House hunting is a little like dating. It’s easy to overlook flaws when you’re starry-eyed and excited by the newness. But once you live with each other for a while, incompatibilities reveal themselves and bad decisions become problems.
To avoid unfortunate surprises, make a plan for gathering crucial information during the home “dating” process. Questions need to be asked before buying that you might not have considered. Collecting this critical data will help you make the right decision.
Become a Detective
Although estate agents can helpful, there are particular facts they won’t know. When you find a house that you’re interested in, observe the area at various times of the day. Put on your detective’s hat and drive by your new potential abode early in the morning. Also, see it during the rush hour when people return from work, and late in the evening. You’ll discover how busy the roads are, how well the street is lit, and whether you will have noisy neighbors.
While you’re in the area, park close to the property and take a walk. You’ll discover far more traveling on foot than you would from the confines of your car. By the end of your stroll, you’ll know if the neighbors are friendly and issues to consider such as overflowing Dumpsters or barking dogs.
Viewing the Property
Arrive a few minutes early so you have time to walk around the exterior of the home. Examine the condition of the roof, gutters, brickwork, drainage, and the general condition. If you wait to arrive until your appointment time, the excitement of viewing the interior may take precedence. If can’t arrive early, ask your agent to allow extra time between showing so you have time to walk around outside.
You’d be surprised how often buyers don’t notice the lack of an important space, such as a dining area. Odd floor plans are common in the vintage homes of downtown Salt Lake City and it’s hard to notice what isn’t there. Instead, make a list of major features you want in a home, and check the boxes as you look. The dining space pictured below is stylish, but you won’t be hosting a dinner for six.
Also, check ceilings and walls for cracks or other damage and consider any problems you see brewing that reduce the value of the property. If you love the place, but know work is required, use your findings as a negotiating tool.
Be especially wary of perfectly staged homes. Close your eyes and imagine all of your belongings there instead. Picture living there year after year. For example, I was showing a home recently with all glass-front kitchen cabinets. They looked pretty with just a few accessories, but picture them full of groceries and dishes…they’d look like a cluttered mess!
While house hunting, make notes on a pad or in your phone; you might not remember details after viewing multiple homes. Write questions to ask your agent and to remind you of of what you liked or didn’t like. Some will be personal to your needs, but there are also general queries to think through such as:
- How easy is it to find insurance? – Are there any major issues that could make it difficult?
- If you are using FHA financing, are there any obvious repairs you’ll need to qualify?
- How many parking spaces are available?
- Will the home feel warm and cozy in the winter? – Double-glazed windows and adequate heating?
- How about cooling for desert summers?
- How much storage area is there?
- What’s a rough estimate of the running cost of living here?
- These answers will inform you about extra expenses you need to take into account when calculating living costs. Also, they will tell you more about safety issues, practical considerations, and difficulties you may face if you buy the house.
Like dating, know what you value in a long-term relationship with a home. Don’t let “cute” cloud your judgment. Instead, focus on the qualities that will truly make you happy.