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What to Look for When Buying a House—A Checklist

May 08, 2019 · 4 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What to Look for When Buying a House—A Checklist

If you’re looking for a new home, you likely have a list of non-negotiable requirements like location, number of bedrooms, and whether or not you’ll need a garage. You probably also have an even longer list of extras you hope you’ll be able to score, like wood flooring, an open layout, and perhaps a pool.

When you’re out looking at properties, however, it can be easy to overlook some major issues that could come back to haunt you later, or that can render the house ineligible for the financing you are pre-approved for due to the home having health or safety issues that cannot be cured before loan closing.

With that in mind, we’re providing some tips on “what to look for when buying a house” (or “what to look for when buying an old house”) checklist.


Although you may never see your house from above and shingles are certainly not as exciting as a great layout, your roof is what you depend on to keep protected from sun, rain, and snow. Roof damage can quickly turn your dreams of homeownership into a nightmare.

Check for obviously cracked or missing shingles, and, since the roof is hard to see from the ground, you may want to 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 checking gutters and drainage to make sure that water and snow won’t cause roof damage after you move in.


Did you button up your coat while walking through the open house? Don’t assume that the home is cold because it isn’t occupied—a cold or warm house can indicate problems with heating and cooling systems.

Heaters and air conditioners are expensive to replace and can really screw up your homeowner plans. Take time to peek in utility closets and ask the realtor when the heating and cooling were last replaced to avoid unexpected temperature surprises and repair costs.


Another cause of a cold house could be an insulation problem. Even if the house you’re touring seems perfectly temperate, you should still ask about insulation. Insulation technology has changed a lot over time, and buying a home with outdated insulation might mean that you’re not able to sufficiently control your home’s interior temperature.

Poor insulation is not only bad for your wallet, but also bad for the environment, as you will need to use more energy to heat and cool your place. If you’re concerned about insulation issues, hire a professional to do an energy-use audit and determine how energy efficient the home actually is.


Although the realtor might claim that they just baked cookies to make the house feel like a home, the truth is that that delicious sugary chocolate smell could be covering up something more sinister.

Take a serious sniff in each room to check for things like mold, water damage, or plumbing issues. Musty, sour, or stinky smells can be a sign of a major problem. Can you only smell fresh paint? Ask the realtor if the new color is covering up any old mold or possible water damaged walls or ceilings.

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Structural Problems

There’s no denying the character and charm of older homes, but you’ll want to know what to look for when buying one. First and foremost, keep an eye out for structural problems. Although all houses settle over time, which can lead to small cracks and minor tilting, anything more significant is cause for concern.

Look in the corners of rooms for tilting walls or big cracks and test the levelness of the floor by dropping a marble or tennis ball and see if it rolls to one side. Uneven floors and other major structural issues are hard to repair and may continue to deteriorate over time. In addition, these types of structural issues can render the home ineligible for certain types of financing. Lenders do not generally close loans on homes that have health or safety issues outstanding.

DIY Fixes

Touring a house with a recently re-tiled kitchen? Take a close look to see if it seems professionally done. DIY jobs, while fun for the owners, can indicate that other, bigger repairs were not done by a licensed professional. Why is that a cause for concern?

While a DIY tiled floor may last just fine, the same might not be true for DIY electrical work or unpermitted additions not completed in a workmanlike manner. The realtor should be able to tell you a history of the house, including whether major upgrades or repairs were done by the owners themselves or by a professional. Permitting information can also be found on the county website.

Nearby Water

Although a babbling brook in your new backyard might be pretty, it could cause major problems down the line. In fact, any groundwater could be a cause for concern, whether it is a big puddle in the yard or a small pond.

All it takes is one major rainfall or a springtime snow-melt to turn your water feature into a flood. Floods, even minor ones, can cause serious structural damage and create health and safety issues like toxic mold.

Staying on Top of the Process

Whether you’re a first time home buyer 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. It may also be a good idea to hire a home and roof inspector so that you can know from a professional standpoint what kind of condition the home you want to purchase is in.

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

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