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10 outdoor elements to look at when buying a house

What we'll cover

  • Why the outside of your home matters

  • How curb appeal is more than cosmetic features

  • Exterior aspects to consider when buying a home

You’ve heard the phrase a million times: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

So when you’re house hunting , your list of wants should go beyond interior details, such as a renovated kitchen, and include the driveway, landscape and more.

Even though you’ll spend a large portion of your time inside your house, don’t write off the importance of its curb appeal. From yard maintenance to roofing renovations, your home’s exterior can affect your happiness with your purchase — and your wallet.

Here are some factors you might want to consider when evaluating a home’s outside before you buy.

Home inspection checklist — exterior

The outside of your home consists of several components, some of which are functional, some cosmetic and some a mix of both. Use this checklist to ensure you’re factoring in the major parts of the exterior of your home.

Siding and roofing

The materials covering the exterior walls and roof of a house aren’t necessarily the most glamorous features to look for (although you probably have opinions on brick vs. stucco or wood vs. vinyl). But it’s critical to evaluate their condition before signing your mortgage.

Check for things like peeling, chipping or fading paint, and be sure to ask about the defects you might not be able to spot at a glance like water damage, mold or mildew. While siding does require regular maintenance, and certain materials need to be replaced every 20 to 40 years, you don’t want to be stuck with a large repair right after you’ve settled in — a siding replacement project costs homeowners an average of $11,237.

The same goes for roofing. While certain roof materials like metal and slate can last 50 to 75 years, a typical shingled roof generally lasts about 20. Keep in mind, that time frame can vary depending on your climate. Super cold or humid climates can cause materials to degrade more quickly.

Ask about the roof’s age, check for missing shingles, sagging and water damage. Even if you aren’t facing a full roof replacement, a smaller repair can still cost several hundred dollars. If you’re unsure about the state of the roof or the cost of a repair, you can have a roofing company do an inspection (separate from the home inspection) to get a better picture and a quote.

Windows and doors

The windows and doors of your home play an important role in keeping the outside out. When air and moisture remain where they’re supposed to, it helps keep the inside insulated — and your energy bill lower.

That’s why it’s important to know whether the windows and doors are in good condition (sealed well, no cracks or broken panes, etc.) But beyond their functionality, these features affect the overall appearance of a home’s exterior.

If you don’t love the windows or front door of a home, simple aesthetic fixes, such as a fresh coat of paint and new hardware, can dramatically change the look of a house and its general curb appeal. Shutters can also make a big difference. Adding them typically costs a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars total, depending on the material and number of windows — a significantly more affordable option than window replacement, which can cost hundreds of dollars per window.

Yard and landscape

A house’s yard, or lack thereof, can absolutely make or break the property. But you should consider several factors beyond a big or small backyard. For example, fencing around your yard could be a priority if you have pets or small kids (or want them in the future) or live near a busy street.

Mowing a lawn is just one piece of yard care. Other things to think about are landscaping components, like bushes and flower beds, which can add curb appeal but may also mean more maintenance and upkeep for you. Trimming hedges, watering flowers, maintaining bushes, and replacing mulch periodically can all be more taxing (and more costly) than you might expect.

Finally, if you like natural shade or a little additional privacy, having tall trees in your yard may provide both. But more trees mean more leaves, which may create the need for additional lawn care during the autumn months. And, if you live in an area that’s prone to big thunderstorms, hurricanes or other extreme weather, large trees add the risk of potential damage to your property.

Driveway and sidewalk

While the driveway may not be your first consideration when it comes to curb appeal, its size and shape can play a role in how your home looks to you and passersby. If the driveway is too small for your vehicles, you might need to be okay with parking on the road out front.

The sidewalk isn’t something you’ll have much (if any) control over because towns and cities typically determine their existence. If living on a street with sidewalks is important to you, or might be down the road, keep this detail in mind while house shopping. On the flip side, if you prefer living on a street with less foot traffic, avoid homes with sidewalks directly out front.

Patios and decks

For those who love to entertain, finding a home with a large area like a patio or a deck might be enticing. If the home doesn’t yet have a patio, deck or porch, but you’d like to install one, consider whether you have enough room. You should also ask about any permits needed to build outside structures.

Foundation

A home’s foundation supports the load of the entire structure and will anchor a home against the elements like wind and rain. Areas that bulge or lean, water damage or cracks in the concrete are signs the foundation is less than stable. Warped floors or ceilings also can indicate foundation issues. The foundation is a key area of a standard home inspection, so any problems should be spotted during this phase of the homebuying process.

Water management

Effective water management keeps water from seeping into the interior of your home and wreaking havoc. A drainage plane made of water-resistant material provides a path from the roof to the ground, preventing water damage. Each part of your home needs a different solution. Windows should be flashed and sealed to keep water out. House wrap, along with flashing where the roof intersects, will keep water from penetrating small cavities in your home.

Chimney

If you’re purchasing a home with a chimney, get a professional to sign off on its safety. Chimneys should be made with a type of brick that can withstand high heat. Watch out for any crumbling that may need to be replaced. A chimney should be inspected by a professional on an annual basis.

Air quality and noise level

Location is everything when you’re searching for a new home, but it’s about more than your proximity to schools, friends and family. Where your home is can impact things like the noise levels at your house and the quality of air you are breathing.

Location is everything when you’re searching for a new home, but it’s about more than your proximity to schools, friends and family.

If the home’s located on a busy street, are you OK with a little noise at night? Visit the home at different times of the day and night so you can get a sense of what you’ll be dealing with if you live there.

Do you like to keep your windows open, and if so, is it safe and pleasant to do so? You can search a home’s address online to learn the air quality of the area.

Garage and parking

If you have a car, you’ll want to consider the parking situation at your home. Do you need a garage, and how big should it be? If not, is there ample street parking? You may want to look into any needed parking permits or registration. If you plan to use the garage for storage or another purpose, make sure it’s big enough to accommodate your needs.

Find your dream home exterior

When it comes to a home’s exterior, your reaction to its curb appeal often happens instantaneously: You either like it or you don’t. But the physical appearance of a property can often be revamped with cosmetic fixes. So, when you’re evaluating a house, don’t forget to consider factors beyond the appearance, such as sidewalk and noise level. Keep in mind what’s on the outside of your home can affect your livelihood and finances just as much as what’s inside.

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