The home buying process can be confusing, especially for first time buyers. It’s hard to know what questions to ask when buying a new home aside from the basics like “how much does it cost?” and “how many bedrooms does it have?”. But the more questions you ask during the buying process, the less chance you’ll have of facing surprises later on.
The questions to ask when buying a new home run the gamut between questions that help you get a better feel for the investment that you’ll be making and questions that help you figure out whether it’s worth making that investment in the first place. To help you navigate them, we’ve put together a short guide to the questions that all buyers need to be asking at each major stage of the buying process.
Questions to Ask Before a Showing
So you’ve found a house that you love, but before you schedule a showing ask your realtor the following questions to ensure it’s worth your time.
How long has the house been on the market? You can tell a lot about a property just from finding out how long it’s been available for sale. While it’s certainly true that during the off season and in times of low buyer demand a great home might sit on the market for longer than it otherwise would, it’s also generally the case that homes that aren’t selling aren’t selling for a reason. You may be able to get a great deal on a home that’s been sitting idle for a while, though be aware that there could be some major issues that are causing others to pass it by.
How does it compare to similar homes in the neighborhood? Comps are a big factor in assessing the true market value of a home. To make sure that a property is accurately priced, it helps to get a feel for what the comps are so that you can see if the sellers are asking for more or less than others in their neighborhood.
What is the location like? Location matters. Even within the same zip code there can be a big different between individual neighborhoods—and even streets. Make sure that the location has what you’re looking for, be it easy access to certain amenities, a family-friendly atmosphere, a nearby highway ramp, or any other major location factors that determine whether you’ll be happy where you reside.
What did this home last sell for? It can be helpful to know what the seller paid for the home. A home with a listing price that is markedly more than it was previously suggests that there have been some major upgrades, or that the neighborhood has really improved. It can also mean the seller is asking too much. If there’s a big price variance, have your realtor do some digging to figure out why.
Questions to Ask During a Showing
A showing is more than just an opportunity to see a house in person. Ask these questions to get a better feel for what you’re looking at.
When was this home built? It’s always a good idea to find out when a property was built. Buying an older home comes with its own unique set of considerations that all home buyers—and especially first time home buyers—will need to be aware of. Knowing a home’s age will give you a clue into other things as well, including how old its electrical and heating/cooling systems are, and how long it might be until you have to replace the furnace.
Have there been any major renovations? There are a couple of reasons to ask about the improvements that have been made to the home. For starters, improvements are value drivers—things like additions, new roofs, and even new windows will help justify your investment and account for the asking price. In addition, it’s useful to know what’s part of the original structure and what has been changed.
Have there been any major repairs? You’re always going to want to know about any major repairs the home’s owners have had to make, but keep in mind that repairs aren’t always a bad thing. Repairs mean that problems have been addressed and that the current owners have taken care to maintain the property. If you move forward with the purchase though, have your home inspector take a look at all repairs to make sure they were done properly.
Is the home energy efficient? Any energy efficient upgrades that have been made to a home will save you money in the long term. This includes energy efficient windows and heating systems, as well as improvements like smart home thermostats and LED light bulbs. Other energy-saving factors include whether or not the home is insulated in both the walls and the attic, and whether the fireplace has doors to block air from coming in from the outside.
Why is the owner selling? This won’t necessarily make or break your decision to put in an offer on the house, but it’s still advised that you find out why the owner has put the home on the market. There’s a big difference between an owner who’s moving for work or to downsize and an owner who’s moving because the school system is suffering.
Are there any plans for this neighborhood? Do some digging to see if there are any upcoming plans that could have big effects for the neighborhood the home is located in. You’ll want to know before moving in that expansive open green field next door is about to be developed into a commercial or residential development, or if certain businesses are planning on moving in or out.
Questions to Ask When You’re Making an Offer
Use these questions to help you determine what to offer—and how.
Has the seller received any other offers? If you are considering making an offer on a home then you need to know what your strategy should be. If a property has already offers, that means you’re going to have to act fast and that you’ll have to be very competitive with your starting bid.
Are there any disclosures? Disclosures are items that the current property owners are legally obligated to let potential buyers know about, since they could affect the home’s value and future expenditures. This includes things like whether there are known flooding issues, whether there are any liens on the property, and whether there are electrical or plumbing issues. Responsible sellers will make these disclosures clear without you having to ask, but it’s still smart to check before you put an offer forward.
How much does the seller still owe on the home? The seller’s current financial standing with the property carries a lot of weight in terms of how much you should offer and how the sale might proceed. For example, if a seller owes more on the home than they’re listing it for that means it’s a short sale (a way for both bank and seller to avoid a foreclosure) and the process could take as long as a year. Likewise, if the seller is asking for just a little bit more than they owe there’s probably not much wiggle room on price. Use this information to guide the offer strategy you and your realtor come up with.
How quickly is the seller looking to close? If the seller wanted to close in two weeks, would you be ready? What if they didn’t want to close for a couple of months? While there is definitely room for negotiation here, the seller’s preferred closing timeline is something that you’ll want to keep in mind, especially if it will require you to make some accommodations on your end, such as getting out of a lease early or putting your things into storage.
How much are the property taxes? It’s not just your monthly mortgage payment that you’ll have to account for when figuring out how much you can afford. Property taxes can be a big expense, and they tend to vary widely from state to state and county to county. Find out about current property tax rates and look at the property tax history to see how regularly they appear to go up.
What contingencies are worth asking for? Most offers hinge on a couple of key contingencies: the appraisal and the inspection. If either of these have less than ideal results, the buyer can back out. However, these contingencies need to be established early on, when the seller accepts your offer. Ask your realtor if there are additional contingencies that you should (or need to) ask for, such as the sale of your current home or the establishment of a clear title.
The questions to ask when buying a new home are centered on getting you as much information as possible so that you can make an informed decision on whether or not to move forward. Add your own questions to the list as needed, and never hold back from asking your realtor about everything you want to know—it’s what they’re there for!