My husband and I are currently house-hunting. To be honest, it's a bit overwhelming. We're not only buying a house, but also moving out of New York City. In short, it's a lot to think about. There are schools to consider, inspections to order, and so many financial questions it makes my head ache just gazing at all the paperwork. However, there are definitely some essentials that you must know before purchasing if you want to make the best decisions possible. These questions to ask before buying a house will hopefully help guide you on your journey to become a homeowner.
Last year in the United States, nearly five and a half million homes were sold, and over a half of a million were built, according to the National Association of Realtors. That's a stunning amount of real estate changing hands in one year. While only 35 percent of millennials owned homes in 2015, that number is projected to rise thanks to a stabilizing interest rate and gains made since the economic recession of 2008, noted US News and World Report. With so many of us looking to purchase a home, it's essential that we know what to ask.
Here's what I've learned so far:
1. How much is it?
This seems like a no-brainer, but it's more complex than you're thinking. Not only is the sale price of the home in a traditional sale typically negotiable, but when you factor in closing costs, taxes, and any other fees associated with the purchase, the number can inch up, and can overtake your total budget.
2. Who is paying what?
While the seller is responsible for the real estate agent's commission and the buying agent's commission, things like closing costs, typically the burden of the buyer, can sometimes be negotiated. The same thing goes for appraisal and inspection fees, through something called "closing cost assistance." Though this is very rare.
3. How much did the seller pay for the home?
One of the things I learned from my real estate agent was to ask what the seller paid for their house when they bought it and what year they purchased it. That gives you a clue of how the property value has risen over the years, which might help you make your decision.
4. Why are you selling?
Yes, it seems like a personal question, and it is, but depending upon why someone is selling, they might be more willing to negotiate on price, noted Investopedia. Also, if they're selling because something is bothersome about the neighborhood or house, you have a right to know. (No one needs an Amityville situation.)
5. How much does the seller owe?
Are they underwater in their mortgage? If so, why? Is it because housing prices haven't risen, and they ended up with a ballooning mortgage and no equity? If that's the case, you might want to reconsider, unless the seller is willing to take a hit and you're willing to take the risk, according to Realty Times.
6. How much are similar homes selling for in the area?
If you've watched a single episode of any house flipping show, you know how important it is to understand the comps (comparables, in non-flipper language) to buying and selling a home. Are the sellers asking for too much, or are you getting a deal?
7. How long has it been on the market?
If the homeowner has tried to sell the house for three months, they're likely willing to dig deep on that selling price, unless they aren't attached to selling. The longer it's been on the market, the more price drops that have happened, the better the likelihood that you'll get a deal, or that there's something fishy about the house. (Back to Amityville.)
8. How's the roof/electricity/replaceables?
Anything that's considered a replaceable on a home, like plumbing, electric, the roof, the driveway, needs consideration. How old are they, what are they made from, have they been recently repaired or upgraded? You might get a great deal on the house, and then find out that the roof leaks, the plumbing is slow as anything, and the driveway is about to crack. That's not ideal, and it's really expensive. My girlfriend recently bought a house, and found out the gutters were garbage. That was $4,000 she was not expecting to shell out in year one of owning a home.
9. What kind of sale is it?
Short sale, foreclosure, pre-foreclosure, traditional sale, FSBO — they all have different meanings, and you need to know what you're dealing with, and so does your bank. You may get excited to see a great house go to auction, but you might not be able to meet the needs of your bank in terms of appraisal and inspection before the seller needs to be rid of the house, noted Quicken Loans. If they're not willing to wait, you're out of luck.
10. How are the schools?
Having good schools is important for home value, for educating your children, and also, for your property taxes. Great school districts cost a lot of money, and it's the homeowners that foot the bill.
12. How many owners has the house had?
If the house is only 40 years old but has had eight owners, either you're in an area that people don't love, or there's something about the house that isn't working for people. Knowing this can mean the difference between buying or not.
13. Is there radon, lead, or asbestos?
Find out what's in the home. While few houses still have any of these things, older homes that haven't been recently renovated might still. Removing these offenders might incur additional cost.
14. Is the house in a flood/fire area?
Has the house ever been flooded, or is it near a flood plain? Has it ever been threatened by wildfire? After Hurricane Sandy, my fear of a devastating home flood is pretty intense. I watched as dozens of my friends lost homes, memories. Know the risk of living there.
15. Has there ever been a mold or mildew issue?
Many of us have friends or family with a mold horror story. I know that my asthma is extremely sensitive to mold and mildew, and because of that, I am hyper vigilant about the presence of either in a potential home.
16. Any recent renovations?
Nothing like seeing a gorgeous fireplace with huge logs in the hearth only to realize its recently been converted to a gas burning model that gently flickers. Renovations can be a real boon, but they can also be a pain. If they're done haphazardly, or by amateurs, you might be re-doing that reno.
17. What's included in the sale?
It would seriously suck to buy a house, marveling over its gorgeous matte black appliances, only to realize that those aren't going to be there when you buy the house, and that you're going to have to shell out thousands for new kitchen appliances. The same goes for washers and dryers, wall and window AC units, and even furniture. If the house is being sold turn-key, and you hate all the old people furniture, you're going to have to pay to have them taken away, or make arrangements for their donation.
18. How much is the HOA fee, and what's included?
Moving to a neighborhood with a homeowner's association? You need to know how much your HOA fee will be, and what's included. Sometimes, you're lucky enough to have things like snow removal, and other times you'll be wondering where the money is going. Did the HOA president really need that new golf cart just to bug you about your new water feature in your garden?
19. Any special neighborhood regulations?
Does your yard need to be mowed any time the grass reaches a certain height? Are there rules dictating how you decorate for the holidays, or maybe some unspoken competition between neighbors? Being someone who loves gardening and plants, I'd be cheesed to learn that what I grow is mandated by some board of directors.
20. What are the land use rights?
If you're buying a home with a lot of land, you need to know which companies — if any — or governmental agencies have access to your land. Where I am looking in Upstate New York, many areas have electrical or pipelines running through the property, and the companies in charge of those might be driving through your land, or even tearing it up. Also, sometimes parts of the land might be designated as a wildlife refuge that you cannot alter, and that the government can come onto for research purposes.
Fun fact! If a city sewer or water pipe runs through your property and bursts, often you're responsible for the damage and repair.
21. Are there sex offenders close by?
Being married to a cop, my husband has his phone out doing searches before we even visit a house. Thankfully, it's an easy search.
22. What are the monthly maintenance fees?
How much are heating and cooling costs? How is garbage collected? What's the average electric bill? What cable providers are nearby? All of these costs add up, so it's best to know in advance.
23. What are the property taxes?
How much are the property taxes, and is there an increase on the horizon? (Hint: there's usually an increase on the horizon, it's just a matter of how much.)
24. What's the nearest hospital?
In the event of an emergency, paramedics will take you to the nearest hospital, not your preferred choice. I am speaking from unfortunate experience. If you're a mile from a hospital you'd rather not attend, you might reconsider.
25. Is anything still under warranty?
It could be a garage door or an HVAC system, but if something is under warranty, you'll need to get it transferred.
26. What are the zoning rules?
If you bought a home with a pool house hoping to rent it on AirBnB only to find out it's against zoning regulations, you'd be bummed, and possibly poorer for it. Can you have a pool? Is there a rule about eliminating trees or building fences?
27. How is the neighborhood?
Is it noisy? Are there loads of late-night parties? Maybe there's some weird group that all the dads belong to that stands around on Saturday mornings discussing the various benefits of different types of mulch? You might not want that energy in your life. Hang out a bit. Learn the neighborhood. Talk to people.
28. Anything bad/unusual happen there?
It seems an odd question until you find out that there was a meth lab in the basement or that a murder-suicide took place there in 1987. These things happen, and if they bother you, you should know. It can also impact the value of the home.
29. What does the CLUE look like?
CLUE, or Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, is a document that the insurance company can provide that shows any instance of claims being awarded. Always request a CLUE report and examine it carefully before making an offer, but still be sure to inquire about things that they might not have filed for, such as termites and carpenter bee infestations.
30. Where can you park?
I live in New York City, and my brother and sister-in-law live in an area of Brooklyn where between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you're not allowed to park in the street. If they want to have a party in the summer, parking is an absolute nightmare. Always find out parking rules — they can be more annoying than you think.
31. Is the neighborhood anticipating a change?
If you are buying a house with a mountain view, only to find out they're building a condo unit blocking said view, you'd be rather put off. Also, there could be new construction soon to happen nearby, or a highway going in. You should know this before making your decision.
32. What are the rules regarding pets?
Another weird query, but essential for safety. Some HOAs in communities allow for leash-free dog walking, and other similar activities. This is great if the dogs are well-behaved, but we all know that's not always the case. Find out the rules, and what the area's pets are like.
33. What animals come by?
Where I'm looking to move has bears, moose, mountain lions, foxes, coyotes, deer, turkeys, and the list goes on. Downstate and New Jersey (other possible areas on our list) is so known for bear pool parties, that there are whole segments dedicated to the phenomenon on local news. Other areas of the country might have alligators or rattlesnakes. Know your local wildlife, and how often they get to the house. It's a matter of safety, and sanitation. Moose poop is no joke. (Imagine the size...)
34. Is it on any historical registries?
Buying a home in Downstate New York often means buying a historical home. If it's on a registry, that can limit how it can be changed, and you might find yourself on a walking tour.
35. What's the soil like?
If you're a big gardener, you're going to want to know what your hardiness region is, how the soil drains, what it's made from, and if it can grow what you want. If you're a huge rose fan, and the soil is sandy, you're going to be disappointed, or forced to do a lot of work.