How Motherhood Completely Overhauled What I Want in a Home

Motherhood can bring so many changes—not only to your relationship, career, and life in general but also to what you look for when shopping for a home.

I should know: Six months ago, I moved from Los Angeles to New York City for my husband's new job. While I was excited to dive into life in the Big Apple—and find a quaint apartment in a hip neighborhood—those plans changed dramatically when I discovered I was pregnant.

Almost overnight, my shortlist of pre-pregnancy home must-haves (a building with character that’s near fun wine bars) had to be tossed out. I suddenly went from being the easiest home shopper, just looking for a cute place to drop my coat, to having more requirements than I ever would have imagined, from a bathtub to a good school district.

And although we'd settled in our rental apartment before the novel coronavirus hit in the middle of my pregnancy, I saw my requirements for a home become even more stringent in its wake. While I wasn't about to pick up and move again given that we'd just settled in, this will no doubt affect what I look for if we ever decide to buy a place, or move to a larger rental elsewhere (more on that below).

And I doubt I'm alone. When looking to rent or buy a home, many people might be surprised by how much their priorities in real estate morph overnight once they're expecting. To help them prepare for this seismic shift here's an up-close and personal peek at how pregnancy changed how I shopped for a home, and where I wanted to live.

I learned to look closely at listing photos
I can’t count how many apartments I walked into, turned around, and walked right out. If you’ve ever shopped for a home, you know that listing photos can be deceiving. In a big way.

Not only were these tours often time-wasters, but in that early stage of my pregnancy, I was exhausted and sick all the time. It was hard to get out of bed most days. So a bad tour was a big blow.

In order to save time and energy, I started getting better at analyzing listing photos online. I learned to be wary of photos taken from a weird angle because I learned that probably meant the room was small and the photographer was trying to compensate.

Photos like this make a room look deceptively larger.
Photos like this make a room look deceptively
I started looking for how much of the floor I could see in the bathroom photos, realizing that the more floor was shown, the bigger the room probably was. Was there a photo of only the sink? That tended to mean the bathroom was tiny.

I also realized that as my belly grew, I’d probably want a bathtub to soak in. So those shower-only bathrooms I saw in so many apartments probably wasn’t going to work for us.

My husband loved the style of this bathroom, but I didn't like its lack of a tub.
I also started depending more on floor plans and square footage numbers than actual photos. I’d flip through a profile online and, if it didn’t have a floor plan, I’d wonder if they were hiding something. Usually, they were, and usually, it was a distinct lack of closets.

With a baby on the way, I needed a closet. Or three.

Location is still everything but in a different way
Location can be a big factor in home shopping, especially in a place like New York City. There are so many different neighborhoods with different personalities. Originally, I wanted an apartment in a busy, but charming, part of town that would give me that big-city feel.

But after learning of my pregnancy, my ideas of the perfect location changed swiftly. I no longer wanted to be in a bustling area, because I knew that would mean extra noise. I no longer cared about being near fun wine bars or coffee shops, since I couldn’t drink wine or (much) coffee.

There were school districts to consider, wide sidewalks for pushing a stroller, plus proximity to doctors' offices.

Plus, in a post-coronavirus age, there's also delivery services to consider. I already knew that walking to the grocery store while pregnant would be tricky. But trying to go to the store while pregnant, during a pandemic, would be downright unsafe. It's a good reminder of just how important it is to be not only close to grocery stores and pharmacies, but also within delivery range.

Old buildings can have unexpected dangers
Back in California, there aren’t many old apartment buildings. I can think of some “historic” apartments in Los Angeles, which were built in the 1950s. Meanwhile, New York City has plenty of apartment buildings that were built at the turn of the century. The past century, that is.

Most of them are old buildings that I loved the look of but worried about living in. The reason: Some old apartments were built with lead pipes or covered in lead paint.

Of course, plenty of those buildings have been refurbished and had the lead removed, but not all of them. And even though their old walls may have been painted over plenty of times in the past few decades, a lead layer could still be buried underneath. A scrape on the wall might expose this toxin that could then find its way into a toddler's mouth.

While I knew that plenty of families were living happily and healthily in old buildings, I decided not to risk it—and to start looking exclusively for newer buildings.

Stairs are a big turnoff
I’ve always been an active person. I love working out and am almost always up for a walk, a hike, or a kickboxing class. During my first week of home tours, I didn’t bat an eyelash at the idea of a five-story walk-up.

But now, walk-ups weren’t for me. An elevator became a must—not only to help me avoid too many stairs in the last months of pregnancy but to avoid lugging a stroller up and down later.

A safe and convenient kitchen area
Of course, we'd all like a large, open-concept kitchen with a big island and top-notch appliances, but that's not always possible. With a baby on the way, I had to focus my priorities on safety, storage, and convenience.

I saw plenty of kitchens like this in Manhattan: small with no oven, a hot plate instead of a stove, and no counter space. Hardly ideal for a family of three.
I saw plenty of kitchens like this in Manhattan: small with no oven, a hot plate instead of a stove, and no counter space. Hardly ideal for a family of three.

Some kitchens were way too small for a family, and I realized that closed-off galley kitchens might get too tight for my growing belly. I found that the look of the kitchen was often the deciding factor for whether or not we'd tour a home.

We became more budget-conscious than ever
Looking for a home while pregnant made my list of must-haves much longer. But it certainly didn't extend my budget. In fact, my husband and I felt we should try to be saving more because life was about to get pretty expensive. Because of this, it took us extra time to find a home.

After a month of living in an Airbnb rental followed by a few weeks of staying at a cousin’s place, we finally found it: an apartment that was truly baby-friendly. It was hard to go that long living out of suitcases, but the lengthy search was worth it.

My studio may be small, but it's functional and comfortable.
My bathroom is clean and modern, and has a tub!

Addendum: How the coronavirus changed my priorities, again
Although we'd already settled into an apartment by the time the coronavirus tore through New York, I noticed that enduring this pandemic while pregnant changed my priorities in what I wanted in a home yet again. Life in quarantine taught me that there are a ton of things to consider when it comes to staying home with your young family for long stretches of time.

One obvious thing to consider would be outside space. While I never liked the idea of yard maintenance, kids need some time outside. If a pandemic ever pops up again, or even if there's a bad flu season one year, a big yard or a sizable balcony could be a home's best asset.

And if the outside play isn't possible due to bad weather or otherwise, I realized I'd want a decent-size play space inside. Being inside all day, a little one would need space to stay active. Granted, such a space would fetch a premium in New York City, but would be doable if you looking for open floor plans where there'd be room to set up a mini slide, ball pit, or safe climbing structure like a Foamnasium (yes, that's a thing).

Who knows? Maybe I'll get to put these latest lessons into practice if we decide to move a year or two down the road. For now, I'm happy where I am.

By: Jillian Pretzel

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