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What To Look For When Buying A House: A Guide For Home Buyers

July 01, 2024 6-minute read

Author: Victoria Araj

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House hunting can be an exciting experience for many home buyers. You may start the process with dreams of hosting backyard barbecues with friends, holiday dinners with family or quiet game nights – all in your brand-new home. But finding your dream home will take more than an active imagination. Before you can confidently make an offer on a home, there are a few things you’ll need to consider before and during your search.

Use our checklist outlining what to look for when buying a house. We also tackle the potential influence of the housing market on home buying and red flags to watch out for as you tour homes.

6 Major Factors Of Buying A House

As you attend open houses, carefully assess whether a home ticks all your boxes. Here are some things to consider when buying a house as a first-time home buyer or a seasoned pro:

1. Price

For many prospective home buyers, a home’s purchase price is their biggest concern. If they overspend on a house, they run the risk of becoming house poor, spending most of their income on housing, including monthly mortgage payments. When you’re “house poor,” it limits your ability to spend on other essential needs or save money.

Consider getting a mortgage preapproval from your mortgage lender before you begin house shopping. The preapproval will tell you how much home you can afford and what down payment you’ll need to make. When you know these figures ahead of time, you can avoid wasting time viewing homes that are more expensive than you can afford.

2. Location

Where you buy a home will have a tremendous impact on your day-to-day life. Location is another critical factor to consider while you search for the right home. When considering a potential home, it’s important to evaluate several components of location, including:

  • Flood zone: Before buying a house in a flood zone, research the area’s assigned flood zone code and assess your comfort level if the home is in a flood-prone area. And while it will likely increase your monthly expenses, you may benefit from purchasing flood insurance.
  • Safety: Research the neighborhood. You can start by looking at local crime data and joining neighborhood social media groups to gain more insight into the community.
  • School district: Whether you have children in the home or not, research the local school district. Buying a house in a community with a competitive school district can be very helpful when you sell a home.
  • Distance from the airport: Whether you travel repeatedly or rarely, learn how to get to your local airports from your new home. Consider the expense of ride-hailing apps and calculate how long a round trip to the airport may be.
  • Public transportation: Consider your public transportation options. If you don’t drive, choosing a home close to a reliable method of public transportation, like a bus stop or subway station, may be essential.

3. House Size

Carefully consider the size and floor plan of every home you tour and whether they measure up to your needs. Some aspects of a home’s size to look at include:

Determine which aspects are essential. Then try finding a home that meets your top requirements. A home is a major investment – do your research to establish whether it meets your basic needs.

4. Property Taxes

Another factor that impacts a home’s overall affordability is property taxes. Compare property tax amounts over several years to help you calculate the overall affordability of a home.

5. Homeowners Association (HOA)

Decide early on whether you want to live in a community tied to a homeowners association (HOA) or prefer to have greater control over what you can do with your home.

Some homes are part of a local HOA, an organization that manages a residential community. When you live in a community run by an HOA, you likely pay a fee to help maintain common areas and community amenities, and the HOA may limit what you can and can’t do with your home.

You pay HOA fees in addition to your monthly mortgage payment. You should know the amount and confirm that it fits comfortably into your budget to avoid making an offer on a home attached to an HOA with an unaffordable fee.

6. Amenities

Finally, consider any community amenities you’d like access to. For example, if a home you want to buy doesn’t have a pool, you may prioritize living in a neighborhood with a public pool. If you have children, a large playground may be a priority. If lawn care isn’t your thing, buying a home in a community with a homeowners association that provides lawn maintenance may make sense.

Ultimately, amenities are nice-to-haves, not must-haves. But they can be the proverbial cherry on top that makes living in a neighborhood even more enjoyable.

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Home Features To Look At When Buying A House

Besides checking boxes off your home wish list, there are a few components and features of a home you should consider before buying one.

Before you close on the home, here’s what you must double-check after you get your home inspection report back:

Roof

A roof is a major component of a home. You may spend thousands fixing or replacing it if it’s not in good condition. Pay attention to the roof of any home you’re considering. Keep an eye out for issues like broken or missing shingles, leaks or other signs of roof damage. Because a roof replacement can be costly, it may be wise to avoid purchasing a home that may need a new roof soon.

Windows

The windows of a home impact overall comfort and energy efficiency, so you should know what condition they're in before you seal the deal. Some issues, like sticky windows, are relatively minor and can be quick fixes. But draftiness and leaks likely point to major problems you’ll want to avoid.

HVAC Unit

No one wants to replace their furnace or air conditioner right after closing on a new home, so verify that the home’s HVAC system is in good shape before signing a mortgage agreement.

Apart from having the HVAC looked at during the home inspection, ask the seller a few questions to get a better idea of its condition. You’ll want to find out:

  • The age of the heating and cooling systems
  • Whether the home has central air or window units
  • The primary method of heating the house
  • If the heating and cooling systems have been regularly serviced

Plumbing

You should also confirm that your new home’s plumbing system works. You should look out for broken or leaking pipes when touring a home.

If you notice issues with the home before you put in an offer, you and your real estate agent can use that information to try and negotiate a better deal, like a lower sales price. If the home inspector uncovers some problems, you can ask the seller to make repairs as a condition of the sale.

Asking for price reductions or repairs doesn’t guarantee the seller will concede. The extent you can negotiate with a seller will largely depend on whether it’s a buyer’s market or a seller’s market.

Red Flags To Look For When Buying A Home

Finding your must-haves when buying a home is important – but keeping an eye out for red flags is just as important. Here are some signs that may indicate you need to reconsider your purchase of a new home:

  • Mold: Mold is a health hazard that can cost thousands of dollars to remove. In most cases, any sign of mold should be a sign to pass on a home.
  • Water damage: If left untreated, water damage can lead to rotting, structural damage and mold growth. Unless you can negotiate with the seller to have them make repairs before closing, it’s probably best to keep moving when a home has water damage.
  • Foundation issues: Major foundation issues can be costly to repair. Look out for windows and doors that are difficult to use or cracks in a home’s exterior. You may be seeing signs that a property is shifting or sinking.
  • Pest infestation: It may be a good idea to order a pest inspection along with a home inspection. Any signs of pest problems or damage may be enough reason to pass on a
  • Overall neglect: Obvious signs of disrepair may signal neglect in a home’s maintenance and upkeep. Inadequate home maintenance may lead to unforeseen issues you only discover after you close, making any repairs your responsibility.
  • Overuse of scents: If you walk into an open house and encounter overpowering scents from a diffuser, plug-in or candles, the seller may be trying to mask unpleasant odors, like mold or pets.

The Bottom Line

We’ve provided you with some items to consider when buying a house, but remember – the final decision is yours to make. As you begin house hunting, keep these things in mind, but also evaluate your priorities and determine which areas are most important to you.

Before you begin viewing houses, you should have your mortgage preapproval in hand so that you’re ready to make an offer when you find one you love. Start your mortgage application online with the Home Loan Experts at Rocket Mortgage®.

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Victoria Araj

Victoria Araj is a Section Editor for Rocket Mortgage and held roles in mortgage banking, public relations and more in her 15+ years with the company. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in political science from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Michigan.