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Open houses and home tours are an essential part of the homebuying process. They allow buyers to envision themself living in their dream home, but they can also be overwhelming.

Eleanor Lynch, a Touring Specialist at Orchard, recommends leaning on your agent for help. Her experience as a homeowner, seller, and agent has shaped the way she advises buyers.

“Think of us as multifaceted resources. We’re more than just a resource for that particular home. We're trained in real estate, but we know neighborhoods and can give you the larger picture, which is more critical."

For those looking to get the most out of their time, here’s what to look for when touring a home.

3 things to do before your home tour

The average home tour lasts 15 to 30 minutes, according to Lynch. Here are three things to consider before stepping foot in a home to make the most of those minutes.

1. Figure out how much you can afford — and commit to staying in budget

Save yourself the heartbreak of falling in love with a house outside of your price range and set a hard limit. One way to do this is to obtain pre-approval before beginning your house-hunting journey and budgeting out what expenses you can afford. This includes your mortgage payment, utilities, maintenance, and more.

2. Make a list of wants and needs

It can be overwhelming to evaluate every aspect of a home. Narrow down what you want and need out of a home so you can quickly assess if a house meets or falls short of your wants and needs.

→ Download the ultimate house-hunting checklist 

3. Check out the neighborhood

There are many factors to consider when thinking about what neighborhood you want to move to — the proximity to work, friends, and other important hubs. It can be hard to evaluate these during your short home tour, especially if you’re taking multiple tours in one day, so spend some time beforehand scouting out the locations.

→ Here’s how to choose the right location when buying a house

What to look for when touring a house

Once you’re in the home, here are some of the things to observe. Ask your agent in advance if there are other things to consider.

Odors

Mildew and other foul smells can be a sign of more serious damage from mold, pets, or pests. 

And if the house smells overwhelmingly like air fresheners? Lynch says that might be a red flag, too. Ask the sellers if there has been any water or fire damage or similar and be on the lookout for other indicators.

Signs of damage

While a home inspection and appraisal will help identify any major existing damage in a home, Lynch says catching these signs before putting in an offer can save you from the hassle of deciding if you want to walk away from the purchase or work out seller concessions.

Be on the lookout for these common indications of damage:

  • Dark spots on ceiling or walls
  • Cracks in ceiling or walls
  • Gaps in windows and door frames
  • Sagging or sloping floors

→ Here are warning signs a house might collapse

Floor plan and size of rooms

You can change the paint color or update the window treatments without much hassle, but moving or adding walls can be a huge investment. These projects take time and money, so why not buy a home with a floor plan and features that fit your needs?

As you walk through the home, look closely at the size of the rooms — can they fit your furniture? Do they suit your needs? Pay attention to the flow of the rooms, too — can you imagine yourself going about life here? Or would the lack of counterspace keep you from hosting the dinner parties you’re known for?

Architectural and yard features

Just like with floor plans and room sizes, it’s time consuming and expensive to turn a ranch-style home into a mission-style one, or to turn a barren landscape into a backyard pool oasis. Take note of the architecture of the home as you tour — do these features fit in with your ideal of home? What about the front and backyards — can you see yourself enjoying time spent lounging in and maintaining these spaces?

Lynch also recommends looking closely at the windows and natural lighting. “Is this gonna be enough light for me? Or does this seem really dark right now in the summer, and it’s going to be really, really dark in the winter?”

Accessibility

It costs homeowners an average of $700 to $8,000 to make a home accessible for people with disabilities, depending on the original condition of the home and the accommodations needed. Widening hallways and remodeling kitchens and bathrooms for ADA compliance can cost even more — as much as $40,000 each.

Don’t be afraid to bring a tape measure to assess the accessibility of the homes you’re touring. Doing so could ensure a smoother moving process and big savings in remodeling costs.

Parking

Your car needs a place to live, too. Ask the sellers about their parking arrangements. Think about yourself and guests you may like to host. Parking can be competitive and expensive in densely populated areas, while more suburban or rural neighborhoods have garages and little competition for street parking. 

Appliances and systems

Ask the homeowners about their major systems like their water heater, appliances, and HVAC. These systems can be costly to repair, so it’s best to get a sense of when they were installed, if they’re under warranty, and if there have been any major issues with them.

Bonus: Ask about the home’s insulation, too. An HVAC system is only as good as its thermal envelope. Ask the sellers what their insulation’s R-rating is and make sure it aligns with Energy Star’s recommendations.

→ Learn the difference between baseboard heating and forced air

Condition of the roof and foundation

The roof and foundation of a house are central to the home’s overall health. Don’t be afraid to scrutinize each when you tour a home to protect yourself from buying a house that needs substantial (and expensive) repairs. Ask the sellers about the condition and of both and if they’ve had any major issues with either.

→ Learn more about buying a house with foundation issues

Climate and environmental risks

Mother nature can pose a unique threat to your home. Be aware of the home’s proximity to some of these environmental threats:

  • Flooding
  • Wildfires
  • Extreme weather
  • Radon and other environmental toxins
  • Power plants or similar

What comes after a home tour?

Remember, it’s not your responsibility to catch every potential problem with a home — your home inspection and appraisal will go a long way to protect you from buying a house with repairs you can’t afford to take on.

When you’ve found the house that checks all your boxes, it’s time to craft an offer on your dream home. If you’re worried about standing out to sellers, struggling to juggle buying while selling, or simply want an ally in the process, Orchard can help. 

→ Learn more about how Orchard works

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