Buying a home is not just one of the largest financial decisions you’re ever likely to make, but it is also something that can affect your quality of life day-in and day-out.
To make a decision that makes sense financially and enhances your lifestyle, you need to envision the day-to-day realities of what it will be like to live in a given house. Here are six ways you can get a better handle on what that might be like:
1. Get home seller’s promises in writing
If the seller’s agent assures you that they are going to fix this or paint that, don’t just take their word for it. If you are going to make an offer on the basis of promises about things that will be done to improve the house, those promises should be detailed in the offer agreement.
No reputable agent should have a problem with that. Putting things in writing should work to the benefit of all parties, because it helps avoid misunderstandings that can lead to legal disputes.
2. Walk around the neighborhood before buying a house
House hunters tend to focus their attention on the properties they are viewing, but it also pays to turn attention to the surrounding neighborhood.
A leisurely stroll through the neighborhood is a great way to get a feel for it. You should be able to tell whether it’s quiet or noisy. You can see whether properties are well-maintained. Poorly-maintained properties can drag down the value of the surrounding houses, and may be a sign of irresponsible owners who can be bad for the neighborhood in other ways as well.
Take note of whether there are other properties for sale nearby. Having a few other houses on the market in the neighborhood can work to your advantage, because it represents competition for the seller and thus may improve your negotiating position. However, a large number of houses for sale in one area can be a sign of problems in the neighborhood.
3. Ask for copies of the homeowner’s tax and utility bills
Beyond your mortgage payment, taxes and utilities can be significant costs to owning a home. Take a look at what those bills have been so you know what kind of expenses you may be getting into.
When you look at the property tax bill, take note of the appraised value. If it is significantly below the asking price for the home, it doesn’t necessarily mean the seller is overcharging—it may simply mean that recent market forces have not yet been reflected in the tax appraisal. However, this can indicate that the appraisal is subject to being revised upward in the near future, which could increase your property tax assessment.
As for utility bills, don’t just look at the most recent one. Ask to see bills from all seasons of the year, so you can find out what it costs to heat the place in the winter and cool it in the summer.
If there is a homeowners association, ask what those dues are going to be. It might also be worth a conversation with your insurance agent, to see if there are any characteristics of the home or area that would result in unusually high insurance premiums.
4. Hire a home inspector
The mortgage company will have an appraiser look at the house, but this is different from a detailed inspection. A qualified home inspector can look at the house from top to bottom and tell you whether there are any structural or mechanical problems.
This precaution is especially important for older homes. It could save you unexpected expenses after you move in, not to mention protect you from problems that would detract from your enjoyment of the home.
5. Check local schools—even if you don’t have kids
If you are a parent, or plan to start a family while in the home, researching whether or not the school district is well-regarded may be very important to you. But why does this matter if you don’t have kids?
A well-regarded school district can be a selling point for properties in that district, just as a bad school district can be a turn-off for many buyers. Therefore, the quality of the school district can affect your property’s resale value, even if you’ll never have any kids in that district.
6. Drive by your potential home at rush hour
Traffic patterns could affect you every day once you move into the house, so you need to know if they are going to be a problem. What better time to assess that than at rush hour?
What you are looking for are both problems specific to the property and those general to the neighborhood overall. Specific problems are things such as whether a narrow driveway might force you to back out into a busy street. More general problems include congestion that adds to your commuting times.
All of the above tips deal with the reality of what it may be like to live in the house. Being fully-informed about that reality should help you make the right decision for your finances and your peace of mind.
This information is provided for informational purposes, may not be applicable to all situations, and is not intended to provided legal, tax, or financial advice. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.