19 questions you need to ask when buying a house

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Buying a home is the biggest purchase many Americans ever make. This milestone purchase comes with many responsibilities, and, like it or not, every buyer needs to do their homework before making an offer on a property. Doing your due diligence means asking the right questions; that way, you can get the information you need to put together a strong offer

Here are the top 16 questions every buyer should ask themself, their agent, and the seller to ensure that they've covered all their homebuying bases.

Questions for yourself before buying a home

Start your homebuying journey by checking in with yourself. These questions can help you establish a baseline for your house hunting and buying process and center your search on the best home for you and your needs.

1. What is my total budget?

The homebuying process needs to start somewhere, and establishing your budget is a great first step. Not only will this help you narrow down your home search, but it will also help you ensure that you make a sustainable investment for yourself.

When establishing your budget, the sticker price isn’t the only thing to think about. Calculate how much mortgage you can afford each month, including insurance, taxes, and other expenses.

→ Find out how much money you need to save before buying a house

2. Do I have enough for a down payment and closing costs?

Remember that even if you’re taking out a mortgage, you’ll still need to have money in the bank and show proof of funds to cover your down payment and closing costs. 

A down payment of 20% of your home’s purchase price is ideal, but you can have a down payment as low as zero to three percent, depending on the loan type.

On top of the down payment, homebuyers will also need to cover closing costs, which typically amount to another two to five percent of the purchase price.

3. What are my must-haves in a home?

Before you start touring houses, ask yourself which features are priorities and which aren’t. Knowing your deal-breakers ahead of time can help you strategize during your search. Is a reading nook a must? How do you feel about half baths vs. a full or three-quarter bath?

You’ll also want to think about what kind of home you want, whether that’s a new construction, a condo, or a townhome. These descriptors will help your agent compile a list of compelling homes that just might end up being your dream home.

Get a jump on house hunting with the Orchard Home Match Quiz. Filter homes on the market by must-haves, location, and more.

4. Am I willing to make repairs?

Do you want to buy a fixer-upper or move-in-ready home? Some prospective homebuyers don’t mind if a property doesn’t have everything they’re looking for — they’re willing to put in the time, money, and effort to remodel the house into their dream home.

But others prefer a move-in ready home that doesn’t require any renovations to get it ready for habitation.

Ask yourself what's an acceptable level of repairs and how much time and energy you’re willing to spend to get it ready for move-in day. This can help narrow your search and prevent you from biting off more than you can chew.

5. Where should I live?

One of the most important considerations for homebuyers is the question of where to live. The location of your property is one of the few unchangeable aspects of it — you can add-on a guest suite, remodel your kitchen, but you can’t renovate proximity to downtown into your country home.

Whether you want to live in a city or suburb, carefully consider what your must-haves for location are and center your search on those.

6. How long do I plan to live here?

Your move-out date for the home you’re planning to buy is probably the last thing you want to think about, but it’s an important question to ask yourself at the beginning of your search process. Your needs in a starter home will be different from your needs in a forever home and your planned length of stay in a home can have a big impact on your budget.

→ How soon can I sell my house after buying it?

7. Do I need to sell my old house first?

If you’re already a homeowner, you may be wondering what to do with your old house — do you sell it before you buy, buy before you sell, or sell and buy at the same time?

Questions for your realtor when buying

If you started the process of selling your home before buying your new one, you already know what an important ally your real estate agent is. They are a licensed and experienced expert who is there to help you find (and buy) your dream home.

8. How much are homes in the neighborhood selling for?

Your real estate agent should be able to pull recent home sales for your reference. Once you have those in hand, you can use those prices to determine a potential price range for your offer.

As you look at the other properties, ask them:

9. How long has the home been on the market?

Time on the market is another factor to consider when making an offer on the house. The number of days on the market can give you an idea of the seller's willingness to negotiate the purchase price. The longer the home has been on the market, the more likely they will be flexible.

If the home has been sitting for a while without much interest, the sellers are probably itching to get things rolling. In this scenario, you may have more luck with scoring a deal.

→ How to tell if it’s a buyer’s or seller’s market

10. Is this property a short sale or foreclosure?

Some buyers, especially first-time home buyers, tend to be attracted to short sales and foreclosures because of their lower-than-usual price tags. However, they don't realize that the lower price comes at its own cost. You won't be negotiating with the seller with short sales and foreclosures. Instead, you'll be working with the financial institution that has taken possession of the house.

You'll have far less flexibility than a traditional sale, and you’d essentially be buying the home as-is.

11. Is the house in a flood zone? 

Living in a flood zone can be a gamble, and most homeowners insurance policies don’t cover flood damage, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

If you’ve fallen in love with a house in a flood zone, it’s important that you understand the risks, like potential damage and displacement and more expensive insurance rates.

12. Are there any shared or public spaces on the property?

Some private spaces may have public access. Don’t wait to find someone (legally) wandering around your property to discover your home is in one of these areas. Ask your realtor before you buy a house about property boundaries and if there are any easements on the house that you need to be aware of.

Questions for the seller

The current homeowner holds valuable information about the property and what it’s like to live there, so your questions for the seller should focus on just that. Here are some conversation starters:

13. Why are you moving?

Though it may seem a bit personal, one of the best questions to ask when buying a house is why the seller(s) want to leave. In most cases, you’ll get a reasonable response like the seller is relocating or downsizing. 

14. Are you the original owner?

When someone is the original owner of the house, chances are greater that they can tell you everything about the house's history, including any work that was completed — as well as valuable insights into any future problems the house may have.

It's not a deal breaker if the seller isn't the home's original owner. Just be sure to ask them about any repairs and remodeling, and who was responsible for that work. It’s also a good idea to research the permit history to ensure that the work was properly permitted.

→ If you’re buying a new construction, here’s what to ask the home builder 

15. How old are the appliances, utilities, and the roof?

When you’re looking to buy a home, you should always ask about the condition of the property’s major systems, HVAC, and water heater. As the future homeowner, you need to know if something needs to be repaired or replaced soon.

Additionally, ask the seller about the warranty information on the appliances. If they’re out of warranty or will be soon, you can factor that into your offer price.

It’s particularly important to ask about the roof since replacements can be expensive and you can potentially leverage any issues at closing. 

16. How much does it cost to heat and cool the house?

Utilities can vary based on the systems and the size of the house — a multi-bedroom house with central heating will have dramatically different heating bills than a cabin with a wood stove. The seller knows these costs best, so ask them for a general utilities budget to get an idea of what you’ll spend.

→ Learn about baseboard heating vs forced air

17. Are there any problems with the house?

Ask about any issues can come up during a home inspection, which could give you grounds for negotiating, if and when the time comes. The reality is that major repairs often end up costing thousands of dollars. If you discover that a feature of the home needs repairing right away, you could reflect that in your offer.

Here are some things to ask about:

18. Is there a history of insurance claims?

Ask the seller for a copy of a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, aka a CLUE report. This document will reveal if there have been any homeowners insurance claims filed within the last seven years. A history of insurance claims can give you more insight into past damage and the hazards — like weather or vandalism — that may have caused it.

→ Find out when to get home insurance when buying a house

19. What’s included in the sale?

Some homeowners generally include working appliances and fixtures in a home sale, but some might also lump in their furniture. The listing description will likely detail everything that’s for sale, but ask the seller upfront what’s included in the sale to be sure.

Orchard gives a guaranteed cash offer — and so much more

On top of a guaranteed sale, 95% of Orchard customers sell for more on the open market.

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On top of a guaranteed sale, 95% of Orchard customers sell for more on the open market.

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