First Steps

What to Look for When Buying a House

Published on: September 28, 2021

You’ve reached the touring stage of buying a house: now, you’re face-to-face with what could very well be your next new home. How exciting!

Here are some key things to consider when shopping for a property, many of which are often left out of online listings. These include some common things that buyers overlook and which mistakes homebuyers should do their best to avoid.

What to look for when buying a house

Not sure how to decide which home to buy? Starting with a 10,000-foot priority view can help you narrow down the list quicker when finding a house to buy, helping you get into your dream home sooner and with less effort.

Some basic things to consider when buying a house are how much you have to spend and how much effort you want your new property to require from the get-go. If you’re not sure how to look for a house, one of the easiest house-hunting tips is to first weed out the properties that aren’t in your price range or don’t match your preferred condition.

Asking price

Arguably the most important factor, knowing how much you can afford to spend on your new home is probably the easiest way to narrow down your home shopping options. This means setting a budget for yourself and sticking with it… even in a competitive market that tempts you to stray outside your price range.

Buying a home that you can’t actually afford can have dire consequences. It’s important to consider the property’s purchase price (and what that means for your monthly down payment) as well as factors such as insurance, property taxes, and maintenance. Use these numbers to backward-calculate a price range that is comfortable for you, and will remain affordable for many years to come. Then, hold your ground and eliminate homes outside of this range.

Home condition: Move-in ready vs. fixer-upper

Next, decide how much work you want to put into your home.

Some buyers prefer to buy a turn-key home, or one that is perfectly move-in ready. These properties don’t require any renovations or repairs (aside from cosmetic changes that you may wish to make), so you just need to move in. This convenience comes at a cost, however, as these homes are generally priced at the higher end.

Some buyers may want to buy a fixer-upper instead. These lower-cost properties may need updating, large repairs, or a full-blown renovation. This might be an ideal option for those buyers who want a specific look, freshly-updated home, or simply want to save money on the purchase price.

It’s important to consider your experience level when buying a property that needs work. If you’ll be hiring a contractor, factor that into the cost. If you plan to do repairs or make changes yourself, though, make sure that you don’t bite off more than you can chew (or give yourself projects that you aren’t experienced enough to complete safely).

Must-haves when buying a house

Now that you’ve whittled down your list and set general search parameters, it’s time to outline the features and factors that you have to have in your new property.

Some must-haves when buying a house include specific neighborhoods, a minimum number of rooms or bathrooms, style of the house, and even amenities (local pool, clubhouse, HOA, etc.).

Location (safety, commute, schools)

There are many reasons why location should be one of the top things to look for when buying a house. Your new home’s location will determine factors such as:

  • Schools: Where you live will dictate the overall school district and individual schools for your kids.
  • Safety: Community safety is an important factor for families, couples, or single homeowners. You’ll want to choose an area that’s as safe as possible, and may even want one with fire stations, police stations, and hospitals nearby.
  • Commute: If you work outside of the home, the commute from your new home to work will be a key factor. Determine how far you’re willing to travel each day and what the traffic looks like along your route before picking a home.
  • Local offerings: Area accommodations, like restaurants and grocery stores, can be important for many homebuyers. Whether you enjoy buying coffee each morning or have a favorite grocery chain, ensure that you have reasonable access to what you need.

Knowing how to decide where to buy a house really depends on your personal habits, preferences, and your unique family. It’s important to consider these location-based factors early on, though, so you aren’t stuck with an unreasonable commute or lack of resources once you move.

Serviceable utilities

Next up in your things-to-look-for-when-buying-a-house-checklist is utilities. These are often overlooked or understated, but can be critical to one’s daily living. So it’s important to take note — and even identify red flags on the property — now.

Some key factors include, but are not limited to, the new home’s:

  • Roof
  • Heating system
  • Cooling system

If you prefer gas appliances, for example, buying a home that doesn’t have natural gas lines can be a big change (or even add a big expense in terms of new appliances or running gas lines to the home)! If you buy a property with an old roof, or a roof style that will be expensive to replace/repair later on, you should account for those costs early on.

You can also consider other high-cost repairs, servicing, and replacement costs at this time. Does the home need an exterior paint job or repaired siding? These are cosmetic in nature but will add to your costs. Does the home need new windows or have an older A/C unit? These will be costly projects and should be considered from the jump when deciding what to check for when buying a home. 

Home features

For many buyers, deciding what to look for when buying a home starts with the home’s individual features. Three of the most important include layout, storage space, and community amenities.

Layout. Your home’s layout includes square footage, the number of bedrooms, the number of bathrooms, and even the number of floors. If you have small children or someone in your family with mobility issues, for example, a two- or three-story home may not make sense. And knowing how many bedrooms you need can help you easily weed out homes in the search process.

Storage space. What do you and your family need in terms of storage? Do you want an unfinished basement or just room for a shed? Do you need a three-car garage or would a carport suffice?

Community amenities. Whether you’re looking to buy a single-family home or a townhome, there are certain amenities you may be after in your area. Does your new home have an HOA? If so, consider the costs and requirements involved. Do you have access to a clubhouse, neighborhood pool, or playgrounds for your kids? These may all be important factors in your own personal real estate buying guide.

What not to do when buying a house

Lastly, there are a few common first-time homebuyer mistakes to keep in mind when shopping for a house. These are often overlooked but can add frustration, headache, and even cost to your overall experience.

Getting hung up on cosmetic issues

Whether you’re buying a brand-new property or a well-loved home, chances are that you will find some cosmetic issues. However, you should try not to get hung up on these, and focus on the bigger-picture and costly items instead, so you don’t miss anything.

For example, it’s a lot easier to touch up the paint in a bathroom than it is to fix a plumbing leak. And while landscaping is important for curb appeal, it’s not nearly as expensive to correct as, say, a damaged roof.

Especially in a competitive market, getting a seller to make allowances for repairs can be tricky. If possible, determine what you’re willing to accept and what sort of cosmetic repairs you can make on your own before making requests.

Focus your efforts instead on getting the big, expensive, or time-consuming projects addressed… or finding things that could even be a deal-breaker for your family. Some things to research before buying a home include the foundation, roof, electrical wiring, plumbing, and seeing if there is any history of water damage.

Declining the inspection

A home inspection can provide you with a list of many important things to think about when buying a house. In a very competitive market, though, one of the common house hunting tips offered to buyers is waiving the inspection.

This can make your offer more enticing to sellers, but it’s important to note that declining this inspection is often a very bad idea. In fact, it makes our list of what not to do before buying a house.

Getting an inspection helps you ascertain any issues that may exist in the house prior to moving in. This inspection can find many visible and hidden issues in the property, which helps you to determine its value and even whether it’s worth passing on the home.

Getting too desperate

Today’s housing market behaves very differently than recent years. Rising home prices around the country have made buying a home a much more competitive process, and making an offer that will get accepted can be difficult.

With that said, it’s still important to keep a level head, and avoid getting too desperate throughout the process. Rushing your offer may result in you offering too much money, eliminating contingencies that you actually need to keep, or not thinking your offer through enough. While these may help you lock in a purchase for the short-term, they may have long-term (and often, very expensive) impacts.

Talk to a local Finance of America Mortgage Advisor today to learn more about your mortgage options.

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