Five questions you must ask before buying a house

“Do I love it?”

While loving your potential new home is important, it’s not the only question you need to ask when you set out to sign on the dotted line. Far from it. 

In The Seattle Times article  “15 best questions to ask when buying a house,” Sarah Li Cain details the questions you should ask before plunking down your deposit. To save you time, we’ve selected a few highlights from those queries below.

What’s your total budget?

What can you actually afford to spend? It seems like a pretty basic question, but with all the extra costs associated with buying a home, you need to be concerned with more than just the listing price. 

It’s important to take into account costs like property taxes, homeowners insurance, homeowners association dues and ongoing home maintenance. In addition, consider whether the house will require renovations. A home that looks good on paper but requires a large cash infusion may not be for you. 

“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,” says Wendy Mays, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties in Chula Vista. So figure out if you’re ready to play the long game (or not). 

Finally, be sure to get preapproval for the mortgage. It’s a waste of everyone’s time if you’re looking at houses only to find out you can’t afford them. 

How much insurance will you need?

Insurance is one of those necessary ‘safety net’ expenses you hope you never come to need. Insuring your home, however, has much more to do with its location than one might initially expect.

Is your potential new home in a federally designated flood zone? Or is it, perhaps, in an area where earthquakes abound? Maybe it’s in an area prone to wildfires. (No, we’re not trying to scare you off!) That said, homes located in flood zones MUST have flood insurance, and it’s not a minor expense. Similarly, earthquake insurance is a necessity if it’s likely your home can be damaged in the next set of tremors. Wildfire coverage depends upon your local area, provider and policy. 

No matter where you choose to settle down, factoring such figures into your budget early on can save you from a costly surprise and a world of headaches later.   

What’s the history of the house? 

It’s time to be a super sleuth! Find out as much as you can about any major repairs the seller has done and whether warranties are available. It’s also important to know about any renovations to the house, if they are up to code, and how they might affect the home’s value. (In some cases, “DIY” should mean “Doesn’t Interest You”…)

Look at big ticket items first. While investigating improvements, note when the roof was last replaced. If that information is not provided, ask your realtor to learn more. This is one area you don’t want to leave up to chance. If the roof is on its last legs and you buy the house, you can almost count on a major outlay of cash to replace it.

Oh, and make sure to have the place inspected by a professional. Since home inspections are done before closing, they represent an opportunity to negotiate with the seller on making any critical repairs that arise.  

Why are they leaving and what’s left?

If your agent can find out the reason why the seller is selling and how motivated they are, you’ll have more insight into how much wiggle room there may be on the price. Similarly, if the house has been on the market for a while, the owner will probably be more willing to wheel and deal. 

Also, what are they leaving behind? In most typical sales, fixtures such as cabinets, blinds, ceiling fans etc., would remain with the house, but until you know for certain, don’t assume. While exclusions should be specified in the listing, it’s best to confirm, especially if you have your heart set on certain items. Further, even if an item is not included in the price, consider asking if the seller could be persuaded to include it in the deal. Who knows? They may not even have sentimental ties to that bear rug in the den!

What are the neighbors like?

Consider this to be the ultimate recon tip. “Drive the neighborhood and stop and speak with neighbors,” Mays suggests. “Neighbors are an excellent way to get information about the community that a seller might not want to share.”

Certainly, you don’t have to love every person who lives next to or diagonally across from you, but you do want to know that you won’t end up on the evening news for losing your temper. Aside from the people, it’s also wise to ascertain whether the home fits into your chosen lifestyle. 

  • Is the house close enough to work and/or school? 
  • Do you enjoy spending time walking to neighborhood shops and coffeehouses? 
  • Are there parks, swimming pools or sports facilities nearby? 

If so, take all of that into account before you buy. Not doing so might lead to a decision you regret later.

OK, so…what’s the bottom line?

There’s a reason why it feels like you’re signing over your firstborn at closing time. Pages upon pages of legal documents indicate just what a big deal and significant investment this is for most people. So when you’re buying your next house, know this: more information is better. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—yep, all the questions—and you’ll be just fine! 

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