I'm going househunting Wednesday; what questions should I ask?

My bank went completely insane and pre-approved me for a home loan (poor suckers :D) (just kidding - I’m still giddy that they gave it to me!) so Wednesday I’m going around with a realtor to look at about 8 properties that she and I have found that fall in my price range. My price range being on the low end, I expect that anything I find is going to need some work, which I’m fine with as long as it isn’t anything major (a leaky toilet would be okay; a leaky roof, not so much).

I’ve never done this before. I know about looking for obvious signs of damage, asking about utilities, that kind of thing, but what else should I be looking for and asking about? Advice, anecdotes, handy tips that might help keep me from getting screwed would be much appreciated. I’m in Missouri, BTW, in case we have any MO-Dopers who know something about real estate!

Might want to ask about termite inspections, property taxes, insurance rates…including flood insurance, any particular zoning rules, easements, availability of cable/satellite TV, high speed internet, school districts if you have offspring, proximity of any registered sex offenders…

Ask about appliances - stove, fridge, dishwasher, water heater, central heat/air. Are they included? How old are they? Have they been regularly serviced (in the case of central heat/air).

If the floors are newly carpeted, be really careful to check for funky odors. If pet urine has been allowed to soak through carpet into hardwood flooring, the odor will come back and the flooring will probably have to be replaced.

Of course, if there are an attic and/or basement, visit them. If the house is not slab-built but has a crawl space, you might want to find an adventurous friend or hire someone to look under there. You are looking for signs of leakage or damage.

If the yard has fencing, check it or find out who owns it.

Flush all the toilets. Listen to the pipes. Turn on all faucets (inside and out) and listen.

I’m sure I’ll think of more later. Good luck finding your new home! Even doing a lot of work is worth it - just sitting in my newly painted and almost complete living room gives me a warm, cozy feeling!

A few more things:
Check the Electrical system. See if it has Grounded plugs, Look for the condition of the wiring in the basement. Ensure the Breaker Panel is at least 100amps or you will have a lot of problems.

Find out if the house has Septic or city sewer. If septic, find out when it was last cleaned out.

If you like the house, get someone back there to check out what the traffic and noise level is like at rush hour and at night.

If you decide to put an offer in on the property, write into the contract that if there are significant flaws* found during the inspection, you have the right to cancel the contract. Don’t let your agent tell you that you can’t. You can put whatever you want into a contract. The worst that could happen is that the sellers will say no, and I’d be very leery of any seller who refused such a clause, because they’re hiding something.

Secondly, write into it that any repairs the owner is responsible for doing must be completed and re-inspected before close. Homeowners will often get the rock-bottom cheapest contractor who will essentially slap a bandage over the problem, and if you’ve already gone through with the deal, your recourses are few. They’ll offer to put the money in escrow, but what if the costs run over the intial estimate?

Don’t go with the inspector that the agent suggests.

Never deal with a “dual agency.” Insist that your agent not show you any houses for sale by their agency.

Take along a camera and a notepad where you can list the issues with each particular house and take pictures of the room dimensions

If it’s an area you’ve never lived in, be sure to ask about police and fire protection. If you seriously consider buying the property, talk to the neighbors. First of all, you’ll find out if you can stand to live around them, and a good overview of the neighborhood.
*I’m talking structual, not cosmetic, or something like a stuck window.

Once you make an offer, be prepared to be yanked around. The realtor’s job is to make money, and sometimes they’ll sacrifice the buyer’s interests to do so. Your offer may not be shown to the seller the day you make it, the realtor may hold on to it hoping for a higher one for a day or two, or four if it’s the weekend. They may shop it ‘in-house’ first within their own offices. Then, the seller may look at the offer and think that since you offered list price, they should de-list the place and then relist it for even more and see if you’ll bite.
And when anyone involved in the sale in any way asks what you think of the place (and several people will), don’t say anything complimentary or they’ll think they have you by the short ones.
I wasn’t this jaded and cynical a month ago, but now realtors are my enemy. “That wasn’t a real listing, we were just dropping the worm in the water, you know?” :mad:
Also, anything that goes wrong will be blamed on unnamed office staff, never the realtor.
You will learn to hate the word ‘contingent’.

This is a super idea, after seeing 8 houses, details will tend to get blended together.

“Was the house with the ugly deck the one with the nice mantle, or the one with the weird basement thing?” Take some pictures and notes, it will be a lot easier to keep each house separate.

WRT repairs, I would suggest that the safest way to do it is ask for a cash refund from the seller and do the repairs yourself. We took a reduced price on the house and paid for the repairs out of pocket, but in hindsight, getting a check for $5,000 would have been better, and should make no difference to the seller. Even if you get the repairs inspected, they will still likely be from the low bidder, and a lousy repair is going to muck up the transaction, making both sides unhappy. If you do it yourself, the choices are entirely under your control, though it is now your responsibility.

To run a very basic check of the electric system, I bring one of those battery rechargers. It’s compact enough to fit in my purse, not too heavy, and if the lights don’t come on - the plug is not working.

Even if appliances and furniture won’t be left in place, take a hard look at them. Anybody who lets mold grow in the fridge and gets a 1" layer of grease coat her oven will be lousy at maintenance everywhere.

Take pictures. Ask for house plans. Bring a tape measure, not to measure everything but there may be places where you find yourself wondering “hm, can the sofa get through there?” - measure it.

(makes notes feverishly while waves of faintness spiral upward)

Okay, good advice. A little more about my situation:

-Currently we’re renting a 3 bedroom apartment from a psychotic wife-beating landlord, so our mindset right now is anything different would be an improvement.

-I lucked out when it comes to realtors; my real estate lady is a family friend of my best friend’s in-laws, and has sold houses to pretty much the whole family, and they’re all very satisfied. Four of the houses we’re looking at tomorrow are listed by her company, four I found myself on other realtor’s websites.

I had hoped to be moved before school started back up, but I’m thinking now that may not happen. I’m nervous and excited and scared I’m going to end up with a money pit, but at least it’ll be mine. We’re moving to a town about 20 miles north of where we are now, mostly because houses are much much cheaper there, so we can get more house for the money (I’m looking at 3-4 bedrooms with kitchen, dining room, family room, and full basement for 55k and under - pause to listen for the thuds as all the NYCDopers keel over :stuck_out_tongue: ). Plus all my friends live there, three of whom work graveyard in my current town just like hubby and I, so we can carpool and make it a little cheaper on everyone. The schools are decent, and my kids already have friends there, so that’s one less worry. We have 9 Parental Units and 2 Teenagers available for child care, so that’s two less worries.

Come to think of it, maybe we should all just throw in together and start a commune.

This is all great stuff so far, and will definitely be attended to. Is there any more?

Only NJ but Thud!! You do not want to know how much my 4 bedroom ranch with a full basement cost 5 years ago.
How is that area of Missouri for retirement? I might be looking there in another 25 years. I was already considering West Virginia but Missouri might be a nicer place to live.

Both times I was house hunting I made up a worksheet of things to check, I then filled out a new one for each house we saw. Buying our first house I had about 30+ worksheets and it really helped in making our decision after 6+ months of house shopping.


Another THUD from Georgia. And mine doesn’t even have a basement.

If all of the houses are in the same price range (5-10k difference between them maybe) and your style of house is “anywhere but here” think about these major points for each property and consider them as an expense. Depending on the age and the quality of each item then the expense will come sooner, or later.

  • The basement (or if no basement, the slab) and the general foundation
  • The roof
  • The windows
  • Insulation in the walls and ceiling (which will effect the heating and cooling bills)
  • Heating and cooling methods (furnace, AC, radiators, ductwork, etc. And if no central air, figure out how they cool the place in the summer)
  • Included appliances
  • Carpeting and flooring

When I got my house I realized right away I needed to replace the shit-for-laundry they’d left me, and get my own stove and fridge (I lived without both for about 2 months actually. No sweat.) I knew there was no central air.

But the roof was new and the furnace and water heater were new. The foundation/drainage was newly done and the basement had damage that’d been fixed. The windows were new too.

So once I had a fence installed and got a few appliances, I was set. Concieveably I could have just moved in and not done anything but mow the lawn for a few years and I knew at least I’d be warm in the winter, cool in the summer (working windows!) and not have to deal with a leaky roof or basement.

The rest of the stuff was pretty much cosmetic. I can easily live with an ugly kitchen, a slightly worn rug, and white walls. Since the house was extremely liveable and didn’t need any immediate expensive repairs I was able to make my purchase and then ease into repairs/changes that I wanted to make and could afford at my leisure.

Good luck :slight_smile:

We have a living room, dining room, small kitchen, 3 good-sized bedrooms, plus a den, full basement, about a third of an acre, and a garage in the Baltimore suburbs and paid about twice that. I hate you. :wink:

Anyway, when you have it narrowed down to 1 or 2, get them inspected by a licensed home inspector. We paid $300 (or $350?) 12 years ago, and if they’re really thorough, they’ll find every little thing that’s wrong or could go wrong.
I don’t know if it’s required by your state, but it’s well worth it for the peace of mind.
Ours told us we needed a new roof soon, so we knew that, but were able to get 11 more years out of it.
One day last fall: “Honey, it’s raining in the attic and leaking through in the dining room!” Yeah, that was a fun week.
Owning a home is sooo much fun.

Before you make an offer, try to drive by the house during busy times. Or at night. Do you hear the freeway? Is the house on a major truck line, that delivers at 2AM for the 3rd shift? Do the street lights shine right into the bedroom windows?

I love my current house, but having originally viewed it during the day, in November (ie - didn’t spend a lot of time outside) I didn’t know that you could hear the trucks idling at the truckstop all night, or that the street light lights up one of the bedrooms.

These may have been covered obliquely:

When was the roof last replaced? How many years are left on the warranty? Is it transferable?

When was the water heater last replaced? If more than 7 years, ask for a credit for replacement.

How old is the furnace/boiler/heat pump? If more than 15 years, ask for credit for replacement/repairs.

If there is a crawlspace, check carefully for signs of water infiltration, i.e., staining or dampness, wood rot.

Woohoo! I put in a bid!

It’s a 3 bedroom, living room, family room, dining room, with a detached garage and a nice size backyard - not too big, not too small. The roof is less than a year old, the water heater is 2 years old, and the electrical system is 6 months old. It’s got a double range in the kitchen, which is staying, and a fireplace in the dining room. The neighbors on both sides are little old people, so unless Grandpa is a Led Zeppelin fan noise shouldn’t be an issue; it’s a quiet little tucked-away neighborhood. Basically, it’s everything I hoped for (more, actually, considering the roof and the major appliances) with the exception of a fence around the backyard, but I can easily put one in myself. It’s nice!

I should know by Friday if the sellers accept my bid, or if they have a counteroffer. Once we come to an agreement (IF we come to an agreement), I have 2 weeks to get a home inspector over there to check it over, and I also have to have a bug inspection. My bank will send over the appraiser. Assuming everything goes smoothly (which it probably won’t, but Fate may surprise me for a change), we can close by the end of July.

Thank you, everybody, for the good advice! Now who wants to talk me through the rest of it? :cool:

Congratulations! I hope they accept your bid. (Do me a favor, though. Don’t tell me how much you offered. I’m in LA, so I’ll just cry.)

It sounds like you’ve got leverage over your Realtor – given the family connections, she ought to do right by you. So in the time while you’re waiting to hear if your offer is accepted, talk to your Realtor about lining up a good inspector. The inspection is an important part of the process; not only should it tell you if there are hidden flaws to the house, but the inspector will be able to teach you about the house.

In addition, you’ll want to schedule your inspection as soon as possible, so that if the inspector does identify any potential problems that may require someone else to examine them (a chimney contractor, or an electrician, or a roofing contractor, for example), you’ll have time to get that done.

Also, talk to your insurance agent. Your mortgage will require you to carry insurance, and your agent can begin estimating the cost of insurance now, while you wait. Your agent also may want to attend the inspection; you should find that out ahead of time.

Good luck!

Forget NYC Dopers. Try any dopers within 100 miles of any major city. We’re closing on a townhome halfway between DC and Baltimore. 2 Bed, 1 Bath, under 1000sqft. And at $235k, it’s a steal.

Not to sound too bitter, but where the heck are you to get prices that are lowball for 20 years ago, much less this century?

Lucky bastard :). I could afford $235k. But an essentially identical place ( 935 sq. ft. ) across the street from my flat and right next to a large, noisy church hall in my very average neighborhood, is going for $499k.

Yet, when I looked at the price the other day when it went on the market, I thought to myself “not that unreasonable, considering.” I tell you, this place fucks with your head :p.

  • Tamerlane

I’m in mid-MO; the closest town of any size is only that way because it contains UMC (Go Tigers! Fumble that ball!) and we’ve got no major factories or industries nearby. To answer a question asked upthread, it’s a good place to retire, if you can handle 95 degree heat with 234% humidity through most of the summer, and anything between 60 degrees and -10 with three feet of snow (these variations can occur over a 6 hour period) in the winter. We’re within a couple of hours driving distance of both St. Louis and K.C. But decent jobs are few and far between, unless you’re a professional at something or other.

I hadn’t even thought about insurance! I’ll have to check with Dad and see who he recommends; our car insurance is through a chain (no geckos involved, though) and our life insurance is through our respective employers and Veteran’s Life, so we don’t have an insurance agent.

I’m going to be on pins and needles until I hear back from the agent about my bid. I expect them to make a counteroffer, but I really hope we can come to an agreement; the house has been on the market for 6 months and the current owners moved out of state long ago, so I imagine they’re eager to get rid of it. I suspect the reason it hasn’t sold is because there’s a slightly loopy next door neighbor; she had a sign up on her garage, readable from the driveway of the house for sale, saying something like, “DO NOT TOUCH MY GARAGE DO NOT TOUCH MY THINGS STAY OFF MY YARD AND I’M NOT TAKING ANYTHING OFF MY GARAGE”. Real neighborly-like.

My realtor was concerned and called the real estate agent who actually has the house listed (it’s not through my agent’s company) and asked about it. Apparently the neighbor’s a little slow, and scared of whoever might move in, and is expressing her concern through hostility. I’ll bring her a coffee cake after I get moved in (IF I get it) and either make friends with her or scare her so bad she never leaves her darkened bedroom again.

Wow, this post is long. I’m just so excited!