By: Lisa Johnson Mandell, ClientDirect
You’ve finally found it: a home you’re swooning over and dying to own. From the exposed ceiling beams to the hardwood floors, this feels like the place. So what’s next? Don’t just stand there dumbstruck; it’s time to dig deeper and ask questions—and not just the kind that randomly pop into your head, either. You need to hit all of the necessary topics head-on, and some of them are not so obvious.
But you’re in luck: We’ve pulled together a checklist of some of the most important initial questions to ask when buying a home:
What is the home’s sales history?
When was the last time the house sold, and how much did the current owners pay for it? This is essential intel, and you don’t even have to ask the seller or your real estate agent about it, because it’s posted on every MLS listing. All you have to do is scroll down to find it. But make sure you know it.
When buying a home, the previous sale price will give you a sense of what the sellers might expect you to pay—but keep in mind that a home’s true market value is based more on what comparable homes are selling for now rather than what it went for in the past, says Los Angeles Realtor® Jennifer Niman of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. Sales history will also show you whether the home’s price has been trending up or down over time, which can help you hone your negotiating stance.
Did the sellers make any major renovations or additions?
If they’ve overhauled the kitchen, added a bedroom, or finished the basement, you’ll want to know that—and, ideally, see receipts from contractors to get a sense of what they paid for these upgrades.
In general, this will give you a ballpark notion of how much money they’ve sunk into the home—and what they hope to get out. That said, don’t assume you have to fork over as much cash as they put in; home improvements generally reap only a 64% return on average. And that return on investment varies widely based on which renovation is done.
How much are the property taxes?
Property tax history is also typically available right on the listing detail page. If you can’t find it, ask the seller. You’ll want to find out what previous owners paid, but understand that the property tax, since it’s based on a percentage of the value of the house, will probably be affected by your purchase price. This could be a huge additional expense, and you’ll need to budget for that when putting together your offer.
What are the monthly maintenance and utility costs?
Is there any type of homeowners association fee? Find out. Also learn what kind of power the house uses, be it gas, oil, electric, or a combination, and ask what the average monthly bill for each is. Also inquire about water, waste removal, and any other utility costs that are applicable.
Has there ever been a broken pipe? Sewer backup?
This may sound trivial (not to mention unpleasant), but according to the Insurance Information Institute, broken pipes account for an estimated 22% of all home insurance losses. If the homeowner doesn’t ‘fess up, a good home inspector can probably find evidence of either one of these situations, so you might want to put these on your list of questions to ask your inspector, too.
How old is the roof?
The 2015 Remodeling Impact Report from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® says the national median cost of an asphalt roofing replacement is about $7,600. It would be good to know how soon you might need to lay out that substantial amount of cash.
Have there ever been any pest infestations?
If there was an infestation, when were pest control procedures undertaken? No, this won’t necessarily mean the house is pest-free at the time you’re buying it, but it’s a good starting point to know the history. Many buyers require that termite treatment be included in the price; it’s easiest to tent for pest removal when the house is empty, between owners.
Are there warranties on the appliances, HVAC system, garage door, etc.?
And if so, can the homeowner provide the documentation? Ask for it. This can establish how old these features are, and give you an idea of when they might need to be replaced and how expensive it could be. It will also help you decide whether or not to buy a home warranty.
What are the parking restrictions around the house?
Will guests need parking permits? How many permits are you, as the homeowner, allowed, and can you obtain more if you decide to throw a party? Also, check out the parking situation on the property itself. Will your car(s) fit in the garage? Is there room to park anywhere else on the property other than the driveway?
Does the house have any kind of unusual history?
In many states, owners are legally bound to disclose if a death or major crime has occurred recently on the premises, but there are other circumstances you should be aware of as well. For example: Did anyone famous ever live there? Was it ever used in a film, TV series, or commercial? If so, you might have to deal with fans ringing your doorbell or driving by at all hours of the day or night.
Oh, and if the house has a history of being haunted or paranormally “stigmatized,” you might have a little extra negotiating power when buying a home. Thanks, ghosts.
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