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Buying a home is an exciting step to take – especially if it’s your first home. It’s a milestone many of us hope for. Whether you’re an aspiring home buyer or a seasoned home buyer, there’s always something to learn about buying a home.
From deciding what type of mortgage you want to deciding if that fixer-upper you love is worth the effort, you’ll have lots of decisions to make. To make those decisions, you’ll need to ask certain questions – the right questions – to prepare you to do more than buy a home.
If you’re wondering what to ask, this comprehensive guide is for you. We cover 17 important questions to ask yourself, a real estate agent (if you use one) and the seller or seller’s agent.
(Sidebar: If you’re a home seller or real estate agent, you’ll want to be ready to provide answers to these questions.)
Questions To Ask Yourself About Buying a House
First-time home buyers and seasoned buyers should consider their total budget, their new home must-haves and how much work they’re willing to do on a new home.
What’s my total budget?
House hunting without a budget might put you in a challenging position. And we get it. The market presents lots of tempting opportunities to spend – and spend more. The trouble is that you may end up making an offer on a home you absolutely love, but can’t reasonably afford. Buying a home out of your price range could leave you struggling to meet your day-to-day expenses.
Let your budget be your guide. Setting – and sticking to – your home buying budget will help safeguard you against spending too much. While you may be tempted to look for your dream home in another price range, try to stay focused on listings at or below your maximum price point. The trick is to find the home you love in the price range you can afford.
What features do I need and which do I want?
House buying budget? Check! Now you’ll need to figure out and prioritize your new home must-haves, like the number of bathrooms, the layout and the garage or parking spaces. Make a list of the features that are essential to you that could make or break a deal.
Add the type of neighborhood you want to live in to the list. Are you looking for a community that’s family friendly, quiet, urban, etc.? Do you have to think about the school district? If it’s important to you, add it to your list.
You can also make a list of features you’d love – think nice-to-haves like a finished basement, a wood-burning fireplace or quick access to the highway – but wouldn’t miss it if the house or neighborhood didn’t come with them.
Do I want to do any work on the house?
Knowing whether you’re up for renovations or want a move-in ready house can save you time while house hunting. If you love the idea of tearing out old bathrooms and kitchens, a fixer-upper might be a great option for you.
But if you just want to move in, turn on the lights and relax on the couch, a house that needs work is probably not the best choice.
Questions To Ask Your Real Estate Agent (or To Find Out Yourself)
Getting more information from your real estate agent or researching the answers on your own can help you evaluate homes with open eyes and help you make any tough decisions while you’re house shopping.
Buyers should ask about the price of comparable homes in the area, the history of a home and any safety hazards.
How much have other houses sold for in the neighborhood?
Ask about the property value of other homes in the neighborhood. And ask how much other homes have sold for in the last 6 – 12 months. Your real estate agent can provide a comparative market analysis (also known as a CMA) of recently sold homes and pending sales.
Sometimes property values and how the market is behaving are quite different. Recent sale prices can affect your home buying budget and what you offer on a home.
Prospective buyers typically start with a low offer, but in a hot market (or seller’s market), you may need to make an offer at or above the asking price.
It’s a hot market when the demand for homes is greater than the supply. Homes sell very quickly – sometimes even before they’re listed – and a bidding war can make a high price even higher.
BTW, this is a great argument for creating a budget and sticking to it. With a firm budget in place, you’re less likely to get caught up in a bidding war and go over your max.
Will I be living in or near a flood zone or other disaster-prone areas?
This is a question many buyers don’t think about, but it directly relates to the house, the type of homeowners insurance you’ll need and the cost. Buying a home in an area that’s prone to natural disasters will impact you in many ways, including financially.
Many mortgage lenders won’t approve a loan application without proof of home insurance. When a home is at risk of flooding or experiencing other natural disasters, insurance companies may:
- Deny coverage for the property
- Charge an annual premium that results in high monthly payments
The cost of homeowners insurance can vary by state and that’s due, in large part, to the likelihood of natural disasters. The states with the highest average homeowners insurance premiums are Florida ($1,960) and Louisiana ($1,987). Florida and Louisiana also happen to be two coastal states that are vulnerable to hurricanes and other destructive storms.
What’s the history of the house?
When you learn about the home’s history, you learn more about its property taxes and other issues. Knowing the property taxes can help you create a more accurate budget. Learning about concerns such as existing property liens may help you avoid complications that could delay closing on a home.
You should also learn about the home’s history of insurance claims to get a sense of possible problems down the road. For instance, a water damage claim may mean a greater likelihood of mold issues and future health hazards. (We’ll talk more about these hazards in a bit.)
There are some details about the property you may not learn until you make an offer. There are other details you can learn with an online search. It’s important to get a clear picture of a property’s history so you can properly evaluate any existing or potential concerns.
Are there health or safety hazards?
Older homes have a certain allure for many buyers. In fact, homes with historical significance can be a wise investment. Whether the house is vintage or brand new, buyers need to consider any health hazards on or near the property.
Dealing with issues like lead paint, asbestos, methane and mold can be dangerous – and expensive.
Mold, which can pose a heightened health risk for people with allergies, asthma or other respiratory conditions, is particularly common in older homes. Professional mold removal can cost around $2,500 on average.
Many states require that sellers disclose known hazards in the home. But, to discover any unknown issues, adding a home inspection contingency to your purchase offer would be a good idea, especially if you suspect there may be health hazards.
What will I pay in closing costs?
A home’s closing costs range from 3% – 6% of the home purchase price. There are lots of variables that make up the final number, including the condition of the home, the location, the lender and the type of mortgage loan.
The buyer’s closing costs can include loan origination fees, the title search fee and appraisal fees.
Questions To Ask Home Sellers or Their Agents
There are critical questions you should ask a seller or seller’s agent. Answers to these questions can help you understand more about the seller and the area you want to move into.
Some questions to ask sellers during the home buying process are: what major repairs have been done, what’s included in the sale and why are you leaving?
Did they make improvements or repairs to the home?
Most people want to keep their home in good shape. If a home is more than a decade old, it’s reasonably safe to assume the homeowners have made some improvements or repairs.
The DIY home improvement craze – which has really taken off in the last few years – features YouTube videos and online guides that promise homeowners they can skip the professional contractors and tackle improvements and repairs on their own. But if your DIY dreams do more harm than good, it could be a nightmare for the next owner.
For better or worse, some renovations and repairs can change the integrity of a home and problems may not show up until much later – like right before you sign on the dotted line.
This can affect insurance coverage for a new homeowner. Some insurance providers won’t cover claims if the problem is related to work done by a former owner or someone unlicensed.
Why is the seller leaving?
It’s perfectly reasonable to ask a seller why they’re leaving their home. Their answer may impact your decision to buy or give you an advantage in the home buying process.
Their reason for selling may give you bargaining power when you’re looking at closing dates. If you know the sellers have to leave by a firm date, it might be to your advantage to offer a lower price and the closing date they prefer.
How old is the roof?
Knowing the age of the roof can give you a good idea of whether you’ll be facing a costly roof replacement soon.
Roofs typically last between 15 – 30 years depending on the type of material and the home’s location and exposure to the elements. A home inspection can help you determine the age of the roof and how soon you may need to replace it.
If it must be replaced soon, you’ll need to budget for this cost during the home buying process. You should also consider asking for a seller concession if the seller is unwilling or unable to fix the roof before closing.
What’s included in the sale?
Be sure to ask for a list of everything that’s included in the purchase. You’ll want to know if certain appliances or other assets come with the home or if they’re available for you to buy.
A buyer can request that a seller leave certain items on the property (like a swing set) or remove items (like an above-ground pool).
If you really want, let’s say, those blackout curtains in the living room, but they aren’t included in the sale, work with your real estate agent or the seller to negotiate a price on the curtains or include the curtains (and anything else you want) in a renegotiated offer.
How old are the appliances?
Appliances that stay with the home are another source of potential problems to consider as a homeowner – especially if you’re a first-time buyer who’s always rented. When you’re renting, you can call your landlord when an appliance calls it quits. But when you’re a homeowner, you’ll have to pay to get the appliance fixed or replaced.
When touring a home, check the condition of the appliances. If the appliances are older, you’ll need to calculate how much it would cost to replace them and add the cost to your home buying budget.
How is the neighborhood?
You can ask the seller about the neighborhood, but you might also benefit from firsthand experience. Consider walking or driving around at different times of day and different days of the week.
While you’re gathering intel, you may come across the loud neighbors next door who like to party hard on the weekend. Or maybe you’ll learn that there’s a commuter train that passes by the home at 6 a.m. three times a week. These kinds of discoveries might sway your opinion on the home.
What are the schools like?
Imagine a couple that has two young children who have many years of schooling ahead of them. The family finds their dream home, but unfortunately, it’s not in their preferred school district. For many parents, a less-than-ideal school district is a reason to reconsider buying an otherwise perfect home.
A school district may seem like a public amenity that’s more relevant to parents, but it’s worth considering even if you don’t have children. That’s because if you decide to sell the property, being in a good school district can help attract more buyers.
How much are utilities?
You can ask your agent or the seller for a copy of their utility bills from the past year. Knowing the average utility costs in the area can be helpful, but having the utility bills in front of you will give you more accurate information.
The home you’re buying may have features and characteristics that affect the cost of utilities. Is there a heated pool on the property, older windows or less insulation? It’s important to consider how these expenses might affect your monthly budget.
If you can’t get copies of the utility bills, consider calling local utility companies to ask for area estimates, including seasonal spikes.
What about HOA fees and assessments?
An agent will likely know what the homeowners association (HOA) fees are for the property, but a seller will have more insight.
A seller can tell you if they think the fees are worth it. They can tell you if the fees have gone up since they moved in (and by how much). They can share if there were any assessments (extra money charged to homeowners for one-time repairs) and what they were for.
Answers to these questions will give you a better idea of the potential long-term cost of living there.
There Are No Dumb Questions, Only Expensive Ones
There are so many benefits that come with knowing what to ask during the home buying process. To list a few, it will help you make an appealing – and affordable – purchase offer, it can save you time and it can save you money. With these 17 questions, you should feel confident that everything you ask will get you the keys to the right home for you.
Insurance Information Institute. “Facts + Statistics: Homeowners and renters insurance.” Retrieved February 2022 from https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-homeowners-and-renters-insurance#Homeowners%20insurance%20expenditures
Restoration USA. “Mold Remediation.” Retrieved February 2022 from https://www.restorationusa.org/mold-remediation/
National Association of REALTORS®. “Home Buyers Motivated by Desire To Be Closer to Family and Friends, Sellers Collected Full Asking Price.” Retrieved February 2022 from https://www.nar.realtor/newsroom/home-buyers-motivated-by-desire-to-be-closer-to-family-and-friends-sellers-collected-full-asking-price