Buying a house is one of the biggest financial commitments you'll make, so you want to do your best to make the right decision. Getting as much information as you can about a potential home starts with asking the right questions. Even if you tour a home and study the details in the property listing, you might not discover potential issues or satisfy your unique concerns unless you make some inquiries.
This ultimate list of questions to ask when buying a house can get you closer to finding a home that's a good match for your lifestyle and budget.
- Buyers should be proactive in asking questions about a home's history, price, upkeep, location, and more.
- Understanding a home's true value goes beyond the asking price. Finding out about recent upgrades and the age of major appliances and systems can provide more context.
- It's also important to inquire about the home's immediate surroundings and the community in which it's located.
General Questions to Ask
Whether you have a conversation directly with a seller or you see a home with a real estate agent, using the opportunity to gain insight into why the home is being sold and its recent history can help you make an appropriate offer.
How Long Has It Been on the Market?
It's always good to have an idea of how long a home has been up for sale, but be sure to put that information in context with the current real estate market. For example, in high-demand, low-inventory periods, you'll want to move faster on new listings. And while you might assume that a home on the market for 100 days means you have more room to negotiate, there could be external factors at play (like a pandemic, for instance), said Michele Messina, Realtor at RE/MAX Villa Realtors in Edgewater, New Jersey.
Why Are You Selling?
Understanding the seller's motivation is another way to figure out if they are desperate to sell or more willing to stick around longer and wait for a higher bid. If they need to sell quickly to get into their next home, for example, they may be more flexible.
What Have You Liked the Most About the House?
This question allows the seller to speak about how the home has brought them joy, and it may also help you connect with the seller on a personal level. "Some sellers want to know that the person buying their house is going to love it like they did," Messina said.
Are There Other Offers on the Table?
Questions to Ask About Price
Ask questions that look beyond just the asking price to understand how much value you'd actually be getting for what you spend.
What Has the Property Sold for in the Past?
Though this is a common question asked by homebuyers, big real estate market swings might make past transactions a moot point, Messina said. "It's all about what the marketplace says the house is worth today," she adds. On that note, she said, find out what comparable homes in the area have sold for recently.
What's Included in the Sale?
Although inclusions are usually in the real estate listing, feel free to ask if the seller is willing to throw in something specific you're interested in, whether it's a piece of furniture, window treatments, or a lighting fixture.
How Much Do Utilities Cost?
Getting an estimate of your future monthly expenses is especially important for first-time homebuyers who might not know what it costs to power, heat, and cool a home.
Questions to Ask About Condition
Don't let a fresh coat of paint and staged rooms fool you. Asking the right questions when buying a home can help you gauge how well the home has been maintained and if costly updates might be in your future.
What Major Repairs or Renovations Have Been Done?
A home that was recently upgraded with a new roof and windows can potentially save you thousands of dollars. On the other hand, if it's a fixer-upper, the cheapest house on the block could end up costing you more than you expect because of the repairs you'll have to pay for, Messina said.
How Old Are the Appliances?
Major appliances and heating/cooling systems have to be replaced after a number of years, so understanding where you are on that timeline can help you budget appropriately. In the case of old appliances that need updating, you might be able to ask the seller for a credit, Messina said.
The average lifespan of a major home appliance like a refrigerator or washing machine varies by brand and usage but can be anywhere between five and 15 years.
What Are the Home's Past Insurance Claims?
While this information should be revealed in the seller's disclosure statement, since requirements vary by state and locality, buyers should always do their due diligence and ask.
Questions To Ask About Location
Even if the home itself is everything you hope for, the surroundings should also reflect your personal preferences and lifestyle.
What Is the Neighborhood Like?
Ask about the features that are important to you, whether it's near public transportation or parks, if there are young families moving in, or the proximity to houses of worship or community centers. You can ask about the actual neighbors, too.
In general, real estate agents won't answer questions about a neighborhood's crime. Doing so could put them in jeopardy of violating the Fair Housing Act because it could be construed as discouraging the purchase.
Is the Home in a Flood or Earthquake Zone?
Though this is something you can bring up with your agent, do some internet sleuthing, too, Messina said. Start with the FEMA flood map and seismic maps for the location you're considering. You can also search local newspapers for stories on neighborhood flooding and other weather events.
Is the Area Noisy or Are There Other Nuisances?
Hopefully, you'll get a forthright answer, but consider doing your own investigation, Messina said. Visit at different times and take notice of red flags like barking dogs, if a neighbor's lawn seems unkempt, or if it's difficult to find street parking. Messina recalls showing a home to a night-shift nurse who came to realize that a nearby train passing by all day long would make it too noisy for her to sleep, for example.
What Are the Schools Like?
This is an important question to ask—even if you don't have or intend to have children, Messina said. That's because if you want to sell in a few years, being located near a good school can mean a better home value.
The Bottom Line
Start with this list of questions, and don't be afraid to customize it further by addressing your unique concerns.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the first step in buying a home?
There are many factors involved in buying a home. Assuming you've already figured out your financing, the general area you'd like to live, and who your real estate agent will be, your first major step is putting together a wish list for your dream home as well as a list of attributes that would take a home out of contention. Once you do that, you can begin a more focused home search.
What costs are involved in buying a home?
After making your down payment, be prepared to pay for an appraisal and a home inspection out of pocket. At closing, you'll also pay several fees as well as what's owed for the remaining year's property taxes and the first year of homeowner's insurance. Afterward, depending on the condition of the home, you may also want to budget for repairs, renovations, or upgrades as well as some furniture and fixtures. There could also be other costs such as landscaping, fencing, home security systems, and more. Plus, don't forget ongoing expenses like utilities and, if applicable, HOA fees.