Looking for a home can be really fun when you know the things to look for when buying a house, but if you don’t know it can be completely overwhelming. When you factor in that a good real estate agent will use staging tricks, it can feel like you aren’t getting a true depiction of what a house will look like when you move in. When walking through a home, we want to make sure you’re not missing something obvious, or falling for any staging tricks (see things you should look for when viewing a house). To help guide you through this process, we’ve broken down a very basic list of a few things to consider in each part of the home.
Here’s what to look for when buying a home.
(I’ll give you a hint, these are a lot easier when you imagine living in the place rather than just looking at what they are showing you. Let’s dive in…)
Things to Look for on the Exterior When Buying a House
Before you enter the house there are a lot of things you can check out to give you a better idea of what goes on inside.
Lot Size and Dimensions
Your lot dimensions should be on the feature sheet. If not, you should ask and make sure you know where your property lines are. There may be out buildings (sheds) that are too close to property line and you may need extra documentation when closing on it.
None of this is a deal breaker but you definitely want to know. Sometimes you may see a lot of space on one side of the house and find out afterwards that it belongs to someone else.
Your square footage is going to likely be part of your home search criteria. This is a good time to take a look at the price per square footage calculator and see if it is close to the average in the area you are looking in. If it’s much higher then you need to know why, and if it’s lower, it could signal something too (house is on the market too long, or there is something wrong with it). Either way there is something to know there and may be worth examining.
You can look at the shingles and see if they are in need of a repair. Any good real estate agent will be able to tell you this. If not you can ask the seller the last time the roof was re-shingled to get an idea of how much longer the current shingles have.
Exterior Finishes (siding, brick, stucco etc.)
We’re not going to go too in depth here, but want to remind you to take a full 360 degree walk around the exterior to make sure there are no glaring problems (large cracks in brick work, siding falling off etc.). Anything of note can be brought up with your home inspector when they do the home inspection.
Concrete Driveways and Steps
Have a quick look to see if there are any major cracks, or if the surface is breaking. For driveways and steps, this is mostly aesthetic, but you’re still the one who has to look at it. Make a note and you may be able to use this as part of your negotiation techniques.
You might not be able to see much from the outside, but you can look at the house from the street and see if it looks balanced. If it looks like it may be slightly slanted it could be a strong warning sign to stay away, or another part of negotiation strategy.
We cover this partially if you have a driveway. But think about your vehicle situation, both now and in a few years. Make sure there is enough place for you (and everyone else living with you) to park.
The yard might be something that you don’t pay too much attention to but it can reveal a lot about a homeowner. Is it well kept? Does it look like a lot of work? Is there a fence? Is the fence in good shape?
Another good thing to look for are trees in the yard. Our parents just had some nice large trees removed because they were starting to lean on the house and could wreck the roof in a storm. Another tree thing to pay attention too is the proximity to the house and the roots. Obviously you can dig out the roots to see, but trees near the house can cause problems with foundations and with pipes.
While it’s not a deal breaker it is definitely one of the things to look for when buying a home.
Things to Look for in the Entryway
The entrance is always a Make sure there is enough room to actually hang multiple coats and put multiple sets of shoes and boots in the closet. You want to make sure this area is functional. When houses are empty, the amount of room can seem satisfactory, when it’s really not. Consider the time of year, viewing a home in summer may not mean too many pieces of clothing, but when you are in winter you will want more room and storage.
Keep in mind many starter homes are tight on space. I’m not saying this should be a deal breaker for you, but in my first home we had to buy a cabinet for the entryway to help organize clothes and save space. We were so taken by the initial look of the home that we never considered what it would be like coming in and out through this entrance.
You’ll be carrying groceries, inviting friends in, getting jackets on, so make sure you are living through the seasons when you are inspecting the entrance. It’s nice to know ahead of time if you need to spend a few hundred dollars on a space saving solution.
Look down at your feet. How does the floor look? This is a prime spot for a damaged floor with wet shoes and boots coming in and out year round.
Width of the door
This may sound a little strange but a nice wide door can be a big deal when you arrive on moving day. A narrow door can mean disassembling furniture or returning items to the store. Either way, grab that tape measure and make a note of it. Also think about moving items into the house, if you have a narrow door and a tight entrance it could spell disaster for that nice long couch you have your eyes on.
What to look for in the Living Room
Look around the room and see where the lights are, especially if you’re viewing the home in the daylight. Many older homes don’t even have a light in the living room, they often have a plug that is connected to a light switch so that you can plug in a lamp and then turn it off and on with the switch.
This happened to us the first night it started to get dark and we went to turn on the living room light only to realize that the living room switch was for an plug outlet which meant we had to make a night run to Home Depot to get some floor lamps.
Natural light is underrated sometimes. Again, this isn’t necessarily a make or break item, just something to be aware of. It’s also a good idea to see how many panes of glass are in the windows. Windows have come a long way in the past 30 years and can be very expensive to upgrade.
Millennial Homeowner Secret: If curtains are drawn or there are drapes, make sure to open them and inspect the windows. We didn’t and found one of the seals in our window was broken and as a result the window was foggy and had moisture issues.
Room size and possible furniture layout
This one’s important. Bring a measuring tape with you to ensure the furniture you have will actually work (and fit) in the space. There will likely be minimal furniture in the house to give the appeal that the house is larger than it actually is. Remember all is fair in love and house selling.
Take it from someone who staged their first house when selling, things aren’t always as roomy as they seem. Here are some furniture dimensions for you to keep in mind. If you have furniture already, make a note on your phone of the dimensions so you are sure it will fit.
Average Furniture Sizes
- Couch – 7’x3’
- Love seat – 5’x3’
- Recliner – 3’x3’
- End Table – 2’x2′
What to look for in a Kitchen before buying a house
A kitchen is the most used part of a house. All guests will end up in there and a bad kitchen set up can lead to a very frustrating experience. We recommend imagining living in the house. Think and ask yourself the following:
- Is there a dishwasher? Is it close to the storage or will you be walking across the kitchen every time you empty it.
- Is the fridge situated in a normal spot?
- Does the stove have a vent?
- Is there any water damage on the floor?
- What do I like about this kitchen?
- What don’t I like about this kitchen?
- Does it make sense, this can be a tricky one, but trust your gut. If you are looking at it and something feels off, it’s likely there is.
Test the following things in the kitchen
Sink and Fixtures
Check to make sure both the hot and cold taps are working (sometimes the hot water may take a minute depending on the distance between the kitchen and the hot water tank). When you turn it off does it drip? Look under the sink and see if there are any signs of mice. Check for water damage and anything else that seems off.
If the appliances are being sold with the house, make sure to go over the general condition of them and make sure they’re in good working order. This can be an easy way to get appliances, and can also be a good bargaining item.
Millennial Homeowner: Make a note of the make and model, if you put on your offer “Refrigerator”, they can swap out the current one for something else. It happened to us.
Check the overall condition of the cabinets. Make sure the doors and drawers function smoothly and that nothing is falling apart. You want everything moving smoothly and it’s a good way to check out the details of a house.
Cabinet and kitchen layouts are all different, but there are two things that most people don’t consider when viewing a home.
Look at the available counter space and try to think about where you will prep your meals. Is there enough room? How many items are you going to put on the counter (it’s likely there is minimal stuff on then when you view the house). Will the counter space accommodate all your items (toaster, coffee maker, second coffee maker (just me? really love my coffee)
This one gets overlooked. Where are you going to store pantry items when you get back from the grocery store? Some kitchens are lacking in these 2 departmen s(working space and pantry), so be aware!
What to look for in the Dining Room
Whether it’s part of the kitchen or separate, make sure you know where your dining table is going to go and if it will actually fit with chairs around it. Dining room tables can be very big and take up space. Know before hand how often you will be having people over and if this space will suit your needs. If you plan on hosting dinners every weekend then a two seat dining room table won’t do. But if you are not one to use the dining room then it may not matter. Either way you will want to give it some thought.
A classic staging trick: either put in a dining table that’s made for 2 people to eat at, or take the table out all together so potential buyers are forced to envision where the table would go on their own. Some people don’t even realize it’s missing until they move in, or they end up grossly underestimating how much space it will take up
Dining Table Sizing
- Standard width is between 36”- 40”
- Standard length is 48” for a 4 person and 60” for a 6 person
- Allow for at least 36” from the edge of the table to any walls or other furniture to allow for chairs to be pulled out or people to walk behind
What to look for in the Bathroom
You will want to make sure the bathroom is in good shape. Functionally a poorly laid out bathroom, or one that doesn’t accommodate your lifestyle, can wreck havoc on your morning routine.
What to check in a bathroom when you are buying a home
- Check to make sure both the hot and cold taps are working in the sink and the shower (and that there is enough water flow)(sometimes the hot water may take a minute depending on the distance between the kitchen and the hot water tank)
- Look for signs of mold (especially at the corners of the ceiling directly above the shower)
- Flush the toilet to make sure it works.
What to look for in the Bedrooms
Check window size and the dimensions of the opening part of the window. At least one window in every bedroom must meet egress requirements (egress is the regulation that stipulates the minimum size that a bedroom window must open for safe escape in case of a fire):
▪ Minimum unobstructed width: 20 inches
▪ Minimum unobstructed height: 24 inches
▪ Minimum unobstructed opening of 5.7 square feet
▪ The window sill height must be no more than 44 inches off the floor
▪ Minimum unobstructed opening of 3.8 square feet with no part of the opening (height or width) being less than 15”
What to look for in the bedroom
- Measure the bedroom for potential furniture placement. Take into account the size of your bed and dresser, as well as any other furniture you may want in the room
- Take notice of bedroom locations: where is the master in relation to the other bedrooms? Do you want them close together if you have small children? Is there a bathroom on the same floor as the bedrooms?
- Twin: 39” x 75”
- Full (double): 54”x 75”
- Queen: 60” x 80”
- King: 76” x 80”
- Typical 6 drawer dresser: 60”w x 20”d x 30”h
- Typical armoire: 60”w x 17”d x 60”h
- Typical night stand: 20”w x 20”d
What to look for in a Garage before buying a home
This is typically viewed as a bonus space for some, and a must have for others. If you are buying a house as a couple make sure you know what it’s going to be used for before you buy. Here are some things you should look for:
- Observe the amount of space available for storage or vehicles
- Make sure the overhead door works
- Measure the size of the overhead door, then measure the height and width of your vehicle to make sure it’s going to fit. Many of the older garage doors weren’t designed for the size of vehicles we have today
- Measure the length of your vehicle and compare it to the length available to park in the garage
- Look at the overall structural condition of the garage: a number of garages aren’t finished on the inside so you might actually be able to see if the framing or concrete floor is in decent condition
- Check the shingles and exterior just as you did for the house
Final Thoughts on Things to Look for When Buying a Home
Viewing a home is both exciting and overwhelming. There’s so much to look at and so much to take in, and it all usually happens in a very short amount of time. Now, if you’re serious about a particular home, you know that you’ll likely get a home inspection, which will evaluate the nuts and bolts of the home, but what they won’t tell you, is if your king size bed will fit in the master bedroom.