Before making an offer on a house, you want to be absolutely sure that it’s “the one.” But with so many options out there, how do you find your perfect match?………
Finding the right home involves research, so you’ll need to ask the right questions. That way, you know you’re making a competitive offer on a home that you can afford—and meets your long-term needs. To weed out the duds from the diamonds, here are 15 questions to ask when buying a house.
- What’s my total budget?
It could be a waste of time to start looking at houses without understanding how much house you can afford. There are additional costs to consider other than the sales price, such as property taxes, homeowners insurance, homeowners association dues, ongoing home maintenance and any renovations you want to do.
“With all the other added expense that comes with homeownership like repairs and homeowner’s association fees, you may not see the financial benefits for several years.
Showing the seller you have the financial means to buy their house is important if you want your offer to be accepted. This means getting preapproved for a mortgage.
“Not only does it give the buyer an idea of what they can afford but it gives the REALTOR® assurance that they’re showing a qualified buyer a home,” says Joey Sampaga, a REALTOR® with Keller Williams Legacy One in Phoenix. “It shows you’re not wasting the seller’s time.”
- Is the home in a flood zone or prone to other natural disasters?
A property that’s in a flood zone or other natural disaster area may require additional insurance coverage. For example, homes that are located in a federally-designated, high-risk flood zone require flood insurance. (Find out whether a property is in a high-risk flood zone using FEMA’s Flood Map Service.)
Likewise, if you’re buying a home in California where earthquakes are common, you may need to get earthquake insurance. Another tip: Make sure you purchase enough homeowners insurance to cover the cost of completely rebuilding your home if it’s destroyed. If you’re underinsured, you could be left footing a massive bill to repair or rebuild your home if a major disaster hits.
- Why is the seller leaving?
Understanding why the seller is moving—whether it’s due to downsizing, a job relocation or as a result of a major life event—might help you figure out how motivated they are when negotiating. A good buyer’s agent will try to find out this information for you and gauge how flexible (or not) the seller might be during negotiations. A motivated seller who needs to move quickly or whose home has been on the market a while is more likely to work with you than someone who isn’t in a rush to move.
- What’s included in the sale?
Anything that’s considered a fixture is typically included when purchasing a house—think cabinets, faucets and window blinds. However, there could be items that you think are included with the home but actually aren’t. This depends on your state’s laws. The listing description should spell out any exclusions that the seller is not including, but that’s not always the case.
Make sure to ask in your offer what is (and isn’t) included with the home. Do you really want the washer and dryer, or that stainless-steel refrigerator? Ask if the seller will throw these items into the deal.
- Were there any additions or major renovations?
In some cases, property records and listing descriptions don’t always match up. A home might be advertised as having four bedrooms, but one of those rooms may be a non-conforming addition that doesn’t follow local building codes. Find out what major repairs or renovations the seller has done since owning the home, and request the original manufacturer warranties on any appliances or systems if those have been replaced. Knowing a home’s improvement history can help you better gauge its condition and understand the seller’s asking price.
- How old is the roof?
Let’s face it: roofs are necessary and expensive. If a home’s roof is at the end of its lifespan and you wind up having to replace it shortly after move-in, you’ll be shelling out thousands of dollars. Ouch. If the roof has existing damage, your lender may require that it be repaired in order to approve your loan. In other words, if the listing description doesn’t list the roof’s age, make sure to find out ASAP to avoid a costly headache later.
- How old are the appliances and major systems?
Again, understanding the anticipated lifespan of essential systems and appliances, such as the air conditioner, furnace, water heater, washer, dryer and stove, can help you anticipate major repair or replacement expenses. If these items are already at the end of their lifespan or near it, ask the seller to purchase a home warranty, which can help cover the replacement costs in certain instances.
- How long has the house been on the market?
The longer a house has been on the market, the more motivated the seller will be to make a deal. This means you might find flexibility to negotiate the price, contingencies, terms and credits for replacing outdated carpet or other noticeable issues.
Many times, a home will languish on the market if it was priced too high at the onset, resulting in the need for multiple price reductions. A listing that shows multiple price cuts and has been sitting on the market too long may give buyers the impression that something is wrong with it—and that gives you a prime opportunity to negotiate a deal.
- How much have homes sold for in the neighborhood?
Understanding the current local market will help you determine if a seller’s asking price is on target—or way too high. Your REALTOR® can pull the comparable listing data for similar homes that are currently on the market and have sold in the last six months or so as a basis for comparison.
“If conditions support further negotiating, consider (making) a lower offer or even concessions like asking the seller to pay for some closing costs.