As a first time home buyer, buying a house can be overwhelming. It’s usually the biggest asset a person will ever own. On top of mortgages and money, it’s easy to get wrapped in the dream of owning a home and overlook issues that will cause problems down the road. Read this house hunting checklist from family handyman to make sure you have your bases covered while you work to buy a house.
Buying in the Wrong Season
Any real estate agent will tell you that making an offer in early spring or summer will result in a higher price for your home, but there are often many more variables to buying in the right season. If you do choose to search and purchase in the winter when most eligible home buyers are snuggled in front of their fireplace, you’ll likely have less competition. However, you’ll also find fewer homes to choose from due to less inventory in the low season. If you buy in the high season, you’ll have many more homes to choose from, but will fight stiff competition as everyone dons their flip flops for whole days of open houses.
Judging a Book by its Cover
Let’s face it, some homes show horribly. Some have old carpet, some have peeling paint, and some just downright stink. But just because a house looks bad, doesn’t mean that its current condition isn’t merely cosmetic damage. While you’re checking out a property, make sure to take a peek under carpets to check for original hardwood flooring and other historical details like crown molding. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend in construction, have them take a look at the house’s foundation to determine if it’ll still be standing upright in another 100 years. Determining if a house has good bones will help you look past the cover image on an otherwise dingy dust jacket.
Jumping the Gun After One Viewing
If you find a home you like and you have time to consider an offer (think: viewing during the low season when you have less competition), it’s important to visit the house several times before you make your decision. If you can, check out the house on a sunny day to determine if the windows let in natural light. Then race over when it’s raining to confirm that the basement doesn’t leak. These thorough viewings will let you know what it will be like to live in the house year-round. Keep in mind that some water issues are easy to fix, while others can be costly.
If you’re on the buying end of real estate, there’s no real reason not to hire a real estate agent. This person is a professional who will not only schedule and accompany you on showings, but is a well of information on the entire buying process. Plus, their commission fees are generally paid for through the sale of the home, which means that their services, to you, are free. Nothing to lose.
Skipping the Inspection
When deciding on a house, nothing is more important than the condition of the property. And the best way to confirm that you’re not investing in a money pit? Get an inspection. From a real inspector. Don’t call your uncle’s friend who happens to be a contractor or your coworker’s cousin who used to be a plumber. Get a real inspector who is certified through the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Your real estate agent can help you hire the right person, though finding an unbiased, third-party inspector you can trust is a better option.
If you’re serious about buying a home and not just trolling the market, be sure to get pre-approved by your bank or credit union BEFORE you start viewing homes. Also, be sure to obtain pre-approval instead of just pre-qualification, which is simply a preliminary letter from your bank without the official credit check, etc. With pre-approval, you will really feel ready to make an offer when a home feels right, and if there’s heavy competition. You’ll also know exactly what you can afford, which is really the most important thing.
Ignoring Old Paint
Despite the fact that sellers are required to fill out a lead-pair disclosure form in most states, if the home you’re considering was built before 1978, you should seriously consider its potential for lead-based paint. On one of your showings, take a lead-paint test kit with you to swab a few areas that seem suspicious (flaking, zebra-like chips). You can buy tests for a few bucks at your local health department. If you have time and the ability, also test the water to ensure the tap water doesn’t contain lead as well.
Skipping the Final Walk-Through
Most purchase agreements allow for a final walk-through of the property to ensure that the house is still in good condition. This might not seem necessary, but if you’re purchasing a foreclosed property or displacing disgruntled renters, you may need to ensure that no last-minute damage was done (think writing on walls, stolen appliances, etc.).
Not Being Neighborly
In some communities, neighbors can make or break your home purchase. In a friendly neighbor, you can have a friend, a confidant and sometimes even a babysitter. Neighbors, if they’ve lived near your potential home for a few years, can also contain knowledge about previous owners or tenants and any damage they might have done. Were there ever bats in the attic? Was there lead remediation? Radon problems? Your neighbors might know all of the dirty details. So don’t be afraid to get friendly, and just ask.
Trying to Make it Work
When you’re excited about buying a home, it’s easy to envision yourself living in a home you just like…even if it’s really not the right property for you. Don’t try to squeeze your family into a house without the right amount of bedrooms, for instance, just because you like the neighborhood. The right home will come along eventually, and when it does, you’ll be ready.