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Things to do Before Buying a House

What you'll learn: Things to consider before buying a house

EXPECTED READ TIME: 14 MINUTES

The decision to buy a home is exciting. To make your hunt as successful as possible, there’s a lot to consider. Today you’re going to discover things to do before buying a house. If you talk to fifty different people shopping for their own place, they’ll all have a unique concept of the ideal property. Today we’re going to help you make your list of what you should look for when buying a house.

Start With Your List of Must-Haves

There are a lot of things to do before buying a house. As one of the first items – before you begin shopping, you should have your list of absolutes. These are points you won’t compromise on. You can keep it simple like this:

  1. Maximum price ­– how big of a mortgage loan have you been approved for? Keep that in mind and stay within your budget. Otherwise, you could fall in love with a home that you can’t afford and won’t be able to buy.
  2. Location ­– list all the areas you’re considering. If you want to live in a big city, list out the different neighborhoods you’d like to look in. If you’re open to the suburbs, expand your area. And for those that can live anywhere, write down your top choices.
  3. Size ­– what’s the minimum and maximum square footage you need? How many bedrooms and baths? Is a smaller house on a larger piece of property what you’re looking for?
  4. Type ­– what kind of homes would you consider? Single-family, single-story, two-story, condo, or townhome.

Your Lifestyle

Take a step back and consider your lifestyle. Do you plan on doing a lot of traveling? If so, it will be important to have a low-maintenance property. Or are you entertaining every weekend, so you’ll need a home that’s big enough for lots of friends and family? Is having extra money for hobbies important? If so – consider not buying at the top of your budget.

Before shopping, think about:

  • Budget – how tight are you willing to go on your budget? Would you rather spend more on the house and have less fun money? Or the other way around?
  • Time – how much time do you have available for upkeep? Or do you have enough money to hire the help you need? Take this into consideration before purchasing a home with a large yard, pool, or a fixer.

The Location

Once you have the location(s) in mind, take a look at this list and consider what’s important.

  • Schools – if you have kids now or are planning to, good schools will be a priority. Check out the local public and private schools in the areas you’re considering. You can check out GreatSchools.org to see ratings.
  • Zoning ­– check out zoning if you have a home-based business or you plan to remodel. You’ll want to make sure you can do what you want to in the location you choose.
  • Amenities ­– see what’s nearby, for example, ­– local parks, walking trails, and close-by shopping.
  • CC&Rs – means covenants, conditions, and restrictions. These are rules homeowners have to follow. In gated communities, they can be quite extensive. For example, there are common rules on exterior home colors, acceptable pets, noise, speeding, and parking.
  • Pet-Friendly – make sure to check any CC&Rs for rules on pets, especially if you have a big dog. When viewing a home, see if the backyard is suitable for your furry friends.
  • Safety – if you’re unfamiliar with the neighborhoods you’re looking at, check the safety. There are several online sites you can use. It’s also not a bad idea to contact the local police or sheriff's department to ask about the neighborhood.
  • Walkability – if living in a neighborhood that you can walk to the grocery store is important to you, let your realtor know. The most walkable areas are either in the city or in planned communities.

Breaking the above location list down by what’s important to you will help you in choosing the ideal property to buy.

The Lot

For some shoppers, the parcel is more important than the house. In fact, they’d pick an older dated home on a larger parcel in a beautiful setting. Take into account how important the lot is.

  • Characteristics – do you want a view, is being close to water important, is a level lot vital for growing a large garden, or do you want several different pets and animals?
  • Set back ­– when looking at a lot, take into account how far the home is from the street. Know that a larger front yard gives you more privacy, as long as it doesn’t make the back yard too small.
  • Privacy ­– in some big cities, larger lots and privacy isn’t possible. But whatever property you’re looking at, see if you’ll still have the privacy you need. Not only does the parcel have something to do with it, but also the quality of building materials, especially if you’re buying a townhome or condo.
  • Maintenance ­– if you love working outside and want a garden, a large yard will suit you well. But if you’d don’t like yard work, will you have enough money to hire someone to do the yard maintenance? If not, it may be best to look at low-maintenance properties and smaller lots.  
  • Driveway & parking – this is important if you have a teenage driver and multiple cars. Generally, it’s good to avoid steep driveways, especially if you live in snow country. If parking is an issue, the property may not be the best fit.

The Exterior

Almost any home exterior can be improved – that is, unless you’re looking at brand new homes with beautiful landscaping. When viewing properties, look at the exterior with a discerning eye. Know what to look for and what to avoid. Keep these items in mind:

  • General condition – what’s your first impression of the exterior? Will you need to make major changes?
  • Exterior condition – check out the siding, gutters, fascia (wood beneath the gutters), and eaves for dry rot. Walk around the structure to see if there are any drainage issues.
  • Roof – the age and condition of the roof are important. If the roof doesn’t have very many years left, you might have trouble getting a loan on it until there’s a new roof. An old roof means you may need to negotiate with the seller.
  • Garage – if you love older homes, don’t overlook their small garages. SUVs won’t fit in most. Also, see how much, if any, storage space there is.
  • Curb appeal – if the property lacks curb appeal, don’t let it discourage you. Use it to your advantage and negotiate. Just make sure to consider the price of any renovations. 
  • Upgrades needed – consider if there will be renovations, you’ll have to make within the first few years of owning the house.

The Interior

When looking at a property, keep these points in mind. It’s important to look at the interior with a keen eye, so you see the pros and cons.

  • General condition – make a note of the general condition of the inside. Do you like the layout? Is it dated or updated? Is the floor plan open or traditional?
  • The number of floors – don’t fall in love with a two-story home if you don’t like climbing stairs. It sounds simple, but it’s important to consider how many floors you want.
  • Floor plan – do you have a specific floor plan in mind? Many of the new homes have modern open floorplans if that’s what you’re looking for.
  • Bedrooms – what’s the minimum number of bedrooms you need now? How about in five years? Make sure you’re planning for the future, whether it’s having more kids or getting ready for an empty nest.
  • Bathrooms – the number of bathrooms is important. Most home shoppers need at least 1 ½. Decide what works for you. If you find an older home with only one bath, see if it’s possible to easily add a second.
  • Attic – it’s important to have the attic inspected for pests and roof leaks. Find out what condition the insulation is in. If there are pests, you’ll most likely need new insulation.
  • Windows & doors – open and close the doors. If most of them stick, that could mean some settling. Keep in mind that older windows mean higher utility costs – so figure that into your budget.
  • Flooring – what’s the condition of the flooring? Will the carpeting need to be replaced? Does the home have hardwood floors? Are there pet stains? Any signs of water damage?
  • Basement – if there’s a basement, make sure it’s watertight and doesn’t leak or have excessive moisture. Also, check under the house in the crawlspace for dry rot and standing water.
  • Storage – Does the house have enough closets and kitchen cabinets? Is there extra storage in the garage?
  • Upgrades needed – do you see any upgrades that you’ll need to make within the next few years? If so – add them to your budget.

Systems & Appliances

Don’t forget the expensive systems and appliances. When you have a home inspection, the inspector will test everything out. That’s why having a home inspection when buying a house is smart, even if it’s not required. That way you won’t have any surprises. Find out the condition of:

  • HVAC – how old is the unit, and is it energy efficient? Ask to see the home’s energy bills.
  • Electrical – having sound electrical is vital, especially in older homes.
  • Plumbing – dealing with leaks or old pipes isn’t fun – have the plumbing checked.
  • Hot water heater – although it’s not an expensive item, it’s good to know the condition.
  • Kitchen appliances – will you need to replace the appliances, or are they new?
  • Septic – if the property has a septic system, it will need to be pumped and inspected.
  • Well – if the property has a well for its main source of water, you’ll need to have it tested and inspected.

Other Considerations

There are a few other things to check.

  • Clean insurance – if you’re concerned there may have been some issues with the property, have your realtor ask if there have been any major insurance claims.
  • Property history – for any home you’re looking at, check the days on the market. Don’t plan on negotiating if it’s newly listed.
  • Taxes – find out how much the property taxes are. Confirm if the property is in the city or county because that will affect the tax rate.

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider and look at when you’re buying a new home. Hopefully, this list has helped you discover what is most important to you.

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