Things to Look for When Viewing a House
Would you spend just 20 minutes viewing a house that is going to be your home for many years? Some buyers do – and live to regret it.
The first time that you’re viewing a house is when you get that gut feeling and get a chance to compare a home to your wish lists. While you’ll know if a potential home meets your basic requirements—from the number of bedrooms to the availability of outdoor space, you won’t know every detail of a home the first time you view it.
Use our guidelines to help you make an informed assessment of a home’s condition.
Check the floors
One way to the tell that the plumbing might not be up to par? Look for floors with unusual sagging or dipping near the bathroom. “It’s a sign that plumbers may have done some interesting plumbing underneath the floor,” says Michael Ingui, of the firm Baxt Ingui Architects. Sagging floors in other portions of the home mean the structure may need some work.
First impressions shouldn’t be underestimated. Even before viewing a house, you should go and see the property from the outside. Often this is enough to know a property is not for you. You can get a good feel for the neighborhood by driving around nearby streets too. It’s worth doing this both during the day and at night to assess things like traffic noise.
Make a list of all the things that are important to you and any questions you want to ask before viewing the house. Once you’re in the house it’s easy for things to slip your mind.
Take your agent
Always consider viewing the house with a real estate agent present. Not only is it safer, it’s always great to have someone to bounce ideas off and ask for a second opinion. Book a Buyer’s Consultation with us to help you through that process.
Imagine your ideal yard
Would you prefer to maximize your space or minimize your maintenance? A large, fenced lot could give you enough space to play with children, let your dogs run off-leash, or install a tool shed or swimming pool in the future. A smaller lot, however, is less expensive and easier to manage.
A flat yard can make a great soccer pitch, or swing set pad. You might install a pool. Others would rather embrace a stellar view or a shorter commute and don’t mind a shrunken or hilly yard.
Do you want a yard that’s forested and shady, or would you prefer more sun? If you plan on gardening or landscaping, make sure the yard’s light conditions are compatible with your plans. Some plants, like tomatoes, require abundant sunlight, while others, like mint, thrive in shade and part-sun conditions, so your decision could depend on what you hope to grow.
Would you like a deck, patio, swimming pool, jacuzzi, built-in cooktop or grill, or other outdoor features? These features can make a home life more enjoyable, but they also require significant upkeep. Pools and hot tubs need regular cleaning and maintenance. Decks and patios need to be re-sealed. Are you going to use these features often enough to justify the additional expense and commitment?
How much privacy and space from the road would you like? You may enjoy the privacy of a deeper setback, but being close to the street means you’ll be closer to your neighbors, your children may be able to play on the sidewalk, and you won’t need to worry about shoveling or plowing a long private driveway in winter. But then, you may be closer to your neighbors.
The kitchen truly seems to be the heart of the home. It is where great food is created for the family and friends who gather there. When guests arrive, they usually end up hanging out in the kitchen, and because it’s a center of activity and entertainment, the size and layout are important. Be clear on whether you need a large gourmet kitchen with lots of counter space, sinks and storage or if a typical kitchen will suffice.
Each family has different ideas about cooking. There’s the person who said the only reason there was a kitchen is because it came with the house! In that case, any kitchen would do. Then, there’s the vegetarian who cooks daily and uses a lot of fresh ingredients, or the quick cook who microwaves all the meals. Some people entertain a lot or have large families to feed. Whatever style of cooking you are into, the kitchen will require a close look.
If you have one person doing all the cooking for only two people, a modest kitchen might be adequate. Parents who are teaching children to cook healthy meals might like more space. Whatever your preferences in the kitchen, jot them down and discuss them with your realtor so you’re looking for the best option for your family.
Notice cracks in the wall
Spotting a crack in the wall is, unsurprisingly, not good. Small drywall cracks are probably nothing to worry about, but larger cracks or ones with discoloration may indicate structural issues or leaks.
Pay attention to fresh paint
A bad paint job—or 15 layers of paint—is nothing to worry about. But do take note if it looks like the home hasn’t been renovated in a while, and you spot fresh paint or sheetrock in the cellar or basement ceiling.
Location is crucial because it’s the most likely location for termite or carpenter ant damage. If you notice any unusual cover-ups, ask why the work was done.
Test the Windows
Original windows in an older home can look great, but they’re better when they work great, too. Sometimes they’re painted shut or not airtight, which can make your utility costs huge. Even more importantly, windows that don’t open easily can be an early sign of foundation problems.
Check the bills
Ask to see utility and council tax bills so you know what to expect.
Inspect the age of the house
If you are only interested in new construction, this is irrelevant. However, if you prefer viewing a house in your price range that meets your basic requirements, you may see homes from several decades. Older homes can have a character that appeals, and they may also need more repairs and upgrades. Make sure you have the time, inclination and budget to enjoy managing these projects.
Building codes change over the years, and it would be good to have a basic understanding of some of the more stimulating differences when looking at homes built under a different set of rules. Your realtor might have this knowledge or would know where to find the answers. If you’re looking for a certain vintage and style, you might already be aware of how homes were constructed at that time.
Assess the roof
Ask when the roof was installed and ask to see the warranty to back it up. Older homes may have several layers of roofing, some of which could have asbestos. It’ll be hard for a non-expert to know everything about the roof just by looking at it, so don’t be afraid to ask questions or follow-up with an expert opinion.
Check on building violations and permits
If you’re feeling good after the walk through, get to work investigating any open violations or permit issues the home may be saddled with. Check the local building department, fire department, and historic agencies to make sure the building comes out clear. It’s very important the home has a clean bill of health with local government agencies. It is also recommended checking if a neighbor has filed complaints with the home—and follow up with the neighbor, if so. Numerous complaints may signal that there are problems with the property, or that the home will come with a sensitive neighbor.
While viewing the house, make sure that all work that’s been done was filed with the local buildings department. For example, prior owners may have added a fourth bedroom to the house, but permits were never filed and it’s getting taxed as a three bedroom. Be sure to ask the sellers if all the permitting is in order; if you’re suspicious about shoddy work, a title company should follow up with due diligence.
Seller’s incentive to sell
When you’re out in the market viewing a house, you will find that some sellers are more motivated than others. Some people will place their home on the market but don’t really care if it sells or not. If not, they are happy to continue living there and will try again later. With this type of sale, there is not usually much wiggle room on the price.
There are times, however, when a seller is highly motivated to sell. Examples might be: an estate sale, a job relocation and need to move out of state, or someone paying two mortgages and wanting to sell and get back to only one payment. Your realtor will help you determine how motivated the seller might be and how to draft the offer and counteroffers to get the best price.
Be realistic about home repairs
How much repair and maintenance work would you like to handle? Everyone’s answer will be different. One person’s cute fixer-upper is another’s worst nightmare.
Here are a few aspects of the structure and mechanics of a property to consider:
Fascia and gutters
Fascia are the long boards that run along a roof’s lower edge. Gutters are typically attached to the fascia. These are prime places to check for rot or signs of water damage.
How old is the roof, and what’s the average life expectancy of the roofing material? If the roof tends toward the end of an expected lifespan, you may have to replace sections soon after moving in. You can ask for a credit to cover repairs when you buy the home.
Older homes may have older electrical features, such as open junction boxes or a lack of high-amp outlets that can handle newer appliances, says This Old House. Some issues are grandfathered into modern codes and aren’t a big deal, but some can pose safety hazards. If you aren’t experienced with updating a home’s electric or don’t have a potentially large budget for a fix, you may want to consider if you can handle an older house with potential electric issues.
Questions to ask when buying a house
What is the property worth?
Your real estate agent can’t tell you what you should offer, but they can help you to compare similar homes in similar neighborhoods to see what price they sold for. By asking your agent the high and low price for similar properties, you can make an educated offer on a home.
How often has the house been sold?
If the property has been on and off the market multiple times within the last 10 years, it could point to a problem in the home that the owners discovered. It may be the location, neighborhood or the house itself. If you’re viewing such a house, make sure to check with your agent to see how often the home has been moved out of, and if the number seems high, ask why.
How long has the property been on the market?
If the house has been on the market for three months or more, then you need to ask why. Is there a problem with it that you haven’t discovered yet but more savvy buyers spotted? Surveys will discover any potential problems but it’s better to find out before you get too attached to the idea of buying a property.
How much will I pay in closing costs?
The down payment isn’t the only cash you’ll be forking over on closing day. You’ll also be responsible for closing costs, which typically include loan origination fees and third-party fees for title research, processing of paperwork, an appraisal and other administrative tasks. Expect to pay around 2 percent to 5 percent of the home’s purchase price in closing costs, but that can vary depending on your area.
The closing disclosure, which a lender is required to provide you three business days before closing, will spell out all of your loan fees and how much cash you’ll need to close.
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.
How old is the roof?
Replacing a roof is an expensive business, and newer roofs have a life expectancy of only 15-20 years, depending on the materials
Also, if the property has a flat or nearly flat roof, check out the material with which it sealed. Nowadays a membrane is used and is better than asphalt and gravel, which can leave seams and edges unsealed.
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 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, while viewing a house, you come across items that 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.
Have the sellers found their next property?
When are they planning to move? Being in a chain can create complications for buyers as any delays or complications for the sellers will have a knock-on effect for you. The ideal situation is that the property is chain-free but, if not, knowing the sellers are organized and keen to move quickly can bode well for a quick and uncomplicated sale.
It’s difficult to find a property that meets every desirable criterion on your list. Hopefully, if you’re on budget and your desires are reasonable, our team at Falaya will help you find something that fits your most important must-haves.