Need to dig deeper into the home you’re looking to buy? Asking the right questions — and not just the kind that randomly pops into your head — can help you get as much information as you need to put together a competitive offer. Likewise, you will be able to save time, money, and potential headaches if you hit all the necessary topics head-on. It’s part of your due diligence as a buyer, especially since this could be one of the biggest financial commitments you’ll ever make.
If you’re feeling stuck not knowing what else to know about the property, we’ve pulled together a list of some things that may not be so obvious to ask but can get you closer to finding a home that’s a good match for your lifestyle and budget.
Utilities can vary depending on where you live and based on the systems and size of the property. Aside from your monthly mortgage payments, getting an estimate of your monthly maintenance and utility bills is just as important to ensure you can afford to comfortably live in the home.
Especially if you’re a first-time home buyer, it’s best to learn how the home is being heated — by gas, electricity, solar power, or combination — and what the average monthly bill for each is. You’ll also want to inquire about water, waste removal, broadband, and any other applicable maintenance and utility costs. By breaking down information like this, you can have a general idea of how much you’ll spend and incorporate it into your monthly budget.
Have they overhauled the kitchen? Added another room? Broken down a wall? Installed a new HVAC? You’ll also want to know what major renovations the owner has done since it will give you a ballpark idea of how much money they have spent, and what they hope to get out based on a project’s average return on investment. You can also check receipts from contractors to get a sense of what they paid for such upgrades.
But the most crucial reason is for you to guarantee that these additions follow local building codes. Any major improvements—structural additions, installing a new roof, any electrical and plumbing work, or installing/replacing the HVAC system—need to be done by a licensed contractor and be completed to code. Any sketchy renovations and/or mediocre construction can end up costing you money and your health. See whether the seller can produce a building permit for repairs and renovations that require one. If they don’t have the permits or if the work was done by a previous owner, you will need to double-check it with the local building department.
Owning a home means keeping up with its maintenance, which includes looking after each of its components. During showings, don’t forget to ask about the age and condition of the home’s major systems, including HVAC, roof, water heater, and major appliances such as washers and dryers, stoves, and others.
Knowing these early in the process will help you factor in the cost of replacement when looking at the asking price. As a future homeowner, it’s a must to know if something needs to be repaired or replaced soon. Because the last thing you’d want is to find yourself in a situation where you need to shell out thousands of dollars to fix something that you thought was in pristine condition just a few months after moving in.
A roof, for instance, is a major component that’s also very costly to repair or replace. It’s critical to consider how much it will cost you on top of your down payment and closing costs if it’s old and needs repairs. If the roof has existing damage, the lender may require that it be repaired to approve your loan. So if the listing description doesn’t list the roof’s age, make sure to find out so you can avoid a costly disappointment later on.
Additionally, you should ask the seller about the warranty information on appliances; requesting the original manufacturer warranties on any appliances or systems if possible. These will serve as documentation and will give you an idea of their remaining lifespan, as well as their potential replacement costs.
When choosing your first home, don’t forget to check out the parking situation on the property. Will your car(s) fit in the garage? If you and your family have multiple cars, will there be room to park anywhere else on the property other than the driveway? Make sure you ask the rules about on-street parking to avoid fines or high insurance costs.
If you decide to throw a party, will guests need parking permits? How many permits are you allowed to get? Some streets may require a permit, which you may need to apply for. It would also be a good idea to visit the house after work hours and see how crowded the parking is on the street, especially if you live in a busy street which can be more difficult to navigate.
Are there rumors that the property is haunted? Had it been the scene of a crime? Is it located next to a cemetery? Did anyone famous ever live there? In many states, owners are legally bound to disclose if a death or major crime has occurred recently on the premises. You might not care if the house has a reputation or has any associated stories or rumors, but it’s still a good idea to ask around.
There are what they call “stigmatized properties,” defined by the National Association of REALTORS® as any “property that has been psychologically impacted by an event which occurred, or was suspected to have occurred, on the property, such event being one that has no physical impact of any kind.” These conditions could give you room to negotiate a lower purchase price since a house that has some negative associations will often be harder to sell.