14 things to look for when buying a house

14 things to look for when buying a house


Home buying is a major endeavor requiring both short- and long-term planning. The average American moves residences over 11 times in his or her life. While you may not want to buy a home for each season of life, you may find the conditions are right for home ownership somewhere along the way.

When you decide that owning a home is right for you, there are some important things to look for on your journey toward a purchase.

1. A home to accommodate your lifestyle

When narrowing down what you want in a house, consider your current lifestyle as well as your future needs. You don’t need to plan to live in the house for the rest of your life, but you do need to think about how you will grow into your home.

Things to consider are the number of bedrooms for any future children or regular visitors, backyard size for pets and kids to play in or for cookouts, the number of bathrooms for when those children all become teenagers, and a large kitchen if you enjoy home-cooked meals or hosting parties.

2. Resale value

Finding a house that’s unique is completely okay if you keep resale value in mind. Gone are the days when families stayed in one home for their entire lives. We are a mobile generation, and our home purchases should take into account what happens when we go to sell down the road.

Characteristics of a home with good resale value include: more than one bathroom, a master bath, spacious closets, large windows, and open floor plans.

3. The roof and the foundation

The conditions of the roof and foundation will be disclosed in a home inspection, but taking a good look prior to making an offer will help you avoid an unhappy surprise.

Roofs generally last 15–30 years, and newer houses should be built with quality roofing material. However, roofs can easily cost over $10,000 and affect home insurance prices, so if a roof replacement is needed on a house, it needs to be reflected in the asking price.

Likewise, foundation repairs are often prohibitively expensive and can cause significant disruptions to daily living. So unless you’re in the business of major renovations, make sure that the ground is solid and your head is covered.

4. Windows

Older homes may have windows painted shut, or they may not be airtight. New homes are required to comply with energy efficiency standards, but old homes may have outdated—and hard to replace—windows. Check the windows, feel for drafty areas, and ask the previous residents about heating and cooling costs.

5. Dealbreakers

Look past the paint and the ugly wallpaper in the bathroom, and come up with some legitimate dealbreakers in a home purchase.

Think back to the first point and consider your lifestyle. Consider what you may be willing to compromise on, but be careful not to compromise too much. Whether a home has a one-car or two-car garage may not seem like a big deal—until you’re a two- or three-car family and someone is always blocking the others in the driveway.

If something seems annoying or inconvenient, it isn’t selfish to take time and be realistic about how that “little” annoyance will wear on you day in and day out for the foreseeable future.

6. Negotiables

After you’ve decided what your dealbreakers are, you can really pinpoint where you can compromise on your wish list. The negotiables are where you can save a lot of money and leave room for your personality to shine through.

For instance, houses that have been “flipped” may look pretty, but they often include updates that you could have made yourself. If you want to save money and are willing to put in a little work, consider how you can update paint, countertops, or outdated bathrooms to your own preferences.

7. Homes within your budget

Get pre-approved for a loan, understand your budget, and work with a realtor to help you determine your price range. House payments often include city and property taxes and may also include HOA fees, so two houses in different areas with the same listed price may vary greatly in monthly payments.

Online payment calculators can help you find your monthly payment while adjusting for loan type, loan term, property taxes, down payment, and list price.

8. How things work

You may need to ask permission before you start touching everything in a house—especially if the current owners still live there—but if you can, try things out.

Test how the toilets flush, how strong the water pressure is, and whether the appliances, lights, and ceiling fans work. (The general etiquette is to not actually use the toilet during a tour, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure it works!)

9. Closets and storage

Older homes generally have smaller closets and less storage space compared to newer homes. Consider not only your daily items but also your yearly storage, including winter clothes, holiday decorations, lawn equipment and other items.

If the house doesn’t have the necessary closets, garage space, or storage shed to hold all your stuff, it may not be the right fit. Look at what you currently have and how it’s working for you to plan for what you need in your new home purchase.

10. Lighting

Consider the brightness of the rooms, both the natural light from the windows and the light fixtures. This is something that is hard to judge on one individual walk-through. But, if you can, open and close blinds, imagine dark and bright days, how much privacy you like, and where you tend to read or work in the house.

11. The lay of the land

While you may spend most of your time examining the inside of the house, you still need to consider what’s happening outside. Ask yourself what the landscaping is like and how much maintenance is required. See where the trees have been planted, and whether that will affect the foundation of the house.

If the house is in a new development, look at the other houses, how the fences are built, yard maintenance, and other details to see how much time goes into making the neighborhood look great.

12. The neighbors

You’re not just moving into a home; you’re moving into a neighborhood—and hopefully finding new friends along the way. Introduce yourself and get a feel for the neighborhood.

If you have children, see if there are other kids in the area, what activities are scheduled, and if there is a community pool. You can also ask the neighbors how they like the area and for their thoughts on traffic, noise, energy costs, or the HOA.

13. Location, location, location

Just like in several of the other points, knowing your lifestyle and your needs will help you determine the location of your new home. The length of your commute, and access to public transportation, parks, schools, biking trails, and shopping may factor into your decision.

For some detailed tips on how to find the right neighborhood, see our previous post here.

14. A good home inspector

For any house purchase, you need to find a trusted and reliable home inspector.

You may be able to notice some obvious things yourself, like a leaky roof, but an experienced inspector will spend hours searching every crack and corner, every outlet and air vent to make you aware of every detail of your home purchase.

Expect to spend $300-$500 on a home inspection, and expect that it will be worth every dollar for the peace of mind.