Buying a home may be one of the biggest decisions you make in your life, which is why ensuring that you’ve found the right one is essential. But with so many houses on the market, how can you know which one’s right for you?
After all, your dream home isn’t just the house with your ideal number of bedrooms and bathrooms — it’s also the one that meets your budget and long-term needs.
To avoid spending too much money or regretting your decision down the road, ask these 15 questions during the home buying process.
- What is your budget?
- Why is the seller leaving?
- What does the home come with?
- How long has the house been on the market?
- How much have neighboring homes sold for?
- What is the neighborhood like?
- What are the neighbors like?
- Are there any past insurance claims?
- Are there any health or safety issues?
- Is the home in an area that’s prone to natural disasters?
- Were there any major expansions or renovations?
- How old are the major systems and appliances?
- How old is the roof?
- Does the house have any problems?
- How much will closing costs be?
1. What Is Your Budget?
Looking at houses before you fully understand how much you can afford to spend is a waste of time — both for you and the sellers. Make sure you consider not only the sales price, but also additional costs such as homeowners insurance, property taxes, homeowners association dues, any necessary renovations, and ongoing home maintenance.
The best way to determine how much you can afford is to get preapproval for a mortgage, which affirms that you meet the guidelines for mortgage financing. Mortgage preapproval gives you confidence that you can afford a home, and your seller confidence that you’re a qualified buyer.
[Related: Can I Afford to Buy a Home in Seattle?]
2. Why Is the Seller Leaving?
It’s in your best interest to negotiate the price of the house if you can, and determining why the seller is leaving might help with that.
Someone who needs to move quickly due to a job relocation, major life event, or the like may be more flexible than a seller who can take their time. Your buyer’s agent should look into the seller’s situation to see how much room there is to negotiate.
3. What Does the Home Come With?
Be sure to ask what comes with the house (and what isn’t) when you make an offer. Generally, fixtures such as blinds, cabinets, and faucets will come with the home, but this depends on state laws. While listing descriptions should identify any exclusions, that’s not always the case.
Is there something you really want that the home doesn’t include? You can always ask the seller if they’ll throw them in.
4. How Long Has the House Been on the Market?
Sellers whose homes have remained on the market for too long are usually more motivated to make a deal.
Sellers oftentimes price their homes too high, causing them to remain on the market for too long and face multiple price reductions. While many buyers may assume that something is wrong with such a home, that’s not always the case, giving you a great opportunity to negotiate the cost, terms, and contingencies.
5. How Much Have Neighboring Homes Sold For?
The neighborhood a home is in plays a big role in determining its price — especially in Seattle. Your realtor should reference the listing data for comparable homes in the area that are on the market now and have sold in the past six months. This information will show you whether the home you’re considering buying is a fair price.
If the home appears to be too expensive, you might consider making a lower offer.
6. What Is the Neighborhood Like?
You’ll likely be living in your new home for the long haul. And while you can update the house to change whatever you don’t like, you can’t change the neighborhood it’s in — so make sure you’re happy with it before you decide anything.
Your realtor should share important information such as traffic, public transportation, school ratings, crime statistics, and community amenities, and the internet is an excellent resource as well.
[Related: Seattle Neighborhood Spotlights: Ballard, Bellevue, Capitol Hill, Columbia City, Fremont, Green Lake, Greenwood, Issaquah, Kirkland, Leschi, Madison Park, Magnolia, Mercer Island, Phinney Ridge, Montlake, Queen Anne, Ravenna, Redmond, Wallingford, West Seattle]
7. What Are the Neighbors Like?
You won’t know for sure until you’ve interacted with them, but it never hurts to get an idea of what your potential neighbors are like. Ask the seller if they are quiet or noisy, friendly or reserved, and pet-friendly or not.
Of course, the seller may not want to share the less positive details, so don’t be afraid to drive or walk around the neighborhood and talk to the residents yourself.
8. Are There Any Past Insurance Claims?
Ask the seller for a copy of a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report to check if they’ve filed any homeowners insurance claims in the past seven years. The CLUE report will reveal whether the home has sustained any weather- or vandalism-related damage that the seller didn’t mention or the home inspection didn’t catch.
9. Are There Any Health or Safety Issues?
Issues such as mold, lead paint, and radon can stall your loan approval and be expensive to test and fix. Ask the seller for documentation of any past problems and how they were addressed. You may have to pay extra for specialized services if your home inspector asks for additional testing or you suspect hazardous issues.
10. Is the Home in an Area That’s Prone to Natural Disasters?
A property that’s located in a natural disaster area or flood zone will likely require extra insurance coverage.
Homes in federally designated high-risk flood zones, for example, require flood insurance. Similarly, homes in areas where earthquakes are common, such as California, may require earthquake insurance.
When purchasing homeowners insurance, make sure to get enough to cover the entire reconstruction of your home in case a natural disaster causes destruction. You could face massive repair costs if you’re underinsured.
11. Were There Any Major Expansions or Renovations?
Being aware of a home’s remodel history can give you a better idea of its current condition and whether the asking price is on target.
Keep in mind that listing descriptions and property records don’t always match. For example, the listing may specific five bedrooms, but one of those bedrooms may not conform to local building codes.
Ask the seller for a thorough report of all the major renovations and repairs they’ve done, and for the original manufacturer warranties for any systems or appliances that they have replaced.
12. How Old Are the Major Systems and Appliances?
Major systems and appliances — such as the stove, dishwasher, washer and dryer, furnace, air conditioner, and water heater — have a limited life span. If they are approaching or at the end of their life span when you purchase a home, you could be looking at major replacement or repair costs before you know it.
Try to negotiate with the seller if this is the case. They may be willing to buy a home warranty to help cover some of the expenses.
13. How Old Is the Roof?
A home’s roof is one of the more expensive items to replace; and, unlike some other items, it’s absolutely necessary. So, if you purchase a home with a roof that’s at the end of its life span, you should be ready to spend thousands replacing it.
In fact, your lender may require repairs to a damaged roof before approving your loan, making it even more important to ask about the roof’s age and condition early on.
14. Does the House Have Any Problems?
Sellers have to legally list all known defects in a disclosure form, but you can never be too careful, as anything you’re not aware of could develop into a major problem down the road. For this reason, you should have a professional complete a home inspection as soon as you sign a purchase agreement.
Be sure to include a home inspection contingency in your agreement. This contingency allows you to back out of the deal and get your deposit back if the home inspection reveals too many issues with the home. Home inspections can also help you negotiate concessions such as seller-paid credits and repairs before you close the deal.
15. How Much Will Closing Costs Be?
Prepare to hand over a lot more than just your down payment on closing day.
Three business days before closing, your lender should provide you with a closing disclosure that outlines all of your closing costs. These costs are typically 2 to 5% of your home’s purchase price and include loan origination fees as well as third-party fees for an appraisal, paperwork processing, title research, and other administrative tasks.
The good news is that paying these final costs and signing the closing documents are the last steps before the lender issues your home loan. Now the home is yours; and if you’ve asked all the above questions, you can enjoy it worry-free.
[Related: Guide to Down Payment Gifts]
Need someone who can help answer your questions, and who knows what questions to ask your seller? Seattle Mortgage Planners can help you every step of the way. Schedule some time with us to get started.
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