6 Questions You’re Going to Wish You Asked Before Buying Your House
“Buyers may tend to overlook asking certain questions when they are so enamored of the home,” says Martha Gaffney, a licensed real estate broker based in Pelham, New York, and a strategic real estate advisor at HouseCashin, a home-selling platform. “Only later after inspections, appraisals, and looking at it several times do they realize it’s time to dig further.”
The questions and concerns you should bring up will certainly vary depending on the property type as well as the location of your new home. Here are some important questions to get you thinking about what else you need to know before saying yes to a new address.
How old is the roof?
Asking a stranger how old they are is rude. But asking the age of a stranger’s roof is a savvy move, says Justin Draplin, CEO of ECLIPSE Cottages, a housing technology company in Travelers Rest, South Carolina.
“If a roof you inherit is old, you’ll be spending thousands of dollars replacing it,” says Draplin. Ask when it was done — and be persistent. “If nobody gives you a good answer, then this isn’t the home for you or your family,” he says.
How old are the rest of the major systems?
Aside from the roof, ask about the electric, plumbing, and HVAC systems, says Désirée Ávila, a Realtor in South Florida.
“I would recommend all buyers ask for a seller’s disclosure,” Ávila says, referring to the document that details information about the property’s condition and history. Specifically, the seller’s disclosure reveals issues that might reduce the home’s value — anything from previous water damage to termite infestation to whether lead paint was used (in homes built before 1978).
A seller’s disclosure is not a requirement in certain states, including Florida, but Ávila says she makes it part of her clients’ contract terms. “The seller must disclose everything they know, or they could open themselves up for legal troubles down the road,” she explains.
Remember that even an honest seller might be negligent in disclosing issues, especially those related to the yard or exterior. That old tree in the yard? You should probably see if it’s healthy, or if it’s about to fall over. Love those rose bushes? Pests might equally be enamored, so you should check if there’s a history of other pest problems in the yard.
What type of insurance will I need?
Homeowner’s insurance is a given when you purchase a home. But a regular policy doesn’t usually cover flood or earthquake damage, which is a big deal if you’re purchasing a home in an area that’s been impacted by either, says Draplin.
Real estate listings will often indicate whether a home is located in a flood zone, and resources like the United States Geological Survey are quite helpful in pointing out fault lines. But climate change has been causing extreme weather and other natural events in regions previously unaffected. It’s worth a call to an insurance agency to see what type of coverage you’ll need for your new home.
What about warranties?
Not all appliances and home warranties are transferable to new owners, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, says Ávila. At the very least, you should know what, if any, warranties are available for your home and its systems and how you can renew them.
For example, when my husband and I moved into our home, which is heated by oil, we contacted the supplier to see what service plans we should continue. It was just a quick phone call to change names on the plan, which we continue to this day and consider money very well spent.
What are the closing costs?
Perhaps you’ve watched some old House Hunters episodes where the sellers agreed to pay the buyers closing costs. Don’t believe everything you see on TV, folks. In today’s real estate market, which is still skewed toward the seller, this type of concession is not likely to happen. So, you’ll want to know ahead of time what your wallet is in for.
“I think that many buyers overlook just how expensive closing costs are,” says Adie Kriegstein, licensed real estate agent and founder of the NYC Experience Team at Compass in New York City. Although the costs do vary from region to region, she says, “They need to be calculated upfront so that they can be factored into the purchase.” This will help you absorb at least some of the sticker shock.
Is it possible to fix what I dislike about the home?
Skip this question if you found your perfect dream home. But chances are good that there’s something you don’t like. Some changes are quick fixes, while some are more costly — provided they’re even possible, that is. It’s better to figure that last one out before you move into a home.
For example, if you wanted a home with two bathrooms and there’s only one, you’ll have to see whether you can add one — budget notwithstanding — or if it’s better to find a different house that already has two bathrooms. Removing ugly wallpaper or painting over neon-green walls, on the other hand, might seem annoying but it’s totally doable, even as a DIY project.
“Ask yourself, ‘Can this thing I don’t like be changed and will that improve the value of the home?’” says Melissa Dorman, a broker with Living Room Realty in Portland, Oregon. “If the answer is yes, then it’s an opportunity to build some sweat equity and make a home yours.”
Any (other) questions?
Though this list is far from comprehensive, it should at least make you think about how you need to approach home-buying. Ask questions like a dogged investigative journalist — or at least a concerned homeowner who’d rather not spend 10 grand on a new plumbing system the first year you own it.
Gaffney suggests some additional questions.
- When was the septic tank last serviced?
- Where does the lot/land end? Can I view the most recent survey?
- How do you operate newly installed, high-tech home gadgets?
“Never be afraid to ask,” says Gaffney. “Your broker [or agent] should be advocating for the most information for you possible.”