6 Questions to Ask When Buying a House

Buying a home is one of the most expensive purchases people will make, and it can be very intimidating the first time around. You may be feeling like you’re not sure what you need to do, and it’s normal to worry that you might miss a step. If you’re concerned about overlooking the important questions during the homebuying process, it may be wise to prepare a house buying checklist with questions to ask the seller before signing on the dotted line.

House buying checklist

While homebuying TV shows make buying a house seem relatively like a simple process, in reality, it takes time and a lot of behind the scenes preparation. There are ways to get your ducks in a row beforehand, though, including:

Get your finances in order and build up your savings.

You should start improving your financial situation as early as possible. Take steps to increase your credit score and resolve any negative marks on your credit reports. Adjust your budget so you can put more toward your savings for a down payment. Unless you’re taking advantage of a government-backed mortgage program or reduced down payment loan, you should aim to put down at least 20% to avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI) and to help reduce your interest rate.

Figure out how much you can responsibly afford.

Just because you qualify for a large loan doesn’t mean you can realistically afford the monthly payment. Decide what your ideal monthly payment would be based on your income and financial obligations. Then stick to that price range when house-hunting.

Find a real estate agent to help you navigate the process.

While you may start looking on your own, most people will benefit from finding a trustworthy real estate agent by their sides. A real estate agent can help you locate houses, recommend a mortgage lender and insurance provider, lead negotiations throughout each stage and guide you through the decision-making process. Since the real estate agent’s commission is based on the final selling price, you won’t have to pay anything out of pocket to take advantage of their services.

Choose a mortgage lender and get a mortgage preapproval letter.

Speak with various lenders to determine their requirements and potential interest rates. Once you find the best deal, submit all requested documents to gain a preapproval from your chosen lender. A preapproval letter will let sellers know that you’re serious and ready to purchase a home.

Tour homes to narrow down your preferences.

Search online for houses and tour homes in your ideal neighborhoods. This will help you figure out what house features are the most important to you and will give you a better idea of what types of homes are in your budget.

Once you’ve found a house that you could eventually call home, it’s time to do some digging. While you can gather important information about the house from public records, the seller will have the most intimate knowledge of the property. Take the time to ask the seller questions so you can submit the most competitive offer that works in your favor.

Important questions to ask the seller

A conversation with the seller or the seller’s agent can help fill in the blanks that aren’t included in a general house listing. Here are some important questions to ask to help you make an educated decision.

Why are you selling your home?

People move for all sorts of reasons, from relocating for a new job to needing more square footage for a growing family.

“Asking a seller why they are selling their home will uncover their motivation, and possibly something wrong with the house or neighborhood,” said Caleb Liu, owner of HouseSimplySold.com. Of course it’s possible that they respond with a white lie like they want to be closer to family, but even that is code that the area isn’t interesting enough for them to stick around.”

While the seller may not provide you with a full picture of their situation, asking this question may also help provide hints as to whether there are circumstances that could influence their decision. For example, if the seller needs to sell quickly, they might be willing to accept a lower offer or negotiate in other areas of the contract.

How long has your home been on the market?

This question can help you discover if the house has any negative markers that may have caused it to stay on the market. Even if there’s not something wrong with the house, most home buyers will question why a house hasn’t sold and naturally steer clear of it — which can be to your advantage. If the house has been on the market for a while, the seller may be more motivated to negotiate.

What are you including in the sale?

It’s best to ask what’s included in the sale ahead of time, so you aren’t left feeling disappointed or cheated after the sale.

“Legally, anything that is permanently attached to the property is considered a fixture and is by law generally included in a home sale,” David Reischer, Esq., real estate attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com, said. “However, sometimes, state laws vary as to what is — and what is not — included in the sale, so be sure to be explicit when asking whether an outside birdbath, playground set, wall mounts, light fixtures or any other item that is only semi-attached is included in the sale.”

Have there been any major repairs or renovations?

Everything may look nice on the surface, but shoddy repairs or mediocre renovations could haunt you later down the line. Find out whether the repairs or renovations were done by the homeowner or a licensed contractor. Ask if the improvements required a permit and whether one was obtained. If it wasn’t, you could be on the hook for it in the future in order to get the house up to code.

When was the roof last replaced and what type of shingle was used?

“A roof replacement can cost upwards of $10,000 depending on the size of the home,” David Stroh, realtor at RE/MAX, said. “Plus an old roof may not show any signs of issues but could be leaking and cause damage to the home. Knowing the age upfront will help the buyer to plan ahead and potentially warn the home inspector to take an extra close look at the roofing.”

What is the neighborhood like?

This open-ended question can provide you insider details about the area. You may be able to get more information about schools or parks nearby. If you’re lucky, the seller may be willing to share some of the negatives without tanking the deal. Your goal should be to find out if there are any area nuisances, like street traffic or problematic neighbors. The seller may not give you an honest answer, but people naturally share more information than they intended when asked open-ended questions.

The bottom line

Buying a home can take you on a rollercoaster of emotions. Minimize unexpected drops by preparing your finances and doing your research ahead of time. Ensure you tick off each step on this home buying checklist. Once you’ve found your dream home, take time to ask the seller questions that can better position you to make an informed decision.