By Marilyn Pribus –
Formally known as “companion animals,” the more popular term has long been simply “pets” and lots of folks have them. Recent figures from Statista—a website with thousands of statistics—show that millions of Americans share their homes with creatures.
The most numerous household pets are actually fish, but since aquariums don’t much affect housing choices, we’ll just talk about cats and dogs. There are approximately 95 million cat owners and 90 million dog owners in the U.S., and the average home has more than one animal.
Pet owners include young singles who have moved away from family and enjoy animal companionship, divorced people who often fill a void with pets, couples who have never had children or whose children have left home, and, of course, families with children who include “furry kids” as part of the clan.
A recent survey by a mortgage company discovered that a full one-third of millennial homebuyers said they were influenced by needing space for a dog. In fact, for recent first-time homebuyers, the survey showed that space for a dog was the third most important consideration for buying rather than renting. (The two higher-rated considerations were having more living space and the chance to build equity in a property.)
Folks in Central Virginia have their fair share of pets. Many are alumni of the Charlottesville-Albemarle, Fluvanna or Nelson County SPCAs, the Madison-Greene Humane Society and various local rescue groups. Others move to town with pets already as part of the family.
To some extent, of course, having a pet may limit available housing options whether renting or buying, and a number of factors are at play. Some rentals—apartments, condos, and houses—are pet friendly, but many limit the size, number, or breed of animals on the lease. Often an extra deposit and monthly fee are charged.
In addition, some homeowner associations (HOAs) have rules about animals. Typical regulations cover the number and type of pets, animal noise, and whether pets must be leashed. There may be fees for animals and there are often rules on fencing as well.
What Pet Owners Want
In many cases, a REALTOR® attuned to the needs and desires of pet owners can help homebuyers find the most suitable properties on the market.
Pet-friendly neighborhoods can be spotted by visiting at various times of the day. An important consideration is sidewalks for safety when exercising pets. Are people walking dogs and chatting with each other? Are there pet stations to easily dispose of pet waste? Access to trails for extended walks is another plus.
Talking with pet owners living in a prospective neighborhood is also an excellent idea. You can ask about nearby dog parks where pets can be unleashed for play and exercise, good veterinarians in the area, pet licensing requirements, dog sitters, or even doggie day care.
Just as home shoppers with children favor properties in good school districts with safe playing areas, people with pets are definitely swayed by pet-friendly features in a prospective home and neighborhood.
Good fencing is usually number one on the list for dog owners since it’s convenient to be able to let a dog out and know it’s safe. Repairing an existing fence or installing a new one can be an undesirable extra expense. There may be HOA limits on the type, height, or location of a fence and new fencing may have to pass an architectural review board, even if it’s one of those underground electric ones requiring a special “shock” collar on the animal.
Pets who are usually confined in the home or behind a fence can occasionally slip out. Is there heavy traffic on nearby streets? Are there wild animals that could be a menace? In Central Virginia, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and even bears can pose a threat.
Next on the list, say many people with pets, is easy-to-clean floors. When it comes to fur, mud, and, um, “accidents,” it’s much easier to clean floors of hardwood, laminate, or ceramic tile than wall-to-wall carpeting.
Another useful amenity is a place to wash a pet. Is there an outdoor area with a hose? Does the garage or laundry have a sink large enough for your pet?
When pets have their own secure spaces, they are less likely to get stepped on or to trip family members or their guests. A separate room with a door or gate is ideal. Often a laundry room can serve. Cat owners will appreciate an out-of-the-way yet accessible place for the litter box.
People with older pets may prefer a single-story home. Since cats love to look out windows, home buyers with cats will cast a favorable eye on wide windowsills and windows close to the floor.
Ground-floor condo units are often preferred over upper levels which can involve stairs or elevators whenever pets must be taken outdoors. Upper levels may pose another problem, especially for cats who love to watch out windows. Veterinarians have a term for animal injuries when windows and screen are not secure: “high-rise syndrome.”
So when you make your list of “wants” in your next home, be sure to write down your pets’ preferences as well so you can find a house the entire family—including four-footed members—will love.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live near Charlottesville in a definitely pet-friendly neighborhood where people often learn dogs’ names before they learn the names of the owners taking them for walks.