20 Questions to Ask When You're Buying a House
You've found the perfect house. It checks off all the boxes on your list: the right number of bedrooms and bathrooms, it's updated just the way you like, and it's within your budget. You might know within 5 minutes of walking into a house whether or not you want to make an offer on it. But spending some more time in your potential new home, making multiple visits, and talking to your realtor and the neighbors can reveal if the house is really going to work for you long term.
Here are some things you might check up on after you've found a house that feels like the one.
1. Traffic on the street: Spend a few minutes outside to gauge how many cars are driving up and down the street. Are there stop signs or stop lights within a block or two of the house? Is it on a route for fire trucks or buses? Can you hear traffic when you're inside the house?
2. Neighbors: What are the neighbors like? Are they social and welcoming or do they keep more to themselves? Does that jive with what kind of neighbor you are?
3. Future development: Consider how the surrounding neighborhood is developing. Is there a possibility of new homes or apartment buildings being developed near the home?
4. History of home: How many owners has the home had? If it's sold multiple times within the last few years, that could be a signal that there's something making people want to move after a short time. On the other hand, if the home has had one owner for the last 50 years, it might need some TLC.
5. How the house feels: Does the house have a general good feeling about it? Not to get too woo-woo, but I think people usually get a sense from the house — whether it’s a space that feels calm and happy or just has a bad vibe.
6. Schools in the area: Look into schools in the area. What are the options? Are they highly ranked? Would you send your kids to public or private school? Even if you don't have kids, or aren't planning on having them, the local school district can affect the sale price and the resale price down the line.
7. Lighting: Notice the lighting in the home. Stagers often set up a bunch of lamps and some realtors turn all the lights and lamps on during an open house. A lot of older homes don't have ceiling lights in the living room. Try to see how much natural light the house actually gets and what the installed lighting looks like in the evening. Consider what it's like at different times of the day and in different seasons.
8. Landscaping: Is the yard barren or is it full of trees? Are the trees evergreen or do they shed all of their leaves? Tree removal is expensive and some older trees are difficult to get permits for, so you might be stuck with them and the maintenance that comes with them. On the other hand, if the house has been freshly landscaped, factor in the time or cost for a gardener to upkeep the yard.
9. Garden Soil: How's the soil surrounding the house? If nothing is growing there now, you may need to excavate and/or bring in all new topsoil before you can plant anything there.
10. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: What's the noise level like when you're in the house. Can you hear planes overhead? Is the train rattling by less than a few blocks away? Are you on a busy street? You can always upgrade the windows for sound insulation, but you can't move the house.
11. Nearby amenities: What do you see yourself using that's within a short walk or drive? If you have a dog, is there a dog park nearby? If you have kids, are there family friendly things to do close by? Do you like to walk to a coffee shop in the morning or somewhere to get brunch on the weekends? Think about what is in the surrounding area and how it fits with your lifestyle.
12. Sidewalks: Does the neighborhood have sidewalks or does it have a more rural feel? Does that matter to you? Going for a walk in neighborhoods without sidewalks can be fun if you love nature, but if you're pushing a stroller all of a sudden sidewalks start to feel like an amenity.
13. Views: What do you see when you look out the windows of various rooms? Do you see sweeping views of the bay? Or are you looking into your neighbor's bathroom? Window coverings can always block unsightly views, but again, you can't change the location of the house.
14. Wildlife in the area (including critters): In some more rural neighborhoods, you might come across deer when you're driving home at night or have to protect your trash cans from being raided by raccoons. On the other hand, eating breakfast and spying bluejays and deer just outside your window can be quite charming.
15. Home maintenance: Has the house been well maintained over the last several years or does it need updating? What's the condition of the roof, heating system, and plumbing. You can get a home warranty to cover repairs in the first year. But if you need to replace pipes or get a new roof, that will definitely be an expense you'll want to plan for.
16. Utility bills: When you're calculating your monthly costs for a new mortgage, be sure to include the utility bills. If you're moving into a larger home, that cost will naturally be higher. Find out if the home has energy efficient appliances, a tankless water heater, drip irrigation, etc. that could bring the monthly bills down. If you're looking at homes up in the hills, consider that the house may not have access to natural gas, which can make electricity bills really high in the winter.
17. Easements: Does the house have any easements running through the lot? If you have a PG&E easement or if your lot backs up to Hetch Hetchy land, find out what that means for you. Those things can also affect your plans if you're thinking about remodeling or adding on at some point.
18. Weekend noise: If you're looking at a house during the week, consider what the vibe will be on the weekend. If you're close to downtown, are there any bars or nightclubs close by? Are you going to hear rowdy people at 2am every night? Or are you close to a park or places where they hold concerts? If you enjoy live music, that can also work in your favor for entertaining!
19. Crime in the neighborhood: Talk to neighbors or check out NextDoor to see if what kind of crime is in the area. Are people stealing packages, breaking into cars, or even homes? Does the house have a security system or will you want to invest in one?
20. Privacy: Walk around the outside of the home to see what the privacy is like. Can you see the TV in the living room from the sidewalk if the blinds aren't drawn all the way? Are there bedrooms or bathrooms facing the street? Is there fencing enclosing the yard? A lot of things can be done to make a home more private, but it's still something to consider.
If you have found a house that you really love, I don't think any of these things are necessarily dealbreakers. Almost everything besides the neighborhood and location can be changed, updated, or redesigned. However, I do think considering all of these factors will help prepare you and set expectations for when you move, which in the long run will make you a happier homeowner.
Cliff Whearley has been a resident of Redwood City for 23 years. He is a Realtor at Dwell Realtors, Inc. and has been practicing real estate since 2007. If you have any real estate questions, he would love to help!