People always come to me and ask “What should I know about buying a house?” or “What if I’m a first-time home buyer?” or “What should I look for when buying a house?”. So, I thought I’d put pen to paper and share my experiences with everyone. Whenever I first meet with a new client, whether they are a first-time homebuyer or a seasoned investor, I always make sure to cover the basics: motivations (Why do they want to move?), financing (Are they pre-approved yet?), and needs/wants (What is an absolute requirement for their new home and what is just something that would be nice to have?).
But then, when the showings start, is when the real fun begins in the home buying process! Trying to find a home is stressful enough, so please be sure to think about these 10 things when house hunting to ensure the process isn’t any more stressful than it needs to be. And don’t be too shy to ask your real estate agent to schedule a second or third showing so that you can look at everything a little bit more closely. Oftentimes the excitement of potentially finding your dream home inhibits your ability to be critical about the actual condition of the home the first time around.
How old is the roof?
Whether the roof is brand new or 30-years-old, this is one thing you need to know for every home that you’re interested in. A brand new home may come with a transferable warranty from the roofer. If it’s 30-years-old, it may need to be replaced very soon. New roofs cost anywhere from $10,000 to upwards of $30,000, so not getting all of the facts up front can be a costly mistake down the line. Every homeowner’s insurance company is going to want to know the age of the roof and the type of shingle before providing you a quote or policy for homeowner’s insurance. If the seller doesn’t know the age of the roof, you can have your real estate agent look up past permits on most city and county websites.
When you’re viewing the property in-person check to see if the shingles are in good shape or not. Pay attention to any obvious signs of deferred maintenance such as broken shingles, sections that are sagging, holes, and any other imperfections. If there are only a few minor flaws with the roof, having the seller hire a roofer to issue a 3- or 5-year roof certification is a good compromise for both the buyer and seller. It will only cost the seller a few hundred dollars and it will give the buyer the peace of mind that the roof is in good enough shape for at least the next few years. A roof certification is an official document issued by a licensed roofer that states the roof is in good condition and will last for at least 3 or 5 more years.
Are there any structural issues?
Foundation and structural issues can be a never-ending money pit for homeowners. They can turn your dream home into your worst nightmare. Nothing sucks out home equity and hurts a seller’s chances of resale more than a house with foundation or structural problems. Analyzing the foundation can be difficult for the untrained eye. However, there are some telltale signs of foundation issues and/or settlement. Look for cracks in the walls, both interior and exterior.
Most cracks develop at the corners of window and door frames. Look for cracks in the ceilings and floors. Look for any uneven sections of the floor. If you or your real estate agent have reason to believe there is potentially a major issue, it is smart to send a structural engineer out for an analysis before you send a general inspector. There’s no point in spending several hundred dollars on a general home inspection if you think there are major structural concerns with the home right off the bat.
Is the sewer line in good shape?
Have your real estate agent ask the listing agent how old the sewer line is and if the current owner has had any work done to it at any point during their ownership. Regardless of their answer, I recommend having the sewer line scoped with a camera as part of the inspection process. New sewer lines can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 and that is the last thing you want to find out after you already own the house. Sewer scoping typically only costs an extra $100 or so and it is definitely worth it. This is especially important in older homes in older neighborhoods.
Is there a history of water damage?
The best indicator of future water damage is signs of past water damage. Look closely at the baseboards, ceilings, window wells, underneath sinks, and anywhere else that you might expect to see any sort of water intrusion. Walk outside and travel the perimeter of the home to check the grading. If it looks like the soil, gravel, concrete, or whatever else might be out there is sloping towards the house and not away from the house, there is a much greater likelihood that there has been or will be some form of water damage or intrusion. And while you’re out there, don’t forget to check if the gutters and downspouts are in good working order.
Are there any health hazards?
Depending on the age of the home and where it is, there are several major health hazards to consider. Home’s built in 1978 or prior, may have lead-based paint. If the home has popcorn ceilings, it may have asbestos. A history of water damage in a home could mean it has mold. In a state like Colorado or Arizona with gaseous soil, it may have high levels of radon. If it is in a more humid state like Florida or North Carolina, it may have termites. You can test for most of these yourself or you can just add it on to your general inspection for a small fee.
Is the home energy efficient?
If there are solar panels on the roof, find out if they are owned or leased. Solar panels that are owned add value to a home. Whereas solar panels that are leased might not. Poke your head up into the attic to see if it’s insulated. A well-insulated attic and walls makes a huge impact on heating and cooling bills in the hottest and coldest months, respectively. See if the windows are older or newer. Older windows with bad seals can allow noise and bugs in. Or let air out and can slowly put a drain on your heating and cooling bill. Inspect the furnace, air conditioner, and water heater to see if they pass the eyeball test. A new furnace and air conditioner can cost upwards of $5,000 each and a new water heater can cost about $1,500.
Are there any repairs or renovations that will need to be done right away?
How many projects will you need to take on to make it your dream home? Replacing carpet and repainting walls are relatively cheap and easy. But bathroom remodels and replacing kitchen cabinets and countertops are not. Make sure you’re in touch with the right contractors. This way you have ballpark figures on what each potential project will cost you. A house that’s within your budget can quickly go above your budget if it needs a lot of big-ticket projects done before you’re willing to move in. Each project affects your bottom line, so do your homework up front.
Should I pay for a general home inspection?
Yes, every single time without exception. Even if you add on some of the additional tests and services mentioned above, it will still be a good investment. A professional inspection gives you the opportunity to take a deep dive into each and every component of the house. So that you can make sure you’re making a good investment for yourself and your family. Your real estate agent can likely provide you with a few recommended local inspection companies. Make sure to hire a home inspector that you trust.
Is there a history of insurance claims?
When shopping around for homeowner’s insurance, have your insurance agent review the claim history of the home. If there are any major or outstanding claims on the home, you’re going to want to know about them.
Is it in the right neighborhood/location?
Location is the only thing about a home that you can’t change, so you better pick a neighborhood that you like! School district, traffic, and proximity to work, family, and social activities are all things to consider before pulling the trigger. After all, this is probably the biggest investment of your lifetime.
Christina Parker co-founded Trelora’s North Carolina branch in 2020 and has successfully closed 330 deals as an agent. She was promoted to Market Director in 2021 as Trelora expanded to serve homeowners in Charlotte in addition to their hub in Raleigh.