What things to look for when buying a house
Looking for a home can be fun when you know the things to look for when buying a house, but it can be completely overwhelming if you don’t know. When you factor in that an excellent real estate agent will use staging tricks, it can feel like you aren’t getting an accurate depiction of what a house will look like when you move in. When walking through a home in your house hunting journey, we want to ensure 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 house-hunting process, we’ve broken down a list of a few things to consider in each part of the home.
Here are the things 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. So let’s dive in)
Here’s a buying tip: This is the best and worst month to sell a house.
Things to look for on the exterior when buying a house
Before you enter the house, there are many 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 (whether it’s an acre or an infill or somewhere in between). If not, you should ask and make sure you know where your property lines are. There may be outbuildings (sheds) that are too close to the 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 afterward 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 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 to walk around the exterior to make sure there are no glaring problems (large cracks in brickwork, 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 significant cracks or if the surface is breaking. For driveways and steps, this is primarily aesthetic, but you’re still the one who has to look at it. Please make a note and mention it to your agent. 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 seems like it may be slightly slanted, it could be a strong warning sign to stay away, or another part of the negotiation strategy.
Foundation issues are costly fixes and best to avoid when buying a house. Once you get inside, it’s a good idea to look for uneven floors; placing a marble or golf ball on the floor can tell you very quickly if the foundation is slanted.
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 outdoor space 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? Do you have enough privacy?
Other outside things to consider are swimming pools (the maintenance costs and time used is largely personal preference), rain garden, drainage, and how you will use it to entertain house guests should all be considered when looking at the outdoor area.
Another good thing to look for is 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 to is the proximity to the house and the roots. You can dig out the roots to see, but trees near the home can cause problems with foundations and pipes.
While it’s not a deal-breaker, it is one of the things to look for when buying your first home.
Things to look for in the entryway when buying a house
The entrance is always a tricky one. Ensure there is enough room to hang multiple coats and put numerous 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.
Storage for outerwear
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. Hardwood floors with water damage can be a sign of needed repairs and maybe flags how attentive previous owners have been to the area.
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 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 a 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′
Here are some Cheap Living Room Sets Under $500.
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 Tip: 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 departments (working space and pantry), so be aware! It’s a good idea to have a pantry checklist to know everything you will want to put in your pantry.
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 beforehand 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
- The standard width is between 36″- 40″
- The 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
Here are some Cheap Dining Room Sets Under $200 to help you with your budget
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 wreak 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 a safe escape in case of a fire):
- Minimum unobstructed width: 20 inches
- Minimum unobstructed height: 24 inches
- The window sill height must be no more than 44 inches off the floor
- Minimum unobstructed opening of 5.7 square feet
▪ 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?
Related: Master Bedroom Square Footage: How Big Should It Be?
- 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
- Armoire: 60″ w x 17″ d x 60″ h
- Typical nightstand: 20″ w x 20″ d
Need to furnish a bedroom check out: Cheap Bedroom Furniture Sets Under $500
What to look for in the basement
If you have a house with a finished basement you will likely have several questions for your realtor. The first thing to do is to smell the finished basement. Does it have a sewer smell? If so there may be an issue with their septic tank or holding tank, or there could be plumbing issues. Inspect the area for any water damage on the floor and walls.
If the basement ceiling has a drop ceiling you can remove look at the tiles for any water stains and if there are you can remove the tile to see if the stain is newer and where the source is coming from.
Appliances are one of the things to look for when buying a house that is often overlooked. Checking the furnace or water tank isn’t the most glamorous thing to do but an old furnace means you could be on the hook for a replacement shortly after you move in.
Remember you are only in the house for a short time when you are looking at it, but you need to think long term. Here are some things to look for when you are inspecting the appliances of a house.
Depending on where you live an A/C unit may get used one month a year or several. Look around to make sure the cooling unit is in good shape and see if you can determine when it was installed or last maintained.
If you are buying the kitchen appliances with the house you will want to make sure the oven turns on, that the fan is working and that all stovetop knobs and burners function.
Make sure that the fridge doors open and close properly, that there is no water damage beneath the fridge and that they are keeping things cold and at the right temperature.
Check that it works, that the dispenser is functional, and that the drawers pull all the way in and out. Inspect the floor for water issues.
Hot water heater
The big thing with hot water tanks is leaks and the age of the tank itself. Check around the bottom of the hot water tank for leaking. Inspect the top of the hot water heater for leaks. Check the age of the tank. Typically a tank will last 10 years. Any more than that and you are on borrowed time.
Inspect the heating and cooling systems for their age and its last servicing. Smell the area and see if there is any signs of water leaking from the furnace. If there is an odor it could be that the heater exchange is cracked meaning big repairs for your furnace (possibly even a replacement).
Heating and cooling systems aren’t exactly fun to check out when you are looking at a house, but they are expensive to replace and can sink a budget in the first few years of homeownership. And in case you were wondering, no broken cooling system is not covered by your homeowners’ insurance.
This won’t apply to everyone but if you are looking in the country vs. the city then the house may have a septic tank. Septic tanks last for a certain amount of time and then need to be replaced, make sure you ask how long it’s been in use.
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, this is important whether it’s one or two car garage
- 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
Other things to look for when buying a house
When you are looking at a house you will likely want to consider other things as well. If you have children you will want to know what school district you are in and if it’s a good school district. If this is your first house it’s important to know that you may have to compromise on some things.
Something that often gets overlooked when looking at a house is the neighbors. A good neighbor is worth their weight in gold and a bad one can make your dream home a nightmare. If you are serious about the house knock on your neighbor’s doors and see what they are like.
Another thing to check is the utility bills. These can sink your budget so make sure you ask to see their monthly heating, water, and other useful bills that will be a part of your budget. A house is a complex set of systems and you want to make sure you aren’t going to have some big surprises after you buy it.
Forrest McCall, a real estate investor and owner of Don’t Work Another Day, says, “Always be on the lookout for potential office space, especially if you’re working remotely. Not only will this be convenient for you, but when it comes time to sell your home, you’ll get more money for your residence than you would without an obvious working space.”
Homeowner Association Fees
Before you go making an offer and going down the mortgage payments road, ask the realtor if the house is a part of a homeowner association. If it is there could be monthly payments that you have to pay and this can impact your budget. While it might not break your budget you want to make sure you have all the facts.
Related: How to Legally Annoy Your HOA
Once you are satisfied
If you have looked at all these things and are satisfied with what you see you can enter the next phase of the home buying process, look at the purchase price, assess what you have for a down payment, and talk to a mortgage lender about what your mortgage payment would be on this house (as a short cut you can use our simple mortgage calculator if you need to).
When it comes to mortgage payments, make sure you check your credit score and factor in other debts like student loans and personal loans you already have. Your household budget is a big part of buying a house and knowing how much house you can afford will go a long way in helping you find the right house for you.
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. All these factors are important but after a few houses, you will get better with them and have a lot more