Buying a house is a significant step in your life, and it can come with a lot of challenges, from financing to bidding to closing. One of the most fun parts about shopping for a new home is getting to actually see houses. Viewing open houses gives you a look into new worlds and gives you your first glimpse of your potential new home.
That also means it’s one of the most important steps in the process. Knowing the right questions to ask when viewing a house can help you identify your needs while saving you some time and energy in the homebuying process. Here is what to ask when viewing a house and our top real estate tips for buyers in California.
When you arrive at an open house or house viewing, ask the real estate agent if they are the listing agent. Some real estate agents will send a colleague in their place. This shouldn’t make or break the deal, but a colleague likely won’t have as much in-depth information as the listing agent. Knowing who you are talking to can help you adjust your expectations for the answers that you get.
One of the most important questions to ask when buying a house is how long it’s been on the market. Understanding how long a property has been on the market can give you an idea of its desirability and the competition of the asking price. If a property has been sitting on the market for a long period, it doesn’t hurt to ask why. The market is fickle, so a house that hasn’t sold for a few months does not always point to something wrong with the property. It may have just been overpriced initially. On the other hand, it might have some issues that are turning off potential buyers, like necessary repairs, a strange layout, or the house exists on a busy street.
This is also a good time to ask about the comps (comparable sales) in the area, which can give you a look at similar homes that are pending or recently sold. Most agents will also have a summary of active listings. This gives you an overview of prices and can help you in your buying decisions later on.
Some homes age beautifully, but most homes require extensive care as they get older to maintain good condition. Knowing the age of the property as a home buyer can give you a good idea of what to expect as you perform your walkthrough. You can better determine any renovations that you may want to do if you do move in, and you can identify potential issues that can come with a house of a certain age, like walls that aren’t properly insulated or wiring that could use an upgrade.
It’s always good to know about any potential issues that a home may have before you even move in. You don’t want to move in and suddenly discover landslide issues in the backyard or rodent damage in the foundation. The seller is legally obligated to disclose any defects and issues via a property disclosure statement, which provides a list of existing defects and protects the seller from liability.
If the home was built before 1978 or had any past issues, ask for the test results from any hazardous materials tests. If tests haven’t been performed recently, you can potentially negotiate with the seller for them upfront, but they can otherwise cost you quite a bit. The home should have been tested for mold, radon, asbestos, and lead paint.
For most sellers, moving out usually comes down to basic life factors: relocating for a new job, needing more space for a growing family, or downsizing for retirement. Still, it’s worth asking your seller’s agent or the seller directly. Remember, the seller is legally required to tell you about any problems with the property, and anything that they don’t know about will come up during the home inspection period.
It can be easy to spot some signs of renovations, while others can be harder. As a potential buyer, ask about any extensions, updates, or renovations that the homeowner might have had done and when. You don’t want to end up getting in trouble for zoning violations because of the previous owner’s room extension, so ask for any permits. It’s not uncommon for sellers to give their homes a fresh coat of paint, but that paint (or any other major renovation) could be covering cracks, mold, or foundational problems.
The kitchen is a haven for many, and an essential part of the home for everyone. As sturdy as kitchen appliances are, they can be prone to malfunction. Refrigerators last about 11 years. Ovens last about 14 years on average. Dishwashers last nine years.
Having older appliances may not be a dealbreaker, but it is absolutely worth asking. If appliances are too old, you’ll have to spend extra to replace them when you move in, which can be an extremely pricey upgrade. As technology has gotten more energy efficient, older appliances may also use up more electricity, gas, or water, making a large dent in your utility bills.
This is also a good question to get you an idea of if and when the kitchen has been remodeled. Appliances that seem new suggest that the owner has done some work to the kitchen at least within the last decade. It’s also a good idea to ask how often the appliances have been serviced, which gives you a rough estimate of the care and maintenance costs you can expect and the home’s utility charges.
Replacing a roof can be a costly process, so ask about the current roof’s age. The actual durability of a roof can vary based on the materials used. A simple asphalt shingle roof will last about 15 to 20 years, while tile and slate roofs can last more than 50 years.
If the home has a garage or driveway, you may not need to ask this question, but it’s otherwise worth knowing where you can put your car and where visitors can park if they need to. Some homes may have designated parking spots for residents and guests. Others may only offer on-street parking. If that’s the case, ask how easy it is to find parking on the street and if there are any fees or permits involved. It may not seem like a big deal right now, but spending excess time trying to find parking when you’re actually living there can quickly turn into an annoyance.
Don’t rely on the measurements indicated on the listing. Ask the agent or seller directly about the dimensions. You don’t want to close on a deal and realize that none of the furniture you have can even fit inside the home. It can also help to bring some measuring tape, but ask for permission to measure the rooms before you actually start taking any dimensions yourself.
You don’t want to move into your new home, step into the shower for the first time, and feel the water coming out at an unsatisfying trickle. As always, ask your agent or seller for permission to turn on faucets or the shower to check the water pressure and make sure that you are getting consistent hot water. This can also help you identify any potential plumbing issues beyond low water pressure, like a dripping or leaking sink, poor drainage, or inconsistent water temperatures.
Having some outdoor space is a huge selling point for many potential buyers, and it’s good in general to know exactly how much land you are getting with a deal. If you are viewing a house with a yard, determine exactly where the property lines end. Ask about any HOA fees and regulations regarding fences, pools, or other potential outdoor installations you have in mind. Some yards may also have a storage shed or children’s playset. If it’s something you like, ask if those outdoor elements are staying with the home.
This is something to ask yourself as you walk through the house. Even if you don’t have a lot of tech and devices to worry about, having enough outlets is a big advantage and something you can easily take for granted. Not having enough electrical outlets can potentially lead to a network of extension cords and surge protectors, which can overload your system and contribute to some real dangers. Furthermore, adding more outlets later on can lead to the expensive process of rewiring your whole home.
While landlines are certainly an option, most people rely on their mobile devices these days. Even if you don’t make many calls or use your phone often, having a good, reliable cell signal throughout your entire home offers peace of mind. Whether you have an emergency or just want to make a call, you don’t want to have to hunt around the house for one bar of cell service.
By the end of your viewing, if you still have a nagging feeling but you aren’t sure what to ask, it’s okay to go for something non-specific. Asking, “Is there anything else I should know about the house?”, allows the agent to do the talking and fill in any gaps even if you don’t know what to ask.
Viewing a home can be a fun and overwhelming experience. If you are a prospective buyer for a new home, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties real estate agents can guide you through the process and provide expert help so that you can find the perfect home for your budget and needs. Contact our team today to learn more.
Ready to begin your home buying journey? Connect with one of our agents in a real estate office near you.