When purchasing a home of any age there are many things that I like to consider the “little things” that make the most sense when scrutinizing the decision to purchase. Imagine buying a home with little to hardly any water pressure? Seems like something that would hardly impact a decision, but the thought of taking a lifetime of showers without any water pressure would bum me out. This is a crude example, but my point is that the little things can really determine how you perceive your home, and most of all enjoy its amenities.
In terms of what to look for when buying or purchasing a home, there are the large ticket items, and there are many small ticket items. Anyone who has watched the home improvement channels or has conversations by the water cooler knows what these things are. In no real order of importance, these are the questions you need to ask yourself when deciding if you should buy your home, or determining what the true value of the home is. My definition of the true value of the home simply means, how much does the house cost after you purchase it and have made enough improvements so that you can live comfortably, combined with the peace of mind that a major repair is not imminent?
1. How much is the home priced per square foot, and is that figure in line with surrounding homes?
2. Is the home the right size for you and your potential family and guests? Think of the home with a few more people.
3. Is the property tax and homeowner insurance affordable? Get a quote from your insurance agent and ask the township for the tax statement.
4. Find out how long the house has been on the market and if there is a reason the sellers want to move. Look into the pricing history of the home as well as surrounding homes to see if you can make the most intelligent offer possible.
5. Is the home safe? Make sure the steps are not steep and everyday items such as walkways are not perilous in any way. These can pose a risk to you and your visitors.
6. Pay attention of the person who is showing the home. Watch their body language. If they are trying to steer you away from a room or area, chances are there is an issue there. Take your time and show them you are curious and careful. It is their job to hide the blemishes and only show you the good stuff.
7. When choosing an inspector ask to see a sample of his reports. You can easily tell a thorough inspector from one who is just looking at the “big things”. You want someone to be as forensic as possible, and focus on all matters – no matter the size or importance.
8. Is the home plumbing using a septic system vs. public service?
9. Identify how the home is being heated and cooled and determine if it is economical. Find out the age of the system, and get a copy of the gas and electric bills to determine efficiency and budget.
10. Inspect the windows and where the floor meets the wall to determine if the home is properly insulated or if there is any exposure to outside elements within the house. Do a thorough inspection of all the rooms and nooks within the home.
11. Insure the windows and framing around the windows does not require replacement. Push your finger into the wood to see if there is dampness, and examine how many coats of paint appear to be in or around the frame. Insure the paint is not cracking.
12. Examine the walls to determine composition and any imperfections as well as uneven areas. Damage by hanging pictures and other fixtures must be repaired with Spackle so try to identify as many areas as possible.
13. Size of the home is important, but noticing little things can help. For example, notice if there are any doorways, stairways, or bends around the home that would make purchasing and delivering furniture difficult; any narrow areas or areas where access is difficult could prevent you from properly furnishing the home. If there is a basement take measurements or check the size of the entrances and stairs to make sure you can fit large items without damaging the home.
14. Try to imagine “your stuff” in the home and determine if there are adequate storage spaces or options. A home without proper storage will clutter easily and make the space feel smaller. Make sure you have the space and proper climate for your storage and valuables.
15. Determine if the current homeowners are smokers. Inspect for damage in the ceiling, walls, and underlying areas. You should be able to detect by the smell alone.
16. Determine if the current homeowners had pets. If the house is carpeted this could mean allergens could be present. This could lead to issues for you and your guests and you should condition that the carpets are properly cleaned prior to move in date.
17. Find out about the condition of the roof, and a 15-year history of tear-off, repair, and replacement. Ask if there is any outstanding warranty on the current roof and how long that is.
18. On top levels of the home if applicable, look at the ceilings to see if there is any moisture or water damage. Spots are usually evidence of a leak or issue with the roof.
19. Determine if gutters around the roof are clogged or inefficient. Poor water circulation will lead to bigger issues.
20. If there are carpets find out what is under them. Pulling the corner up in a closet or unexposed area will reveal any wood flooring.
21. If the carpets are what you want, make sure there are no major stains. They can be very difficult to remove. Have the owner remove them to insure they are not your problem.
22. If you see area rugs, take a peek underneath. Make sure there is no mold or damage that is being covered, sometimes on purpose.
23. You fully understand you are going to need to paint, but how much? Factor that into your costs, and make sure you realize that dark walls are hard to paint without priming first. That goes for every wall, every ceiling, and exterior items such as fences, shutters, or trim.
24. Walk around and listen to the home. Make sure conditions are quiet. Do you have steps or flooring that creek? Walking barefoot can help you “feel” for problems, but use your eyes and ears and make sure the home does not exhibit sounds that are distracting and annoying.
25. Bring a small night-light with you and plug it into various electrical receptacles to insure there are no electrical issues. Make sure the outlets are all properly grounded, and that GFI outlets exist in areas like bathrooms and outdoor areas that could be exposed to moisture.
26. Try to inquire about power outages in the area. If there is a generator on premises, find out when it was installed, what type of installation and what circuits are enabled when power goes out. If you are in an area that is constantly experiencing power outages, you need to have contingency in place at all times in case the outages are extended.
27. Make sure the bathrooms are properly ventilated with fans that are not very noisy. Also, make sure the location of the bathroom is not in an area that is not appropriate. A bathroom off a kitchen doesn’t really work well.
28. Determine how many amps are running the home to see if it is enough. Any home 2,000 square feet or more should have at least 200 AMP services. Inspect the electrical panel to see if it is organized and neat.
29. Outlets should be plentiful and located throughout the home. Any heavy usage or productive areas should have plenty of outlets. Make sure you not only observe for outlets, but you test them with the night light.
30. Check out your cell phone reception inside and outside the home to determine if you are going to be living in one of those homes that cell phone service doesn’t work well in. While there are boosters that can solve the problem, there is an expense.
31. As you walk throughout the house, snap some pics if you can to remember certain details that require feedback or more research.
32. In every room, find out how that room will receive light, either through natural sources or fixtures. Ideally, you don’t want to rely on lamps in every room, especially in key areas. A fixture or in-ceiling lights will provide all the light you need and make the room look brighter and less dull. Fixtures like chandeliers will exist in the center ceiling.
33. In rooms where light is an issue, determine if there are windows and if they are positioned properly to provide sunlight during the day.
34. Inspect and run every faucet and shower, including hoses and water stations in and around the home. Determine if the water pressure is sufficient and inspect for any leaks or old/damaged hardware.
35. In the same token, flush all the toilets and make sure there is no clogging, weird noises or any type of notable issue with pressure or discoloration in the water.
36. Open the doors under sinks and faucets and feel around for moisture. Look and see if there are any signs of mold or previous water damage.
37. Have a drink of water (let it run for 30 seconds). This is the water you will be drinking with, cooking with, and bathing in. Hope you enjoy the smell, color and taste.
38. Open all the closets and doors and inspect areas within the home that are not out in the open. Look for light within closets, and electrical receptacles.
39. Determine the style, age, efficiency and functionality of the appliances in the kitchen / laundry room to determine if replacement or alternate options are necessary.
40. Get model numbers on everything that is included, especially appliances. They will tell you the true age, and can be difficult to repair with replacement parts if they are discontinued or really old.
41. If there is a basement, try to get a good sense of how it smells. If it smells moldy and damp, there is a good chance that it needs to be treated. Look along the walls in exposed areas (near sump pump) to see what the exterior looks like and if there is any moisture on the walls. Ask if it has even been flooded and make sure a mold test is performed. If there is mold in the home, it will most likely exist here.
42. Determine how the home is equipped to deal with heavy storms. Drainage, shutters, storm shields and other items should be evident.
43. Examine the foundation of the home both outside and at the lowest level. Cracks and stains should be carefully examined to determine structural damage as well as water damage which can weaken the foundation. The structure of the home is extremely important, and possibly one of the most important parts of the home inspection. Bring up anything you see with the home inspector.
44. If there is an attic, examine it thoroughly. Check for insulation, moisture, mold, or foul smells. Determine if it can be used for storage which is a plus.
45. Walk outside the property and get an idea on how the land is pitched. Obviously, if the land is tilted to your home, that is where the water will run. A house that is slightly elevated with the land pitched away from the home is ideal as it will be less likely to flood or incur poor drainage conditions.
46. Look for puddles around the exterior to see how much water collects (and where it goes). You want to make sure you don’t have a swamp after every rainstorm. That is why the grade of the land is very important.
47. See if there is any drainage system installed around the home or if one is needed to properly steer water away from the home and backyard.
48. Look at the efficiency of the home to funnel water off the roof, down spouts and direct away from the home. Visiting the home on a rainy day is the best way to do this.
49. Determine how noisy the area in the home is, especially in bedrooms and work areas. Visiting the home during the week at various times of day as well as weekends and weekdays will give the best perspective. Listen for trains, local traffic, and make sure you are not underneath a flight path.
50. Examine landscaping to see if there are any large tree roots that are invading too close to the home. In addition, determine how extensive spring and fall cleanups will be around the home by trees around the areas of the home and yard.
51. Bring a small hand shovel and sample some of the soil in the backyard to determine soil type. Soil plays a big role in planting, irrigation, and absorption. Check areas to make sure the soil is not like quicksand. Soil should be soft, but not so you sink more than an inch when walking. You may want to “sneak” a sample of the soil and have it analyzed by a landscaper if you are really interested in cultivating.
52. Determine what kind of animals and pests habit the area and eat your plants and crap all over your yard. Check other homes to see if they have taken any preventative measures. Chances are you will need to do the same.
53. In terms of landscaping, by observing how well kept (or not well kept) the homeowner treats his landscaping is a clue to how he treats the rest of the home. Typically, a properly maintained home will exhibit care in the landscaping.
54. Determine what direction the house is facing. Use your phone compass. This can have an impact on natural light entering the home which could add to light and warmth.
55. Try to examine the architectural details of the home. Is there crown molding? Is there any special attention to detail? Look for design inside and outside of the home that set it apart from other homes.
56. Make sure items like stairs, rails, banisters and any other structure is not loose. These are the types of repairs that you want the seller to address before you move in.
57. Find out where the gas meter, electrical panel, water service, outdoor hose and water access is. Make sure they are easily accessible, in ideal locations, and are properly functioning.
58. Make sure you have adequate storage of valuables, hardware, tools, outdoor equipment, clothing, and anything else you can think of. Determine if conditions in the attic, basement, shed or any other applicable area is sufficient.
59. What is included with the price of the home? Don’t put any value or perception on things such as window treatments, fixtures, appliances, area rugs, furniture, or any entertainment system that is not included in the price of the home.
60. Low voltage wiring, if it exists, can be very helpful. Examine each room where it is needed to see if it is wired for cable or satellite (coaxial cabling), phone/fax (Category 3/5 or 6 wiring), Ethernet/data (Category 5/6 wiring), speakers (14-16-gauge speaker wiring) or home theater (HDMI, audio/video wiring).
61. Find out who your local cable and satellite providers are, if they offer the channels you watch, and what type of pricing and installation is required. If you are moving out of state there is a good chance that you may lose some of your local networks and sports team designated channels, so make every effort to look into all your options.
62. Outdoor lighting is essential for the security, ambiance and safety around the perimeter of your home. First, make sure all the outdoor fixtures that are attached / mounted to the house work. Next, see if there is any low-voltage landscaping lighting around the front yard in and around shrubs. Make sure this works as well.
63. Determine what the seller has done in the last 7-10 years to create efficiency within the home. Feel the exterior walls to determine insulation factor. Feel along window base and framing for drafting. Observe doors and make sure there are no spaces when closed to allow air to enter or escape. Buying a home from someone who is energy conservative and environmentally conscious will make for a “green” home.
64. Is there fencing around the home? If so, walk along the perimeter on the inside and out and examine the fence for any defects, aging characteristics or damage to determine if this is something the seller should take care of. A fence is ideal for pets and privacy, but make sure it is sound.
65. Any area of the home that concrete exists, look closely for cracks and trip hazards. Examine the perimeter of the property for any damage and make sure to uncover any areas where the ground is masked with leaves or debris. It is your responsibility to make sure the home is structurally sound, both inside and out, as these repairs are costliest.
66. Once you are set on a home, be sure to visit it on different times of the day and different days of the week. Determining noise, light and ambiance of your surroundings is critical.
67. Look for any signs of damage caused by rodents, insects, etc. Any evidence of wood fray, waste, or odd smells could attribute to the presence of these types of pests. Examine joists or any exposed wood for any compromises or termite damage.
68. In terms of valuation, the most important features of a home are found in the kitchen and bathrooms. Style plays a huge role, but if the seller has an updated kitchen consisting of the following characteristics, they will demand top dollar:
a. Granite or other stone counter-tops and back splashes
b. Cabinets that are newer and have no defects
c. Newer appliances
d. Flooring that is newer or updated
e. Overall size of area, kitchen island
f. Quality, name brands and size of equipment
g. Fixtures, faucets, lighting, ranges and hardware
69. In bathrooms, consider the following:
a. Granite or other stone counter-tops
c. Faucets, hardware, and lighting
d. Type of flooring
e. Size of shower and/or bath
f. Updated toilet and shower
70. Overall flow and layout is important. Make sure you don’t have to tip-toe through a bedroom to get to another room. Make sure the layout matches your lifestyle. Imagine yourself in the home, your guests and family being comfortable, and a floor-plan that makes sense.
71. If you see skylights you should be skeptical. Most of them leak, or allow water to find their way into the ceiling, causing damage. Examine areas around them and see how the water funnels around them.
72. If there is a room with an addition, make sure it is properly heated or cooled. Rooms that are added sometimes can be disconnected to the rest of the home’s heating and cooling systems and result in uncomfortable temperatures. Since they usually don’t exist on top of basements or below attics, they can be more difficult to wire, so be sure the electrical and low voltage wiring is sufficient.
73. Curb appeal of the home is not only important for perception, but also can drive the price and marketability of your home. In addition, inspecting the shingles, vinyl siding, stucco, or brick on the exterior is important. Painting or changing the color of a home can be expensive and invasive, so make sure that meets the standard.
74. Drive around the area, and around the block. Make sure the block is not a “main vein” for traffic and that the block has the type of location that would limit traffic if possible. In other words, try to select blocks are out of the way and do not have bus routes, or other busy characteristics that would invite a lot of foot and car traffic.
75. If there is a fireplace make sure there is a guard on top to prevent unwanted guests. Make sure all mechanisms are in working order, and that the firewood stack, if any, is away from the house. If it is too close to the house carpenter ants, carpenter bees and termites can be an issue.
76. Look for small cracks and crevices especially in the kitchen and areas on the exterior to see if there are pockets or spaces where insects and rodents can get in. Those locations need to be plugged.
77. Make sure there are smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home and in places deemed mandatory by code. Find out if the system is wired into the electric and centralized so that fire and police are notified should a problem occur.
78. If the home has a security system make sure there is a panel at any entrance and if there is a panel in the Master Bedroom. This will allow you to invoke security easily and arm the home conveniently. Check along windows on the front and rear for contacts that will trigger the alarm should a window break or open. Inspect the integrity of the contacts for wear and firm connection.
79. Your grass will need to be watered regularly in the hot summer months. Find out if you have sprinklers, ask to see them run if possible, and figure out what areas are included. You will have to water the rest if you want a nice green lawn.
80. Determine how much land needs regular landscaping maintenance and how much that service typically costs for the amount of land in that area. Asking neighbors, townspeople, or even contacting a local landscaper is important. Find out what services they offer besides lawn mowing:
a. Trimming and maintenance
c. Lawn Care
e. Snow/Ice removal
f. Spring and Fall cleanups
81. Getting a true cost of annual upkeep is important to determining if a home is affordable. The above services are needed.
82. Find out about other services in the area you may need. Make sure they are reliable and professional.
b. Doctors, Dentists and Healthcare
c. How far are you from a hospital?
e. Eye Doctors
f. Specialists that are applicable to your situation
g. Restaurants and local shopping
h. Grocery and convenience stores
i. Handyman Services
l. HVAC / Climate Maintenance
m. Movies and other entertainment
n. Places of worship
o. Post Office
q. Local hotels
r. Banking – is your bank there?
s. Parks, Ponds, recreation
83. Avoid homes that are in close proximity to these places:
a. Schools or universities
b. Fire houses
c. Police stations
d. Commercial zones where heavy trucks / machinery
f. Airports or under flight paths
g. Truck stops
h. Sports Stadiums or large venue halls
i. Race tracks
j. Highways or very busy roads
k. Gas stations
l. Garbage dumps
m. Bus stations or Bus stops
n. School Bus stops
o. Factories and large warehouses
p. Large shopping centers
84. For all of the above, drive around the area several times to insure you are located in a location that has or does not have some of these facilities.
85. Find out about local pricing in the area. For example, how much are staples, like milk, bread, etc.? Where can you find the cheapest and closet gas station? Try to get an idea of general pricing in your area vs. where you are coming from.
86. Make sure that you are not miles away from convenience stores which can be extremely important before natural disasters, such as storms and bad weather.
87. Observe neighbors and engage them if possible. Determine if they keep up with their homes, their ages, and if they are going to be a potential nuisance. Carefully observe without being nosy the condition of the homes they live in.
88. Try to get a perspective of the politics and general history of the town you are moving to. Looking into town policy, terms, people in office and their history, as well as what kinds of issues are coming down the line can give you a longer term look on where you are living.
89. Check the sexual predator database to make sure that nobody in your area has committed a crime and has been classified as a sexual predator.
90. Google the hell out of your street, home and area. You might find out some cool things – or not so cool things.
91. If you see a piece of furniture that is desirable, especially large pieces, make an offer to the buyer. They will be happy to not have to pay for it to be moved.
92. Make sure your block is well lit so you don’t need to use a flashlight when you walk your dog. It’s also safer, and easier for your guests to find their way around.
93. Make sure that parking is possible, especially if you have more than a handful of guests for a party. Parking on the lawn is a no-no, so make sure parking is not impossible.
94. Buy some very local newspapers or try to access them online to try and determine some of the crimes that happen in the area. There is usually a police blotter in every newspaper. Use google maps to determine the proximity. Avoid areas that are considered active in that area.
95. Try to follow the news in that town via Internet during the time you are looking for a home. Reading local news can get you up to speed quickly with the politics, events, and issues that are going on within a town without getting a biased opinion.
96. Learn the history of the home (if any), town and surrounding areas.
97. How is the school system in the surrounding area? Very important since neighborhoods with good school systems tend to attract more affluent and the type of element that encourages growth in the community, while maintaining and putting money into their homes, making your home go up in value.
98. Many people stay in local hotels for extended periods of time to inject themselves into the town and see the area at all times of the day and night. This is a good idea if you are considering a home in area that you are not completely familiar with, and allow you to perform thorough research.
99. Make sure your home is not subject to any town ordinances or landmark type restrictions that require you abiding to a certain footprint, color, architecture, or any type of permission or permitting on general repairs and remodeling. At the same time, make sure you understand the types of permits, applications, rules on trees, and local laws by consulting your township website.
100. Visit the home repeatedly during the consideration period with family and friends. They can give you other points of view and may be able to see things that you missed. Expect criticism and look into all the insight they provide.
101. When you find your home that feels right, you may instantly fall in love with it. Be careful about getting too attached to the home before you buy it. There are many things that can and will go wrong, and if a deal falls through it could leave you feeling heart broken. As therapy, continue to look at other homes during the process to keep your options and mind open to other possibilities should things not go your way.
I am sure there are many other items that are worth considering, but I hope I gave you enough information in order to make perform all the diligence required when purchasing a home. As you can see, this can be a daunting task and you will always inherit something you didn’t quite anticipate. Hopefully using this as a checklist will limit your downside and allow you to make the best deal possible. Have any of your own ideas that were not mentioned? Send me an email and I will post them for you.