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

August 02, 2023 8-minute read

Author: Victoria Araj

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If you’re just beginning the home buying process, you may find yourself dreaming about backyard barbecues with friends, hosting holidays with your extended family or quiet game nights at home. However, before you can start enjoying all the perks that come with homeownership, there’s something major that still needs to happen: You have to find and buy a house! With so many factors to consider throughout the home buying process, sometimes that’s easier said than done.

To aid you in your search, we’ve put together a list of what to look for when buying a house, from overall factors to house features, and even some red flags to be on the lookout for.

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6 Major Factors Of Buying A House

As you begin looking at potential houses, you’ll need to evaluate whether or not they check your boxes. Whether you’re a first-time home buyer or a seasoned pro, here are some of the biggest things to look for when buying a house.

1. Price

For many people, the biggest factor when deciding whether to purchase a house is the price. If you buy a house that’s out of your budget, you run the risk of becoming house poor, which is spending so much of your monthly income on your mortgage payment that you have little left to spend on other wants and needs. This is why it's a good idea to take an honest look at your budget so you know how much you can afford to put toward your monthly mortgage payment.

Before you begin house shopping, you’ll also want to have a mortgage preapproval in hand from your lender. Knowing how much home you can afford ahead of time can help you avoid wasting time viewing homes that are more expensive than what you’re able to qualify for.

2. Location

Where you buy a home has a huge impact on your day-to-day life, so it’s another critical factor to look at as you’re searching for the right home. There are several components of your potential home’s location that you should evaluate.

Flood Zone

There are some additional considerations you’ll want to make before buying a house in a flood zone. First, you should know the specific flood zone code assigned to the area and the risk that it corresponds with. Consider the disruption to your life that would be required if you needed to evacuate when a storm is coming through, or if you were forced to replace items and repair water damage if flooding were to occur inside your home. It’s also recommended to purchase flood insurance if you live in such an area, which can be an additional cost to your monthly budget.

Crime Rates

Safety is another big factor to consider when evaluating a potential home’s location. Do some neighborhood research by investigating local crime rates and joining neighborhood social media groups to get an idea of the kind of activity that goes on in the area. You’ll be able to decide if you’re comfortable living in that particular neighborhood once you have some of this information.

School District

If you have children, or plan on potentially having children in the future, take a look at the local school district as well as the particular schools zoned within your potential home’s neighborhood. Buying a house in a good school district can also make your home easier to sell down the road, so this can be an important consideration even for people who don’t have school-aged children.

Distance To An Airport

Whether you travel frequently or once in a blue moon, you’ll want to know how long and convenient it will be to get to the airport from your new home. Not only is this consideration important for your own personal travel, but also for friends or family who might come to visit you at your new home. Consider the expense of an Uber or Lyft ride, as well as how long a round-trip drive to the airport would be, factoring in traffic.

Public Transportation

Consider your need for public transportation and the options that are available in the area. If you don’t drive, choosing a home close to a reliable method of public transportation like a bus stop or subway station could be essential. 

3. House Size

With each house that you view, carefully consider its size and floor plan, and whether these make sense for your family. Some aspects of a home’s size to look at include:

Determine which of these aspects are most important to you and then do your best to find a home that satisfies your top requirements. A home is a major investment, so you want to be sure it meets your basic needs.

4. Property Taxes

Another factor that impacts your home’s overall affordability is property taxes. Research the recent amounts charged for a home’s annual property tax and be sure to factor that into your overall cost of living when deciding if you can afford a home.

5. Homeowners Association (HOA)

This is one aspect you’ll need to consider both before you begin looking for a house and after you’ve found one you’re interested in. Some homes are part of a local HOA, which is an organization that oversees the management of a residential community. As part of living in a community run by an HOA, you’ll likely have to pay some sort of fee to help maintain any common areas and community amenities, and there may also be restrictions on what you can and can’t do with your home.

As you start house hunting, it’s a good idea to know if you want to live in a community with an HOA, or if you’d prefer to live somewhere where you have greater control over what you do with your home. You should also have an idea of how much you can afford to pay in HOA fees each month. This expense will be in addition to your monthly mortgage payment, so it’s important to know the amount that fits comfortably into your budget so you don’t end up making an offer in a community that has an unaffordable HOA fee.

6. Amenities

Finally, consider any community amenities that you’d like to have access to. For example, if you’re not buying a house with a pool, maybe you want to find a house in a neighborhood that has a community pool for you to use. If you have children, it may be your priority to find a home in a community with a playground. Or, if lawn maintenance isn’t your forte, it might make sense to buy a home in a community that takes care of lawn maintenance as part of your HOA fee. At the end of the day, amenities are add-ons rather than necessities, but they can be the cherry on top that makes living in your neighborhood that much more enjoyable.

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Home Features To Look At When Buying A House

In addition to those major factors you need to evaluate when buying a home, there are also some specific house features that you’ll want to look at. Here’s what you should pay particularly close attention to when you view a home and when you get your home inspection report back further in the home buying process.

Roof

A roof is a major component of a home, and one that can lead to further damage if it’s not in good working condition. You’ll want to 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. A roof replacement can be costly, so it may be wise to avoid purchasing a home that’s about to require a new roof.

Windows

A home’s windows have a huge impact on its overall comfort and energy efficiency, so it’s a good idea to be aware of their condition before you purchase a home. Some issues, like sticking when opening or closing, are relatively minor and could be quick fixes. Meanwhile, draftiness and leaks during rainfall can indicate major problems you’ll want to avoid.  

HVAC Unit

No one wants to have to replace their HVAC unit right after closing on a new home, so you’ll want to be sure the HVAC system is in good shape before signing any housing agreement. Apart from having it looked at during the home inspection period, you can 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’ll also want to be sure your new home’s plumbing system is in good working order. Broken or leaking pipes are two things you should be on the lookout for when evaluating if a home could be a good fit for you.

If you notice issues with the home before you put in an offer, you and your real estate agent may be able to use that information to negotiate a better deal, like a lower sales price. Alternatively, if your home inspector shines a light on some problems, you could ask the seller to make repairs as a condition of the sale. Keep in mind that asking for these things doesn’t necessarily mean the seller will concede. The extent to which you’re able to negotiate with the seller depends largely 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 looking for a home to buy is important, but there are some red flags you should keep an eye out for as well. Here are some signs that may indicate the home you’re interested in may not be a wise purchase:

  • Mold: Mold is a health hazard that could cost up to thousands of dollars to remove. In most cases, any sign of mold should be a sign to pass on that particular home.
  • Water damage: Water damage can lead to rotting and structural damage, as well as mold growth if left untreated. Unless you’re able to negotiate with the seller to make the necessary repairs before closing, it’s probably best to keep moving when viewing a home with water damage.
  • Foundation issues: Major foundation issues could be costly to repair. Be on the lookout for signs like windows and doors that are difficult to operate or cracks in the home’s exterior. These could be signs that the property is shifting or sinking.
  • Pest infestation: Ordering a pest inspection in addition to your home inspection could be a good idea. Any signs of pest problems or damage could be a good indication that you should pass on that particular home.
  • Overall neglect: A home that looks like it’s been neglected in terms of maintenance and upkeep probably has been. Failure to keep up with home maintenance could lead to unforeseen issues after you close on the home, which would then make any repairs your responsibility.
  • Overuse of scents: If you walk into a house for a viewing and you’re overwhelmed with strong scents from a diffuser, plug-in, candles or other sources, it could be an indication that the seller is trying to mask unpleasant odors.

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.