Here are eight of the smartest questions every home buyer, from first-timers to seasoned vets, should ask before buying a new home.
When you set out to buy a house, it’s inspiring to dream about the memories you’ll make in your new home. But it’s not uncommon for the process of actually buying that home to bring on feelings of dread… even for seasoned buyers. After all, the home buying process—from beginning to end—has a ton of moving parts. Not to mention, it’s likely the biggest financial decision you’ll ever make. Still, it’s not rocket science. And if you take your time, work with reputable professionals, and—most importantly—ask the right questions, you’ll be just fine.
Towards that end, here are eight of the smartest questions every home buyer, from first-timers to seasoned vets, should ask before buying a new home.
What’s the Seller’s Motivation for Selling the House?
Though you may not get a straight answer, it’s worth asking this question because it can help inform your negotiation strategy. For example, a seller who is relocating for a job opportunity may have a deadline by which they must sell their house. This tells you that, while they still want to get a good price, there may be room to negotiate since they also want to sell the house quickly. On the flip side, if you discover that the seller has no urgent need to sell, you know your offer will likely need to meet or exceed their list price.
When Was the House Put on the Market?
Your real estate agent or an internet search should reveal this information. Either way, it’s important to know how long a house has been on the market for the same reason it’s important to know the seller’s motivation—because it can help inform your negotiation strategy. Generally speaking, the longer a home stays on the market, the more willing the seller is to accept a lower price. It’s important to know, though, what is considered a “long time” for a house to be listed in the market you’re looking. While the average home on Zillow is listed for about a month, it may be perfectly normal in certain markets for a house to be on the market for 60 days. So before you start using this information as leverage in negotiation, make sure you understand the dynamics of your specific market.
How Old Are the Major House Components?
It’s a good idea to understand how old the big-ticket items in the house are. This could include kitchen appliances, the HVAC system, and septic system (if applicable). It’s also important to find out how old the roof is. Depending on the roofing material and the quality of the installation, older roofs last about 15 to 20 years while newer roofs can last up to 50 years. If the roof—or any other major house component—is on its last legs, you should factor that into your budget. And, unless the age of major house components is already baked into the price of the home, you’ll want to bring it up during negotiations.
Were Any Major Renovations or Repairs Done to the House?
Major renovations or repairs aren’t necessarily a problem, but you do want to know who did the work and if it was all legitimate. So ask this question and, if possible, try to find out who did the work and if the work was done with a permit. If the work wasn’t permitted and the city finds out after you’ve purchased the house, you’ll be on the hook for any issues that may cause. If you can’t get a straight answer, you can go into the city’s planning department to find out. Permit information is generally on the public record.
What Items Come with the House?
While the purchase contract will likely lay out what comes with the house and what doesn’t, you should find out up front. Generally, anything that’s fixed to the property, such as shelves and kitchen appliances, comes with the sale of the house. However, certain items like a swingset in the backyard or window coverings may or may not be included in the purchase. Disputes and misunderstandings about these items are common, so ask about them before discussion go too far.
Are There Any Problems With the Neighborhood?
If you’ve ever moved into a new place, whether you rented or bought, you probably learned a few things about the place only after you moved in. While that’s sometimes unavoidable, you should do your best to avoid any surprises about the neighborhood. Speeding cars, loud neighbors, or other neighborhood nuisances might not be a big deal to the seller, but they could be to you. So ask about the neighborhood. You can take it a step further by looking online for crime statistics in the neighborhood you’re buying a house.
How Do I Make My Offer As Competitive as Possible?
Ask this question to your real estate agent or someone who is very knowledgeable about the market. Depending on the market and the individual seller, there are a variety of things you can do—that don’t include offering more—to make your offer as competitive as possible. For example, having your financing all lined up and ready to close fast can help you compete against all-cash buyers. Also, something as simple as including a personal letter with your offer to introduce you and your family to the seller can help you stand out.
Can I Really Afford This House?
One of the trickiest parts about buying a home is that figuring out how much house you can afford is not very intuitive. There are financing and insurance costs, taxes, plus other closing costs. So, sit down and ask yourself the question: Can I afford this house? Add up all the numbers. Or have a professional help you. A good rule of thumb is that your monthly housing costs should not exceed a third of your pre-tax income.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.”
It’s natural to look at the seller or their agent as an adversary, but you’ll be surprised how open they are if you just have a conversation with them. If they dodge your questions or give vague answers, though, that’s fine too. Consult with your real estate agent or do some digging with the city to find the answers you need to make a smart decision.