Before making an offer on a house, you want to be absolutely sure that it’s “the one.” A home is typically the largest single investment you’ll ever make and with interest rates currently at an all-time low, more and more people are buying homes. In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors, mortgage rates are, on average, 10% lower than they were in 2018, driving a mortgage application increase rate of 8%.
Finding the right home involves a lot of research, so you’ll want to make sure you ask the right questions. Many first-time buyers fail to ask the right questions and regret it later.
“It’s easy to get too attached and make emotional decisions, so remember that you’re also making one of the largest investments of your life,” says Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified in New York City. It’s important to learn as much as you can about a particular property before you buy to avoid any unwanted surprises when it comes time to move in. Prepare yourself with these 10 critical questions to ask your home seller or real estate agent:
1. Why is the seller moving?
This may seem like a trivial question, but it’s important to know the reason why the homeowners are selling their home in the first place. While there are plenty of reasons that are completely understandable, you want to make sure they aren’t relocating due to a problem with the house. The majority of people move because of a job relocation, desire to get a smaller/larger house, or they’re facing a major life change. If they don’t have a clear reason for moving, this might be a potential red flag. And while you may not always get a complete answer, asking why the seller is moving can be helpful in determining how much room there is for negotiating.
2. What are your average expenses?
You can’t always know how much things like utilities will cost until you move in. For some homes, these can be a substantial monthly expense. Most home sellers are comfortable sharing what they usually spend on things like sewer, water and electricity every month. This is also a good time to ask about any specialty property taxes or HOA fees a home might be subject to.
3. How are the local schools?
If you’re planning to raise a family, you’ll want to look into the quality of the local schools. The current homeowners might have kids of their own in the local public schools, and they’re a great source of information. Talk to them about the pros and cons of the local school system, and if they have any recommendations. Even if you don’t have children, a top-rated school district is a very important factor to consider when buying a home as it can have a dramatic effect on the resale value of the property. According to Realtor.com, homes in good school districts sell on average eight days faster and get 26% more online views than homes in average districts. And they retain their value as long as their schools’ rating remains high.
4. What was the previous selling price?
It’s helpful to know a home’s selling history for a couple of reasons. First, it tells you if values in the local market have gone up or down since the seller purchased the home. Second, you’ll have more room for negotiation if you learn the seller paid significantly under market value. If the seller isn’t open to talking about how much they paid, this information is public record and can easily be found online.
5. How old are the A/C unit, water tank and roof?
Make sure you ask about the age of the home’s key components, such as the heating system, roof, furnace, air conditioning, windows, etc. Replacing these components could be a big investment, which is why it’s imperative to know what you are signing up for. If any of these components are at the end of their life expectancy, you could ask for financial considerations and/or repairs to be made by the seller.
6. Have there been any major repairs or renovations?
Similarly, it’s important to ask if any major repairs and renovations have been done to the home and who did them: Was it a licensed contractor or a DIY project?
Request that the seller supply any permits for repairs and renovations that require one. Such improvements include any structural additions, installing a new roof, adding/relocating electrical outlets, adding/relocating plumbing fixtures, and installing/replacing an HVAC (heating, venting, and air conditioning) system. If the seller cannot produce the required permits, double-check with the local building department, usually through your county’s Public Works.
Repairs to a home may not always be obvious, however. According to HuffPost Money Senior Reporter, Ann Brenoff, if when visiting the home, you notice something as small as a fresh coat of paint, “it behooves you to ask specifically if the touchup is meant to mask mildew and water damage.”
Make sure to keep your eyes peeled and never be afraid to ask about the small stuff.
7. Were there any structural changes?
Structural changes like adding a room, patio, or changing the layout of a home can have a lasting impact on the property. Not only should you be aware of these additions, but you’ll also need to make sure they were approved by the county. Once again, a structural change doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem, but it’s something to take note of.
8. How long has the home been on the market?
Typically, when a house ends up staying on the market for an extended period of time it’s because it wasn’t priced well when it was originally listed for sale. In most cases, they were listed too high. These listings become stale over time and can turn off potential buyers – the thought being there must be something wrong with the listing otherwise it would have already sold. The longer a home is on the market, the more negotiation power you have as a buyer.
9. What’s included in the home sale?
While you might think everything in the home is included in the sale, that’s not always the case. Anything that is permanently attached is usually included but not always. There is sometimes a grey area when it comes to things like faucets, window blinds or even cabinets. Talk to the buyers about what’s included in the home sale, so you aren’t caught off guard.
10. How are the neighbors?
Finally, ask about the neighbors. Getting the true feel of a neighborhood can be difficult before moving in, but this aspect shouldn’t be overlooked. Ask the seller what the neighbors are like. Noisy or quiet? Is it a pet-friendly place or are there few pets around? Are the existing neighbors friendly or more likely to keep to themselves? Don’t rely solely on the seller to reveal these details because you might not get the full story.
“Drive the neighborhood and stop and speak with neighbors … neighbors are an excellent way to get information about the community that a seller might not want to share,” says Chula Vista real estate agent Wendy Mays.
While you can find out a lot about a property from an online listing or scheduling a showing to see it firsthand, talking to the seller or seller’s agent will help you get a better understanding of exactly what you’re getting into. The bottom line is to do your due diligence for any home you’re thinking about purchasing. By asking the above 10 questions you will ensure you’re ready to make this big decision with confidence.