In a matter which so intimately concerns the comfort, convenience, and general well-being of the family as the selection of a house, the prospective householder is counselled to exercise more than ordinary caution, particularly when assuming the responsibility for the first time.
There are so many vital considerations to be taken into account, and so many pitfalls for the unwary, that a hasty and careless decision is more than likely to be the prelude to a time of heart-breaking discomfort, un-ircamed of expenditure, and possibly heavy doctors' bills.
" Home," that sacred and peculiarly British institution, can only be realised in its fullest sense when the house and its environment are fitted to the needs and temperaments of its occupants.
The discomforts and dangers of a badly built house, and the inconveniences of a badly planned one, are experiences it is worth some trouble to avoid.
The dark house with a gloomy outlook depresses even the average healthy person, and is a nightmare to the invalid.
Smoky chimneys, defective sanitary appliances, ill-fitting doors and windows, locks and fastenings that refuse to perform their office, creaky floor-boards, and leaky taps are some of the internal defects that add to the burden of life.
A good site. Water deep below surface. Dry and warm
Before these details receive consideration, however, there are certain initial questions to be answered.
What can I afford to pay in rent, rates, and taxes ?
What is the minimum accommodation that will satisfy my requirements ?
Rules have been given for rent in terms of income, but experience shows that the question is largely dependent upon one's style of living. Possibly ten per cent. is a safe figure for a household conducted on commonsense principles.
As regards accommodation, it is well to have at least one spare bedroom, and a second if the family is likely to have visitors.
With freedom of choice as regards district, high ground on a gravelly soil is an ideal situation, provided it is not upon a wind-swept hill-top. Clay soil is cold, wet, and altogether undesirable. A chalky subsoil implies a hard water, unwelcome on hygienic grounds and wasteful of soap.
When business or other considerations preclude the choice of district, the next point is to secure a good situation and pleasant surroundings.
An all-important matter is aspect. The principal living-rooms should be on the sunny side of the house, the kitchen, pantry, and sanitary offices on the shady side. In these days of narrow frontages in crowded suburbs it is not easy to realise such conditions, and one has to compromise. In that case by all means have one sitting-room - the room most constantly in use - with a south or approximately south aspect.
Equally important is the outlook from the principal rooms. The near proximity of small, insanitary property, a laundry or factory, a public playground, or other eyesore is to be avoided.
The presence of noise of any kind, regular or intermittent, in the immediate neighbourhood should disqualify an otherwise desirable neighbourhood. Such familiar noises as railway and street traffic appear to cause little inconvenience to the majority of healthy people, but they may become very distressing to the invalid and jaded housewife.
The services of the agent are valuable to the extent of furnishing a list of houses in his district, and his guidance in taking you to and through them saves much wearisome inquiry; but his advice and opinions on the merits of any particular house must be taken with reserve. It is his life-purpose to let houses.
If you distrust your own ability to discriminate, by all means seek the advice of an independent person, preferably an expert. A small fee to a qualified surveyor is well spent if it ensures that you get a house free from any serious defect.
At the same time it is well to exercise a little judgment on your own account. The sanitary condition of a house may be perfect; it may be dry and above reproach in constructive details; but yet it may have disqualifications from your individual standpoint which would render it undesirable.
Houses of the same approximate size and rental vary much in their internal arrangements. In looking over a number of such houses this fact becomes only too obvious.
An example of bad planning. Space wasted in passage
A better plan
A well-planned house should have very little wasted space within its four walls.
Some houses seem to be little more than a maze of passages, stairs, and odd corners.
Again, the relative positions of the living-rooms and kitchen may involve inconvenience in the serving of meals, or the diffusion of unwelcome if not unsavoury odours into places where they are least appreciated.
Size of rooms must receive careful attention, particularly if you already possess furniture. Empty rooms are deceptive. The tape measure is the best test. Speculative builders crowd as many rooms as possible into the space available, and by embellishing them with attractive (?) decoration blind the incautious observer to their scantiness of cubic space.
The smallest villa should have one large sitting-room, even if the second one is cramped in consequence. It rarely happens that the two living-rooms which form the usual complement in houses of moderate size are in daily use. The room in which the family most often gathers is the one deserving of most floor space, and should have the most cheerful aspect.
One has to consider the internal arrangements of the house, not only from the point of view of the convenience of the occupants, but also from that of the persons responsible for its order and cleanliness.
On the other hand, narrow passages and stairs involve a crop of inconveniences of another kind.
Do not allow your judgment to be influenced by external features. Builders indulge in flights of fancy in the form of gables, verandahs, and other embellishments designed to please the eye of the inexperienced.
Such features may or may not detract from the convenience of the house internally, but it is obvious that they represent value which in many cases would be better spent inside the house.
Without question a detached house is more desirable than a semi-detached or terrace house. The party walls of the modern builder are never so thick as to deaden all sounds from " next door," and neighbours differ widely in their habits and codes of ethics. Music is shorn of much of its proverbial charm when heard through nine inches of brickwork.
Basement houses would scarcely commend themselves to any modern candidate for householdership. They are a legacy from the chaos of early Victorian times, and are rarely sanitary. Their below-ground rooms have no better prospect to offer than a panorama of shuffling feet, and the oblique and deficient lighting is depressing to the healthy and unbearable to the invalid.
In the choice of a house in the country one has to beware of deficiencies which have mostly been eliminated from town and suburban houses.
Unless a quite modern building, the country use suffers from a primitive and incom-plete sanitary system. The bathroom may be conspicuous by its absence, and the other conveniences situated in inaccessible quarters.
Bound up with the house question is that of the garden. Apart from horticultural considerations, the garden is a very real convenience, if not a necessity, to the householder. See to it, therefore, that you are vouchsafed at least a few square yards of mother earth within your boundaries.