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Top 5 questions to ask as a first-time homebuyer

April 29, 2021 • 4 min read

What we'll cover

  • How to obtain previous insurance claims

  • What you have the right to know

  • The importance of neighborhood comps

Anyone who’s ever watched a show on house hunting can tell you that shopping for a home can push people to the edge. From budget to location to the number of bathrooms — you have a lot to consider. Getting beyond the surface is essential to making an informed decision.

Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer entering the market or someone who knows their way around real estate listings, asking the right questions can ensure you not only find the right house for your needs, but that it’s a sound investment for years to come. Begin here for a strong start to your house hunt.

What is included in the home purchase?

We’re all attracted to the shiny stuff from time to time. A brand new refrigerator, that stackable washer and dryer you’ve only dreamt of or a snazzy chandelier that looks like it should be hanging in a Michelin-starred restaurant. But just because these items are in a home during an open house, it doesn’t mean they’re included in the home purchase. That’s why prospective buyers need to confirm what is actually included in the sale before they sign on the dotted line.

Some homes may include appliances but there’s always a chance the homeowners plan to take them to their next home. Or if it’s a new or flipped property, these items may have been rented for the open house. Always ask because it could mean another expense that you’ll need to account for as part of the total cost of home ownership.

What insurance claims have been made by previous tenants/owners?

You wouldn’t marry someone without knowing their past. (Right?) Similarly, you shouldn’t buy a house without taking a close look at its history. That background check should include a home inspection and asking the seller to share any insurance claims they made (or those filed by tenants).

Do not skip this step. This could uncover previous damages (fire, water, mold, etc.) and give you a heads up on any problems — and additional costs — that may arise once you have keys in hand. Unless you’re building a custom home, you probably won’t find a perfect house, but you can walk into home ownership with all of the essential information.

Pro Tip: In addition to insurance claims, you’ll want to ask about seller disclosures. There may be some overlap with insurance claims but they should include any damage and potential hazards.

How old are the roof and windows?

One of the most expensive costs that comes with being a homeowner is replacing the roof. And the cost of windows can be shocking for first-time homebuyers. Needing to replace one or both is a reality that you might face at some point — but one that you can be prepared for.

That planning ahead should start before you even purchase the home. Barring any severe weather or disaster (and depending on what your roof material is), your typical shingles need to be replaced anywhere from every 15 to 30 years and the cost can be anywhere from around $5,400 to $11,000, on average. So, knowing when your roof was last updated can make a huge difference in mapping out the future expenses you may incur.

What additions and/or major renovations are allowed (and what work has already been done)?

If you have DIY dreams for future home improvement projects in your new abode, look into local zoning laws before you make a purchase. Some communities have restrictions on what work can be done and past work done on the house may also restrict what you can do in the future. Before you start mapping out your kitchen reno, confirm that you’ll be able to make those changes you have in mind.

How much have other homes in the neighborhood/area sold for?

Everyone loves a deal, but it’s hard to know if you’re really getting one unless you have a clear view of the market. That’s why you need to do your research on the value of other homes in the area. Your real estate agent will have access to this information or you can use digital tools like Zillow to scan the area for home values.

Knowing this information isn’t just about finding out if the “for sale” price of the house you covet is fair. It will also give you an idea of its future value, too, by providing a full picture of home prices in the area — details that are helpful to know as you negotiate a competitive offer .

From house hunter to homeowner

Buying a home is a big step. Hunting down your preferred property can be fun but don’t forget to collect all of the important details along the way. Going beyond the surface and diving deep with these questions can help you make the right decision.

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