12 Questions To Ask When Buying A House
Patrick Chism7-minute read
January 25, 2023
If you’re a first-time home buyer, and especially if you’ve only rented in the past, you may have no idea where to start when it comes to asking questions about the condition of a home. Don’t worry – you’re definitely not the first to feel that way. There's a lot to keep in mind when you’re buying a house, and if even if you’re an experienced home buyer, it can feel intimidating.
Let’s take a look at 12 crucial questions you should ask the seller and your real estate agent when you’re thinking about buying a house.
1. What’s The Risk Of A Natural Disaster?
Factoring in insurance costs on your potential new home should be a top priority, as they can add a significant amount to your monthly payments. Your lender will require you to have a homeowners insurance policy, but sometimes that might not be enough to protect from the unique risks you face where you want to live.
Depending where you are, certain insurance for hazards like floods, earthquakes and hurricanes may be required. If there are no requirements in your area, make sure you assess the risk of a major disaster. This is particularly important for homes near flood zones and fault lines.
If you don’t get these additional coverages, you'll have to pay out of pocket if your home is damaged in one of these events.
2. Are There Health Or Safety Hazards?
Your seller must disclose information about problems with the house that they’re aware of, but make sure you get the full picture. If they have documentation about any past issues, ask to take a look at it.
Keep an eye out for culprits like lead paint and radon that can pose serious health risks if left unaddressed. Sellers of homes built before 1978 are required to fill out a lead-based paint disclosure.
3. How Old Is The Roof?
A roof is a major expense and it’s critical to consider how much it will cost you on top of your down payment and closing costs if it’s old and needs repairs. You may be able to get the asking price reduced or have the seller repair the roof as a contingency to the sale.
4. Are The Major Systems Of The Home In Good Condition?
If systems like the water heater, washers, faucets and HVAC are old, you’ll want to know early on so you can factor in the cost of replacement when looking at the asking price. Ask how old they are and see if the equipment or past services remain under warranty.
5. What Is The Monthly Cost Of Utilities?
The ongoing cost of living in your home is just as important as your mortgage payments. When you look at a house, make sure you get a sense for what your monthly utilities will cost. Depending on where you live and how the house is set up, these could add a significant amount to your monthly bills.
Make sure that you’re being quoted the monthly rate during the most extreme weather season, whatever that is where you live. You’ll want to know how much you’ll need to pay in January in Detroit, MI or in July in Phoenix, AZ. You’ll also want to know how the home is heated – via gas, electricity or solar, for example.
This information should be readily accessible to your real estate agent, but you’ll need to break the information down and incorporate it into your monthly budget.
6. What Appliances Are Included In The Sale?
You don’t want to move into a new home only to realize you have no washing machine. While many sellers leave behind large appliances like washers and refrigerators, some don’t. Make sure you know exactly what comes with the house, as the listing won’t always have a comprehensive explanation of included appliances.
7. Have There Been Any Additions Or Renovations?
A history of recent renovations can help you understand what in the house is new, what’s old and what is most likely to break down or need repairs. You should also be sure to ask about warranties, which could save you cash should a problem arise.
Also, make sure that any additions or renovations were completed to code. You may be able to do this simply by asking to see the certificate of occupancy for the addition or renovation.
8. How Much Do Homes Sell For In The Area?
Ask your real estate agent how much other homes in the neighborhood have sold for. Hopefully, they’ll be familiar with the market and can tell you right away whether the house you’re looking at is priced appropriately. You should also try to find out how much the house sold for previously. If the seller stands to make a large profit based on the current asking price, you’ll have a lot more room to negotiate.
9. Why Is The Seller Leaving?
Asking the seller why they're leaving can yield a few useful pieces of information. On one hand, the seller isn’t obligated to be honest about their motivations, but you might be able to glean something from a response by paying close attention. Your real estate agent can also dig in and try to get this information for you.
Anything you find out here will be important. If the seller is dissatisfied with something about the house, you might be able to spot a dealbreaker before closing, and if the seller has a pressing reason for leaving, you might be able to negotiate for a better price.
10. How Long Has The House Been On The Market?
You can often find this information on listings, but your real estate agent will be able to give you the most exact date. For some people, a house that has been on the market for a long time sends up red flags, because it might seem like there’s something wrong with it or the seller is unwilling to drop a too-high asking price.
If you like the house, a long listing time can be to your advantage. Sellers will be more likely to negotiate the longer they’ve been waiting to make the sale, so you may be able to get the house for less than asking.
11. What Is The Neighborhood Like?
Does the community have restrictions or a homeowners association (HOA)? Knowing the rules of the neighborhood you might be moving into is a critical consideration. Suppose you’re looking forward to building a treehouse in your backyard, only to move in and find out there are community rules against it. You’ll want to take a close look at restrictions like this before making a final decision.
Also important are the neighbors themselves. Are you going to get along with the people who live closest to you? Try talking to the neighbors to gauge how respectful people will be regarding sound, pets and children. If connecting to your neighbors is important to you, this will also be a good opportunity to see whether the community is receptive to that.
Finally, don’t forget to ask about the wider area. Do people feel that it’s safe? Ask about the schools and hospitals nearby, as well as any other essential amenities.
12. Is The Home A Stigmatized Property?
Was the home the scene of a crime? Is it located next to a cemetery? Or are there rumors that it’s haunted? You might not care if a house has a reputation for being haunted, but it’s still a good idea to ask around and find out if the house you’re looking at has any stories or rumors associated with it.
Even if you’re not superstitious, negative associations with a house have a very real impact on its value. Called stigmatized properties, these conditions could give you room to negotiate a lower purchase price, because a house that has some stigma attached to it will often be harder to sell.
Who Can Answer My Questions When Buying A House?
It’s not all on you when you’re buying a home. You should surround yourself with experts who can help you assess and minimize the risks of homeownership.
Your Real Estate Agent
When you’re buying a home, you’re not flying blind if you’re working with a real estate agent. A listing agent works with buyers and their job is to represent your interests as if they were their own.
Even if you can’t communicate with the seller directly, your real estate agent may be able to help you get answers to the following essential questions. With that information, your agent can create a comparative market analysis to help you negotiate a fair purchase price. There are many factors that could add costs to the asking price or help you gauge whether the seller might bring the price down.
The Home Seller
Additionally, seller’s disclosure laws require the seller to disclose information about the home. While state laws vary as to how much information must be disclosed, all states require sellers to answer questions about the home truthfully.
That means that you might have legal recourse against a seller who withholds or misrepresents information about the home.
Your Home Inspector
Remember that you can get a home inspection before you complete the sale, even if you don’t include a home inspection contingency in your contract. That means you can ask the home inspector about anything you forgot to ask the seller. You can also double check with the inspector if you weren’t satisfied with some of the seller’s answers.
What Should I Do If I’m Not Satisfied With The Answers I Get?
You always have a choice. Let’s consider your options.
Ask For A Warranty
If you love the home but have some minor doubts, you can ask the seller to pay for a home warranty. This, along with title insurance, will serve to back up the representations made with the seller’s warranty deed. It lets the seller off the hook for repairs and provides home buyers peace of mind.
Ask For A Discount
If you think there’s a case to be made that there is or will be a problem with the home, based on your home inspection or information provided by the seller, use the evidence you have to negotiate a discount on the purchase price. In a buyer’s market, sellers have much more incentive to keep a potential buyer on board than they would in a seller’s market.
Walk Away From The Sale
It can be really tough, especially when you really love a property and have already envisioned you and your family living there. But the home you love now might become a money pit that you’ll soon loathe if it potentially has a lot of problems. If you’re not sure you can afford to address serious issues with the home, you’re probably right and should consider walking away. Otherwise, you risk becoming house poor and putting yourself at financial risk.
The Bottom Line: It Always Helps To Ask
These questions are a great resource to keep in your back pocket when looking at a home. Bring a checklist before going to a viewing or meeting with your realtor and make sure you get answers to all these important questions before negotiating on a house.
Ready to start your home buying journey? Apply online now and start your house hunt.
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