly traveled road or busy intersection, just in case your pet gets loose. “I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘But he never did that before,’ and then a nasty accident occurs,” Sutter says, referring to pets who have bolted after moving into a new home. Whether you have an energetic young pup or a confused, blind cat, the farther your front door is from traffic, the safer your pet could be.

And location can also be important in terms of how close your home is to your place of work, Downing says. If you need to come home to let your dog out or feed your cat, it might not be practical to live on the opposite side of town, even if everything else about a home seems perfect.

Step 3: Look at the Potential

If the bones of the house are good and you love the neighborhood, don’t be discouraged by things like carpet on the floor or windows that seem too high for your kitty to enjoy. Flooring can be replaced, and, in fact, there are some high-quality, durable, laminate floors that give the look of a hardwood floor at a fraction of the price. And catwalks are all the rage, so you can always create a cat-friendly highway above your head to give your cat a bird’s-eye view. Benjamin suggests looking at open floor plans with existing surfaces like ledges and tops of kitchen cabinets if creating such a superhighway ranks high on your list.

Roomy laundry rooms or mudrooms can provide ample space for cleaning off muddy pups or storing a litterbox, and backyards can be fenced (assuming there are no restrictions with the homeowners association). Look at empty corners as potential spots for stylish storage, keeping all your pets’ belongings accessible and your home free of clutter.

And don’t forget: The items that will really make your new house feel like home have four feet and will be moving in with you.