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When buying a home, you and your family have a lot of decisions to make. Do we want one story or two? How far from work are we willing to live? Fixer upper or turnkey? Pool or no pool? The list goes on.
Speaking of lists, to make keeping track of all these decisions easier, we’ve made a house hunting checklist to help you remember all the important details to look out for while shopping for the right fit. Following this checklist will make comparing homes after touring them simpler and will help ensure no important considerations slip through the cracks.
You can download the checklist and print it for yourself to bring along with you when you’re house hunting, rating each aspect of the houses you’re viewing as you go:
You can download the checklist by clicking here or by clicking the checklist itself.
In addition to this printable house hunting checklist, we’ve compiled a list of things to keep in mind as you tour homes. Read our list below of what to look out for when home buying, particularly if you're looking to buy your first home.
House hunting checklist: Interior
Loving how the interior of your home looks is so important when searching for a home. It’s important, however, to remember that you can make a lot of cosmetic changes to your home quite easily. Before making an offer on a home you love the look of, keep an eye out for these serious interior issues that may arise and can be harder and more expensive to fix.
This one’s a biggie, so let’s start here. If you come across a home with extra rooms (like an additional bathroom) that the home wasn’t advertised as having, it may seem like you’ve scored big time. You’ll want to pause here.
If you come across any extra space in the home, you need to make sure that the addition was built with all proper permits in place. Not only can unpermitted construction projects be unsafe, but the city can fine you if they find out about it. You could find yourself saddled with extra costs to either get the work permitted or in some cases even remove the addition.
Home additions can be hard to spot, but some common additions or signs of additions to look out for are converted garages, rooms with lower roof lines than the outside of the home, and guest houses that are freestanding.
Wall and floor condition
Warped floors, watermarks, and cracks in walls are displeasing to the eye and can be a sign of really big issues in a home. If you find any of these things, do some digging to make sure the issues don’t run deeper. A small hairline crack may not be a big deal (if they aren’t wider than ⅛ of an inch and run vertically), but signs of water damage or termites can be. A warped floor can be caused by water damage or those pesky bugs, so you’ll want to literally watch your step.
Water damage can affect your walls and ceilings too. Check out the walls and ceiling for any bubbling and the baseboards and floors of the home for buckling. Water damage may be difficult and expensive to repair, especially if it’s been neglected for some time, so this is something to take seriously.
Integrated fixtures and systems
As annoying as ugly wallpaper or loose cabinet knobs can be, they are pretty easy to update. Integrated fixtures and systems like electrical wiring and cooling and heating systems? Not so much. Leaky water heaters and eroded wires can be hard and expensive to fix.
If you’re going to put an offer on a home, you’ll want to check for big issues relating to integrated fixtures and systems. Turn on the water to see if it comes out clear; if it’s rusty you may need to replace the pipes. Do the lights flicker (a sign of potential electrical wiring issues)? Does the AC make a funny sound (you may need to replace it)? Keep an eye out for any major issues and remember that you can worry about painting or swapping out blinds later.
When touring a home, take a deep breath. What do you smell? Musty smells can be a sign of mildew and an odor similar to wet socks can come from mold. Both mold and mildew can harm your health just as much as your wallet. Lingering cigarette and pet smells may not be as dangerous as mold or mildew, but it can be difficult and expensive to remove them. If a home you’re touring is using a lot of candles or diffusers, they may be trying to hide a less than desirable smell from home buyers.
House hunting checklist: Exterior
It’s easy to focus on the inside of a home as that’s where you’ll spend the bulk of your time, but the outside of a home is just as important. Let’s look at some of the exterior details you should be paying attention to.
A pretty lawn may seem like it’s mostly good for curb appeal, but a bad lawn can point to larger issues at hand. While it’s not uncommon to see yellow and brown spots on even the best kept lawn, in some cases those spots can be a result of fungal diseases that can take time and money to fix if you want your landscaping to thrive. If a lawn is wet or soggy and has an unpleasant odor, that can be the sign of a broken sewer line, which is a huge problem that must be addressed as soon as possible.
The potential to make exterior changes
If you want a fence in your front yard (which is ideal with small children or pets), you don’t need to worry necessarily if your dream home doesn’t have one. That's an easy and fairly inexpensive fix, if the HOA or city will allow you to add a fence. A fence is just one example of a change you may want to make to the exterior of your home. Do you want to add a porch or a pool? How about fresh landscaping or a new pathway? Ask the HOA to learn a bit more about what changes you're allowed to make to the exterior of the home to confirm there are no roadblocks ahead of you.
Even if you’re a major homebody, the community surrounding your house is a really important part of finding your home sweet home. Most listing sheets do a pretty good job of giving you key community data, but you’ll still want to do your own research on your potential new neighborhood. Here’s a few factors you should consider before settling down in a new-to-you location.
- School rankings
- Crime rates
- Noise pollution
- Environmental factors
- Proximity to work
- Amenities (community pool, library, etc.)
- Traffic flow
Important questions to ask
When you’re reviewing your house hunting checklist, there’s a few key questions you should ask. The answers to these questions may take a little digging to uncover and won’t necessarily be apparent to you after touring a home. You can ask the selling agent these questions to gain some insight into the home and what buying it would look like. Your real estate agent should also be able to ask these questions on your behalf.
When are offers due by?
If you’re touring multiple homes at once, you’ll want to take note of the offer deadline for each home you’re really interested in. Missing the submission deadline is an easy way to lose the opportunity to put an offer in on a home you love. If you really want a home after touring it and are ready to make an offer as soon as possible, check in to see when the seller will begin accepting offers (this could be right away or on a set date), to make sure you don’t come across as pushy for sending an offer too soon.
How many offers have already been made?
Knowing how many offers other buyers have already made on a home you plan to put an offer on can give you an idea of what your competition looks like and how quickly the home might sell. If they have a large amount of offers, you may find yourself in a bidding war. If they only have one or two other offers, you may feel more comfortable keeping your offer closer to asking price. Some home sellers request their agent doesn’t reveal how many offers are on the table for fear of scaring off buyers, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Why are the owners selling?
If you can find out why an owner is selling their home, you may discover that their reason for leaving might make you want to leave too. In some cases they may simply want a change of scenery, need to move for a job, or might want to upgrade to a larger home. But if their reasons for leaving are because they have bad neighbors, there are high crime rates, or the schools in the area are struggling, then you might want to reconsider moving in.
Is the home for sale “as is”?
If a home is for sale “as is”, that means the sellers won’t be making any repairs or providing buyers with credit to make repairs on anything that needs to be fixed. This can be especially concerning if they did do renovations that aren’t up to code, so again it’s super important to ask if they’ve made any changes to the home and if those changes were permitted.
Does the property have any problems that need to be addressed?
Speaking of necessary repairs, listing agents have to be upfront with you about any known issues that the home has. You will gain access to this information via disclosure documents that the seller has to provide, but asking in person about these issues will give you the chance to check them out for yourself.
There are a lot of details to keep on top of when you’re house hunting, so make sure to bring your checklist and a pen with you when you're looking for your next home.