There’s much written about the basics of buying a home, and for good reason those basic steps are important. Yet all too often, these general advice articles leave out important information for homebuyers. It’s easy to do, as there’s so much to consider. Here’s a look at some of those lesser-known questions, and which experts you should pose them to.
Questions for Your Real Estate Agent
What Is This Home Actually Worth?
It’s an important question to ask, but as Bankrate notes, ethical considerations prevent your agent from telling you exactly how much to offer. What your agent can do is provide you with the insider data available to real estate professionals. This data — such as local comparable sales, or “comps,” high and low ranges, and time on the market for this and other comparable homes — can help you answer this question and make a competitive offer.
Are There Any Local Remodeling Restrictions?
Just because you’ve bought the home doesn’t mean you’ll be free to make any changes you want. Certain improvements may be banned by local zoning laws. A recent report in the Wall Street Journal found a number of municipalities that ban second kitchens and separate entrances. Other changes may entail a significant amount of red tape or compliance costs. Lastly, HOA boards may require the approval of seemingly minor cosmetic changes, such as a new red door or wheelchair ramp.
How Flexible Is the Seller?
While it’s true you could ask the seller directly about their selling position, some buyers prefer to ask their agent. Your agent can tactfully ask the seller’s agent how firm the seller is on asking price, if they’re open to negotiation, and if they’d consider helping out with closing costs. This info can help you determine how high or low to come in with your offer.
Questions for Your Home Inspector
How Bad Is It?
As you go over your home inspector’s findings, ask questions so that you understand what problems exist and to what degree. As Tara-Nicholle Nelson points out in Business Insider, the language inspectors use can make it hard for buyers to grasp the severity of a problem. Ask this question and most inspectors will be willing to explain whether the problem requires a trip to the hardware store or a costly professional repair.
Who Should I Get to Fix That?
Along with understanding the nature of any home problems, you should ask your inspector for any recommendations on repairs. For small fixes, you may hear the problem is something you could address yourself. For larger issues, they may be able to give you a list of professionals. This may be particularly helpful if you’re new to the area or need a quick turnaround on a bid during your contingency period.
What Would You Fix and When if This Was Your House?
As Nelson notes, an inspector may flag an item as “at the end of its serviceable lifetime.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the item needs immediate replacing, but it does give a buyer advance notice that a furnace or water heater could be on its last leg. Ask for clarification on such items so that you understand what home repairs may be needed in the short- to medium-term.
How Does That Work?
A home inspector may be one of the best-positioned individuals to ask about mechanical and electrical systems in a home you buy. Ask about emergency shutoffs for gas and water, fuse box locations, sprinkler systems, and any other home systems you’re unfamiliar with.
Questions for the Seller
What Is the History of the House?
While you may not have close contact with the seller initially, you should be able to pass your questions on via your agent, or directly during an inspection or escrow meeting. Be sure to ask about the history of the home. You’ll likely learn the home’s maintenance record and recent repairs, as well as interesting history or maintenance recommendations.
What Surprised the Seller About the Home?
Nelson points out that homeownership is often full of surprises, not all of which are negative. When posed this question, a seller may talk about the friendliness of neighbors, unexpected roominess of the home, surprisingly low energy bills, or other hard to know details that help inform your buying decision.
Is There Anything You’d Like to Leave Behind?
If the price is right, a large sectional sofa, a woodworking shop, or a swing set could end up part of the sale. Both sellers and buyers can be motivated to add furniture or other items to the transaction. For buyers, there may be a particular item that you fall in love with. For sellers, the motivation may be not having to move out large items or avoiding taking items there’s no further need for. Sometimes a seller’s motivation can mean such items are cheap or even free.
Questions for the Neighbors
What’s the History of the House?
You’ve already asked the seller about their home in their own words, but it can pay to get multiple perspectives. Neighbors may have lived in the area longer than the sellers. They could also offer details some sellers wouldn’t. Patricia-Anne Tom writes on Realtor.com that buyers can learn from neighbors about issues that affect a whole neighborhood, too. For instance, if tree roots have damaged utility pipes for surrounding properties, it may also become an issue for the sale property.
What’s the Neighborhood Like?
Neighbors can likewise offer another perspective on the nature or vibe of the home’s neighborhood. Are neighbors friendly? Are there community activities? How do the neighbors you’re talking to feel about the neighborhood and why? Lastly, how do you feel about your interaction with these neighbors?
Is This a Good Neighborhood for Kids?
For many buyers of single-family homes, a safe, kid-friendly neighborhood with good schools is a top priority. While school rankings and crime statistics are readily available online and can give you some idea of what a neighborhood will be like, a chat with neighbors could give you a more nuanced picture of what it would be like to raise children here.
Questions for Your Title Agent
What’s Covered in My Policy?
After all the research is done, and the sale is nearing closing, make sure you take the time to ask important questions of your title company. Understand the difference between a title insurance lender’s policy, which is required by lenders to protect their own investment in the property, and an owner’s policy, which can protect buyers from problems missed during a title search. Ask about any exceptions stipulated in your owner’s policy and about the process of filing a claim. While an owner’s policy is optional, it’s highly recommended and could mean the difference between foreclosure and keeping your home, as one Florida couple recently discovered.