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What to Look for When Buying a House—A Checklist

By Janet Siroto · February 14, 2022 · 6 minute read

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What to Look for When Buying a House—A Checklist

If you’re shopping for a home, you probably have a wishlist guiding you. One person might want hardwood floors, a fireplace, and a location on a quiet cul-de-sac. Another might need to be walking distance to the local train station, plus a floorplan that includes an in-law apartment. And yet another shopper might want three bedrooms and a big fenced backyard; throw in an outdoor pizza oven, and the deal could be sealed.

Having a list of those dream-house items is part of what makes house hunting fun and exciting. But to be a smart homebuyer and get the most for your money, it’s also good to look at some of the more mundane, nuts-and-bolts aspects of a house as you tour.

That way, you won’t overlook flaws that will potentially be pricey to fix. And you won’t unwittingly take on a home with the kind of problems that could make it a money pit. Once you fall in love with a home, it can be hard to be practical, but for an investment of this size and importance, it’s a vital step.

While home inspections play an important role in making sure you don’t buy a house with issues, you can do a bit of detective work yourself. Follow this guidance to avoid becoming smitten with a home that has major red flags. Ready? Read on for advice on just what to look for when buying a house.

1. Roof

Although you may never see your house from above and shingles are certainly not as exciting as a great layout, your roof matters. It’s what protects you and your possessions from sun, rain, and snow. Roof damage can quickly turn homeownership dreams into a pricey nightmare. To put a price tag on it, a new roof can run $10,000.

Look for signs of water damage at the ceilings inside, indicating that the roof isn’t keeping rain out. Check for obviously cracked or missing shingles, and, since the roof is hard to see from the ground, you may want to have your home inspection take a closer look. You might also invest in a professional roof evaluation to determine how many years the roof has before it needs to be replaced.

You can also avoid future problems by eyeballing gutters and drainage to make sure that water and snow won’t cause roof damage after you move in.

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2. Bathrooms

On the list of things to look for when buying a house, the bathroom usually ranks pretty high. Many of us dream of a luxurious, hotel-style bathroom with a rainfall shower, double sinks, and other high-end details. Or maybe you’d be happy with some new fixtures from the local home center and some color touches of tile.

Whichever way your taste trends, it’s unlikely to be a low-budget endeavor to redo a bathroom that’s dated or worn. How much can it cost to rehab it? The average bath remodel can cost approximately $10,000, and that’s not necessarily, including any special fixtures or features.

Also, the price tag can head farther north if you are planning to add a bath. Moving plumbing lines around a structure can get quite time-consuming and expensive. You’ll need permits, and ratcheting up the number of baths can also send your property taxes soaring. While those addictive home-improvement shows may make bathroom remodels and additions seem like no big deal, it could actually wind up being a major endeavor, so keep that in mind as you tour properties.

Recommended: What Are the Most Common Home Repair Costs?

3. Kitchens

Just like bathrooms, kitchens are also a thing to look for when buying a house and potentially another big-ticket item. A major renovation, with new appliances, cabinets, and countertops, can run $25,000 to $40,000, according to home-improvement site Angi. A high-end kitchen overhaul can hit six figures.

To keep kitchen remodeling costs down, evaluate if the bones of a kitchen are good. Is there enough countertop space to do meal prep? Could you repaint or refinish the cabinets rather than rip them out? If you can get away with doing that, and perhaps updating an appliance or two, you’ll probably be in a much better position financially if you buy the house.

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4. Smells

If you’re walking through a potential home and notice a lot of air fresheners, plug-ins, and potpourri, don’t assume the homeowner or home stager is a big fan of floral scents. Those moves could be an effort to mask issues like mold, water damage, or plumbing issues. In this way, scents could equal trouble and wind up siphoning away a lot of your hard-earned cash.

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Can you only smell fresh paint? That might have been done in part to cover up musty, mildewy smells. Poke around the basement as well as bathroom and kitchen fixtures. Look at the ceilings for hints of water seeping in, as mentioned above. Ask the real estate agent if the new color is covering up any old mold or possibly water-damaged walls or ceilings.

These issues will likely turn up on a home inspection, but you could save yourself the heartache of falling in love with a problem house by sniffing out trouble up front.

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5. Water Views

Next on the list of things to look for when buying a house: a water view.

Normally, water views are a good thing — picturesque and calming. But we’re in an era of “crazy weather,” and that tranquil bay or babbling creek could wind up swamping your home rather than providing a soothing view. That sweet pond could overflow after a major storm.

You have probably seen some of the recent frightening news reports of flooding in the Midwest and even Las Vegas. This may happen more often. According to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, rising sea levels are accelerating instances of flooding.

So before you feel as if you’ve got to have a home that’s near a body of water, do your due diligence. Check the home’s flood factor; rushing water in your home can destroy possessions, damage structural elements, and wind up costing a fortune.

Also ask the broker to help you get information going back a couple of decades on whether the home has flooded in the past. Find out if your lender would require flood insurance (which typically costs $700 a year but can go much higher) in addition to homeowners insurance before approving a loan.

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Becoming a Homeowner

Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or a home-buying pro, you’ll want to be careful and comprehensive when buying a house. Keeping your eye out for these potential problems can save you from falling in love with the wrong house.

When you do find the right house, it’ll be time to get the right mortgage. SoFi can help with that. We offer competitive rates on mortgages and offer options for qualifying first-time homebuyers with as little as 3% down.

Ready to find your dream home? Check out a mortgage with SoFi today!

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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