Buying a house is a bit like planning for your wedding day — there are months packed with excitement, stress, planning, and then, finally, the big payoff. I know because I have 2 exceedingly interesting sisters (a hummus-making social worker and a gluten-free marketing maven) who both committed to the big stuff — husbands and houses — within the last 2 years.
Although I can’t help you with happily-ever-after, I can share the insight I gained while helping my sisters on their journeys to homeownership. Here is what to look for in a new home.
Before you ever set foot inside, check out what’s happening on top. Does the roof look relatively new or is it caving in? If the roof is eye-catching (as in, “My, look at that gaping hole”), chances are it could end up costing you.
A newer roof, on the other hand, could mean a lower homeowners insurance rate. Likewise, a roof made of an especially sturdy material is better equipped to defend against wind and hail (and can save you from a potential claim).
When you step inside your prospective abode, focus on the structural stuff — aging appliances, loose wires — and tune out any freshly painted walls or upscale decor. The foundation will be there long after the paint has started chipping and you want that to be what lasts.
When you’re buying a house, keep in mind: if it looks rickety or old, it probably is. Heating and cooling systems are expensive to fix and replace, and inefficient ones can eat away at your utility bills. Make sure the furnace is up to date and in good repair.
Aside from the basics, like quality windows and countertops, think about the purpose of your home and the requirements for your lifestyle, like storage for a large book collection or a big backyard for barbecuing.
It can also be smart to spring for a home with an extra bedroom if you’re planning on kids or guests. And if your significant other is a night owl while you’re a connoisseur of cat naps, it might be a good idea to look for a house with an entertainment area set far away from the master bedroom.
When you’re poking around a new kitchen, don’t stop at eye level — get underneath the sink and examine those pipes. Check for leaks, water damage, and mold.
Not only is mold unsightly and foul-smelling, but it can also cause health problems. If you live with a baby, an elderly person, or someone with asthma, you’ll want to be especially careful before moving in with mold.
Don’t just look at the building — examine the area around it. Is the house in an area prone to flooding or wildfires? Is the driveway shared with another property? If there are fences, have they been built and positioned properly? It’s a lot to take in, but when you buy a house, you can’t ignore its surroundings.
Do you smell sewage, gas, or anything equally unpleasant? Sewage systems in older homes can sometimes get clogged or damaged by tree roots. Luckily, some sewer or plumbing companies can send a camera through the pipes to detect any breaks or blockages.
Also worth noting: pet odors, cigarettes, and mildew.
Above all else, your home should be comfortable. Check the attic, water pipes, and heating ducts to make sure they’re properly insulated. This can reduce heating and cooling costs and keep you comfortable in summer and winter. Double-paned windows can also save you money down the road. Plus, they can help soundproof your place from outside noise.
I mean that literally. Turn on every faucet and light switch, open every window and door, flush the toilets, even taste the water. Buying a house is a big step — maybe one of the biggest — and you need to know how everything works firsthand. That way, you can address problem areas and see if there’s a cost-effective solution.
There’s only so much you can do with your own 5 senses. You’ll also want to enlist a professional to ensure the foundation is solid and the wiring is up to code. Home inspectors can even check for lead paint and wood-eating pests.
The National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents suggests that almost every house has a defect. Some will be obvious to you, and the vast majority will be fixable, but it’s best to know before you buy. Not only will that help you negotiate a lower price, but it can also prepare you for any necessary repair costs that may arise.
And once you’ve found your dream abode, make sure you have the right homeowners coverage to keep it protected