To help you as a first home buyer, here are some questions you should ask when buying a new home:
1. WHAT HOME CAN I AFFORD?
When I was buying my first home I found that there are several different things to take into consideration when it comes to finances. The first is of course the overall price. What can I afford to buy. I found that looking at houses above my budget only confused me, because it showed me nicer houses that made the houses within my budget look bad, yet I couldn’t afford the nicer houses. And while maybe you could push a loan through to buy a house that’s more than what you budgeted for, it may put you in financial strain once you own the house, struggling to keep up with mortgage payments, routine maintenance and so on. When buying a new home, work out how much you can spend on it and only look at houses within that price range. But the sale price of the house is not the only thing you should look at.
Once you own a house, there is also a budget! This is important to take into consideration as you’ll need to keep up with that as well as mortgage payments. Things such as property taxes, homeowners insurance, homeowner association fees, ongoing monthly home maintenance, and any updates or renovations you plan to make. Even electricity and water should be considered, since the size of your home will determine how much you spend on utilities each month. These all need to be calculated into a monthly expense.
2. IS THE HOME IN A FLOOD ZONE OR IS IT PRONE TO NATURAL DISASTER?
Since I live in Florida, this was a very important question for me. But it’s also important no matter where you live. In California, a lot of homes were burned down by wildfires. Some states have tornadoes and so on. Knowing what zone your house is in is very important. When I was buying my first home, not only did I buy a house in a zone that’s very unlikely to flood but I also looked at records to see if that area had ever flooded before or not. Apart from the damage your house is open to, homes in flood zones also require higher insurance premiums and some insurances are mandatory.
3. WHY IS THE HOUSE BEING SOLD?
This was actually always one of my first questions. Why is the seller leaving his home? Some people want to downsize, some people need to move to a different state due to family or work, and so on. Knowing why the house is being sold can also help you understand what kind of counter offer to place. For example, when buying my second home, I had found an amazing house, in a great location and it even had solar panels. But when my realtor asked the question, he found out that the house was sitting on a sinkhole and that they had already had sinkhole problems and had to fix them. Thank god I asked this question, because had I bought that house I could be facing major problems in the future.
Another house I was looking at was bigger than I wanted and the price was slightly over my budget. But when we asked why the seller was selling the house we found out that it was his vacation home and that he loved it but that he would no longer be visiting Florida due to his poor health. It was kind of sad but this also told us the house was in good shape and that we could place a decent bid on the house.
Your realtor can usually find out the answer to this question.
4. WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU BUYING?
When buying a home, any fixture that’s attached to the ceiling or the walls comes with the house. When buying my first house, my realtor taught me that this is a very important question and that he had seen people get into legal battles over the smallest things that sellers took with them when moving out of the house. Anything being left behind should be listed in the offer you make so that it’s on record in legal form.
This question can also help you make a decision on if you want to buy the house or not. For example, when I bought my first house, we asked the seller what fixtures and what was included in the purchase and she ended up leaving me two awesome couches, a bed, a TV and a sideboard! On the reverse end, when I was looking for my second home, I found an apartment that was just within my budget and was in a great location. But the seller said she was taking the washer and dryer and also the TV that was mounted on the wall. This not only left things up for discussion, since buying this home meant I needed to buy a new washer dryer and TV, but when trying to negotiate I found that she was very unwilling to negotiate anything, including the price which I thought was a bit high compared to other homes in that same area so I didn’t end up buying that home.
5. HAVE THERE BEEN ANY ADDITIONS OR MAJOR RENOVATIONS TO THE HOME?
Viewing a home on an online listing site and seeing it in person are two very different things. Personally, I would never buy a home without seeing it first. When seeing a home, also ask if any modifications, additions or renovations have been made to the house. Sometimes people make modifications to fit their preferences which may be very different to yours. And sometimes, they could be a great advantage such as a remodeled kitchen!
6. WHAT IS THE CONDITION OF THE HOME’S ROOF?
Ah, finally the crux of this article! Roofs are not only one of the most important parts of a home, roofs are also one of the most expensive parts of a home. Having to repair your roof or replace your roof shortly after you move in could mean quite some financial strain. Different kinds of roofs have different life spans. Knowing the roof’s age before buying a house is a must. But in addition to that, find out if it has leaks and if so, how many and when was the last time they were repaired. Does the existing roof have any warranties and guarantees on it? Is there any mold damage on the roof, any loose or missing shingles or tiles? Has the roof suffered any damage? These and many more are all valid questions about the roof, before you buy your first home. If the roof is older than 10 years, we strongly recommend calling a professional roofer to do a roof inspection to detect any potential issues or to certify that as far as the roof is concerned, you’re good to go!
7. HOW OLD ARE THE APPLIANCES?
Old appliances are not only prone to breakage, but they can also end up costing you a lot in electricity charges. Newer appliances are often more energy efficient and not only that but they work better and have more features that will make every day living easier. While it wouldn’t be normal to ask your seller to replace old appliances with new ones, if a house you are looking at has old appliances it is important to take this into consideration. Either you can use this to lower the selling price a bit or minimally, take into consideration that you’ll need to spend some money to buy new appliances in the near future.
Appliances to look at include, the air conditioner, the furnace or water boiler, washer and dryer, and the stove and kitchen appliances.
But in the way of energy efficiency, I’ll give you another example. When I bought my first home, the home was such a good deal that when it came to appliances, all I wanted to know was do they work and will they at least last a few years since I was planning to redo the kitchen and a few other things anyway.
After about a year of living in my first house, both the dryer and washer broke respectively. Luckily I was able to fix them myself by watching a YouTube video! The microwave cover fell off. The boiler exploded and I had to get it completely replaced and little did I know my A/C was an energy hog! All within the first year!
A note on windows: while windows are not not really an appliance, I’m putting them here because they help you reduce energy costs. Plus, in Florida having decent windows is very important due to the storms your house can experience. If the house you want to buy has old windows, not only are these going to be less energy efficient and may break during a strong storm, but when you go to replace them you’ll find that new windows can be very expensive. In Florida, many zones have regulations that only allow you to use the latest and strongest hurricane proof windows, making it a very large expense. Buying a new home with new windows may be more expensive but is often worth it.
When I bought my fourth home, it was twice as large as my first one and I thought the electric bill was for sure going to be 2-3 times higher. Little to my surprise, because all my appliances were rather new and because it had hurricane proof windows, my electric bill was almost the same in a house that was double the size of my first one.
8. HOW LONG HAS THE HOME BEEN ON THE MARKET?
Knowing how long a house has been on the market gives you a great idea of what kind of offer you can put on it. It also tells you if a house is overpriced or not. A house that’s been on the market for months is clearly overpriced for one reason or another, be it the actual house itself, the location, and so on. Meanwhile, seeing 2-3 or even 4-5 price cuts on a house tells you that the seller is motivated and so you can get a good price! Houses that are underpriced often sell within days or weeks! I remember when looking for my third home, there was a house that had been on the market for almost 12 months. The seller had lowered the price three times. While it wasn’t my house of choice I kept an eye on it as a plan b, in case I didn’t find what I was looking for because I knew I the seller was motivated and I could get a good deal on it.
9. WHAT IS THE VALUE OF OTHER HOMES IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD?
How much do other homes cost or how much have other homes sold for in the same neighborhood ?
Knowing the value of the homes next to yours and within the same neighborhood and also how much houses have sold for within the same neighborhood and when gives you something to compare your house to. Comparing your house size, value and asking price to others within the same neighborhood can help you know whether to offer more, less or match the asking price.
Also knowing how much the house you are buying was last sold for or seeing its sale history can help you understand the potential value of your home and its value in the future.
One home I bought several years ago was about 30% lower than the value of all the other homes around it. A year after I bought it, construction began nearby for a beautiful golf course and so not only did property value shoot up in the area, but homes next to mine started selling for double what I had purchased mine for which immediately shot my home’s value up to almost double!
On the reverse end, I had a friend who purchased quite a nice home in a neighborhood where the other houses sold for between $300K-$500K. That was the going price for homes within that area depending on their size. Unfortunately, after she bought the home she spent a lot of money renovating it with top of the line appliances, marble flooring and countertops, a new pool and so on. By the time she was done the house would have been worth $800-$900K but she was not able to sell it for it’s worth because no other house in that neighborhood was anywhere near that, and the house itself wasn’t much bigger than the others, it was just built with top grade material. While maybe a few might recognize and appreciate that, most people didn’t and so she ended up losing money when she sold her home.
Having your own home is exciting, and of course you have every right to make it exactly like you want it so you can enjoy it! But keeping in mind the value of homes next to yours and not overdoing it will help you sell it should you want to graduate to a bigger home in the future or downsize when you get older.
10. HAS THE HOUSE HAD ANY MOLD DAMAGE?
If you’re not buying a home in Florida, you may want to skip this one. But if you’re buying a home in Florida, this is a very important point to check into. Due to Florida’s humidity and heat, homes are prone to mold and mold cannot only be very stubborn and expensive to remove, it can also be a health risk. Once mold seeps into dry way and a/c vents it can be very hard to remove. Knowing if the home you want to buy has had mold damage and if it was removed is very important. If it did have mold damage, and it was removed, it’s still worth it to call a mold expert to inspect the home and certify it’s mold free. If it has mold that is not removed, I would either have the mold removed as part of the buying process or include that in your price.
11. HAVE ANY INSURANCE CLAIMS BEEN MADE ON THE HOUSE?
Kind of like when you buy a car, you want to know if it’s been in any accidents. Knowing if any insurance claims have been placed on the house and why can help you determine if the house you want to buy is right for you. Prior to buying a house, your realtor can get a copy of what’s called a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange report from the seller to see if any claims have been filed in the last seven years.
12. HOW ARE THE NEIGHBORS?
Before buying a house, it’s important to look around the neighborhood and get an idea of what the neighborhood is like. While some people may not put as much importance on this as I do, to me location and good neighbors is very important. Often, when looking at a home to see if I want to buy it or not, I can get a feel for the neighborhood as I drive into it. While you may not get a chance to meet the neighbors, just seeing how they maintain their houses, their yards, if the road is maintained, and so on can tell you a lot. That may sound judgy, and maybe they can turn out to be the best neighbors in the world. But without meeting all your future neighbors, getting a feel for the general area can help you determine the quality of the neighborhood. This is especially important if you have kids.
Apart from the friendliness of the neighbors, also find out if the neighborhood is noisy or quiet, are there any rules, is it pet friendly, etc.
While most realtors will not advise on a home based on its crime rate, this is also something I felt was important when buying a new home. There are online maps that will show you the crime rate in your area and the crime rates of nearby neighborhoods.
I have a small Yorkie-Poo named Baby who is very friendly and playful! I rescued her when she was six weeks old and for her first year, we lived in a neighborhood which was mainly populated by retired people. The association we were a part of allowed dogs but only below 25 pounds. This was perfect for Baby because she quickly made friends with a lot of dogs the same size as her. Being retired and having time on their hands, a lot of the neighbors were extremely friendly and would often stop for 15-20 minutes to let their dogs play with Baby as they strolled through the oak lined sidewalks. Baby became very used to playing with other dogs and people. Unfortunately, in my new neighborhood, while my house is nicer and it’s a gated community and so on, the people here work. They walk their dogs for a short while and then go back inside and many of the dogs are bigger. Baby has had a harder time making friends and people only stop for 1-2 minutes to let their dogs play. I’ve often had to bring Baby back to our old neighborhood which luckily is only 15 minutes away so she can visit her friends! While that’s my story, you may have your own. Maybe you have kids or an elderly mother that you take care of. When buying a new home, taking the neighborhood and neighbors into account and making sure it fits what you want is important.
13. ASSOCIATION RULES
If you’re looking at buying a condo or townhome, the association rules and regulations are very important. Also what are the association fees each month and what do they cover? Many associations are easy to live in; but some have very stiff rules and regulations and while they can seem extreme or even unlawful sometimes, you are required to sign and agree to them in order to live within the association. If there is an HOA fee, also ask to see the association’s financials, which can help you see how the association is able to keep up with routine maintenance they are responsible for.
My uncle once owned a beautiful Condo in a high-rise overlooking Clearwater beach. It’s what many would think was an ideal home. I’ll never forget the day he bought a brand new Cadillac Escalade. Within two days, he got a call from his association letting him know that the truck was over the regulated limit and that he was unable to park it in the parking lot just outside the building and had to park it outside. That and a few other very stiff regulations made him and his wife eventually sell that Condo.
A friend of mine was living in an association that didn’t allow her to have more than one pet and so she had trouble with her second dog.
I don’t mean to paint a bad picture of associations, for example I currently live in a gated community where I’m perfectly happy with the rules and regulations and I haven’t run into any trouble (knock on wood!).
All I’m saying is be sure to read them and agree with them prior to buying your first home.
14. ARE THERE ANY OTHER PROBLEMS WITH THE HOUSE?
Online listings often don’t tell you everything about a house. After all they are written to sell the house, not turn people away! When buying a house for the first time, find out everything you can about the house. There is no invalid question. Ask every question you need to in order to feel comfortable when buying that house. This includes asking if the house has ever had any problems.
In addition to just asking, before you buy the house you will need to get the house inspected. Every time I’ve bought a house I have hired the best inspector I could find, even if it cost a few extra dollars.
A friend of mine was about to buy a house that seemed like a great deal but luckily I referred my inspector to him, who found the house had extensive water damage and rat infestations, requiring thousands of dollars of repair.
Finding a thorough inspector for your house not only helps you ensure the house is safe to buy, but it also tells you what to expect when you move in and can give you an idea of what things to fix to make your new home ideal for you.
15. WHAT ARE THE CLOSING COSTS?
When you’re finally ready to buy your new home you are going to be signing some paperwork. This requires titles, notaries, agencies and a few other things and these few other things cost money. These are called closing costs and as the buyer you are generally responsible for these unless specifically stated otherwise. Closing costs usually add up to 2-5% of the home’s value. Ask your realtor to estimate these costs and be sure to include these into your budget.
There we go, I’d say you’re all set! This is my advice when it comes to buying your first home. I am sure there are some things I didn’t think of but following this advice will help you find a home that is best for you, one that you can grow in and build your own personal space and freedom in!