What to look for when buying a house

The price and condition of a home are the first things to consider when buying a house, but other factors such as features, size, and location will determine how much you like living there once you move in. Start your home search by identifying a firm budget and then move on to other considerations that will affect the day-to-day experience of your new home.

4 min to read

Things to look for when buying a house

Anyone shopping for a home needs to consider a few key factors — price, condition, features, size, and location — before they put in an offer.

Price

When buying a house, you need to look for a place that fits your budget. Once you know what you can afford and what kind of mortgage you can get pre-approval for, you can start your search. Remember that a home's cost is more than just the sticker price. You'll also need to factor in the cost of homeowners insurance, property taxes, and any necessary repairs or renovations.

It's wise to start looking at homes near the lower end of your budget. That way, if you encounter unexpected costs, you have some room to cover them. And if you find something that you love for less than you were expecting to pay, there's no reason to search for more expensive property. Learn more about the best time to buy a house.

Condition

Another thing to check before buying a home is a problem that will be difficult or expensive to fix. These can include structural or foundational problems, mold, roofing issues, and problems with systems like heating, cooling, water, and electricity.

A home inspection will reveal many issues, but some of them — like mold, lack of light, or water damage — you can spot when you tour the home. Look under carpets and in high-moisture areas like the bathroom for signs of mold and water damage. Try to visit the house at different times in the day to get a sense of how much natural light there is. Look at windows to see if they seal well (which can impact utility costs) and open easily. Windows that are difficult to open can be an early indicator of structural problems.

Features

Except for cost and safety concerns, your list of "must-haves" is up to you. However, it helps to make a prioritized list before you start looking. For instance, if you need a house with a big yard for your dog, there's no reason to look at houses without one. According to Psychology Today, research shows that people experience less satisfaction with a choice, and make worse choices in general, when they have too many options. Narrowing the field before you start seeing houses can help you find a place you'll be happy with.

Size

Be realistic about how much space you need. Define a minimum and maximum square footage and try to look at houses that fall within that range. It's easy to fall into the trap of buying a house that's too big, and it can end up costing you thousands in property taxes, maintenance, and heating/cooling costs.

Think about how you use your house, how much space you need, and then look at property tax rates to help you decide if the extra space is worth it. You may find, for instance, that it makes more sense to rent a place for visiting family during the holidays rather than pay for extra bedrooms that go unused most of the year. On the other hand, if you're expecting a big change — like retirement or a new baby — get a house that can accommodate that. You don't want to buy a house now only to sell in a few years.

Location

Location is a huge factor when considering what to look for when buying a house. It affects property values, school access, walkability, safety concerns, and much more. Before you start your search, think about what areas you might like to live in and consider what they offer, and then compare that list to your must-haves. For instance, an urban setting may not be the best fit if you need a garage. The suburbs might be disappointing if walkability and nightlife are your top priorities.

Your location also determines what neighborhood nuisances you'll have to deal with. Visiting the area at different times and on different days can help you understand any annoyances you may encounter. You can renovate the house, but there isn't much you can do to fix problems in the neighborhood, so you need to find an area you like.

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