Real estate has changed so much since the pandemic. Before COVID-19, viewing a property in person and attending open houses were the norm. Today, more and more buyers tour homes virtually through videos, photos, 3D tours, and virtual reality. While virtual tours can be helpful and give you an idea of the quality of the home, it is still a good idea to check them out in person.
Videos and photos don’t always tell the whole story. Seeing a home with your own two eyes and physically being in the space could be crucial when finding the right place for yourself and your family.
When viewing and touring a home, there are things you need to check for. If you overlook or skip over certain things, you may miss the telltale signs of a home full of problems or issues.
Key Things to Check and Look For When Viewing a Home
It can be a huge mistake to go on a home tour without knowing what to look for. The last thing you want is to buy a home with several issues you could have caught if you had been a little more thorough. You need to inspect and look for things to identify whether a house is a good idea to purchase.
Watch for Visible Damage or Areas that Need Repair
One of the first things you need to do is to check for any visible damage. This could be holes in the walls, scuffs on the flooring, water damage on the ceilings, cracks in windows or walls, rotting wood, or anything else.
Also, just because you can’t see the damage doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It’d be a good idea to get a professional home inspection done before buying to ensure the property is checked out in detail.
Make Sure You Test Everything
Another thing you need to do when touring a home is to check for malfunctions. This could be a malfunctioning light switch, a faucet with a leak or weak pressure, an outlet that doesn’t work, a problematic air conditioner, or other things. While you may think a broken light switch is an easy fix, it could save you money if you can negotiate the price or get the seller to repair things you notice before closing.
Note the Condition of the Floors, Roof, and Walls
Indeed, the look of the home is critical, but the structure is likely more important. You need to do your best to inspect the floors, roof, walls, and foundation to ensure everything feels sturdy and in good shape.
Your agent has likely viewed hundreds or even thousands of homes and should have a good sense of when an aspect of the home’s foundation or structure is subpar. Make sure to examine the exterior and note any issues with the roof and foundation.
Look Closely at the Systems and Appliances
The HVAC system is one of the most expensive components of a home. While most HVAC systems have a 10-year lifespan, a well-maintained HVAC system could last up to 25 years. It’d be crucial to check with the seller to see when the HVAC units were last installed and maintained so you know whether you’d need to get a new system in after closing.
Leaky water heaters are always an issue. Make sure you check out the boiler room during the home tour. It’s generally a good idea to find out how old the boiler is so that you can budget accordingly should you need to buy a new boiler.
While not everything comes with the home, built-in appliances and anything permanently affixed almost always do. Therefore, you should pay close attention to the condition of the appliances, including the oven, stove, fridge, dishwasher, laundry machine, and dryer. In particular, you want to note their age, how efficient they are, how much noise they make, and whether they work. Appliances are not cheap, and you certainly don’t want to have to replace appliances soon after moving in.
Observe the Storage Space
Be sure to note how much storage space is in the home. Look at the size of the closets, how many rooms there are, and how the cabinets are arranged. It’s always good to have more storage space just in case. After all, you don’t want to move in somewhere that doesn’t have enough room for all of your things.
Tips for Viewing a Home
In addition to checking certain things, you should also remember some general tips when you go on a home tour.
Use All of Your Senses
When viewing a home, it is a good idea to use more than just your sight. It would help if you used your sense of smell to ensure there are no scents like mold, mildew, cigarettes, bleach, or anything else that is worrisome.
Be sure also to use your ears during a viewing. You should pay attention to the noise level in and around the property and the neighborhood. Take some time to walk outside the property to gauge how loud traffic (or your potential future neighbor) is, and be aware of noises like drips, scratching, banging, scraping, or other sounds.
Have Your Agent Present
While this is a given to some people, having your real estate agent with you is always a good idea when you’re on a home tour. Not only will they be able to answer your questions, but they often know much more than you about homes in general and can help you see the benefits and drawbacks of each property.
Take Your Time
When viewing a home, many people feel pressured to do it quickly to not waste your agent’s time or keep people out of their home for long. However, you should take as much time as you need to learn all you want about a home. While you don’t want to sit there for hours, it will likely take more than a quick 10-minute walkthrough to know whether a house is right for you or not, so don’t be afraid to take your time.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
As they’re viewing a home, there are things that many people will think about and look closely at when they really shouldn’t. These include wallpaper and paint colors, furniture and decor, smaller hardware and fixtures, and many others. These things can easily be changed or fixed (or, in the case of furniture, won’t even be there), so it is often not worth focusing too much on these during a viewing.
Be Respectful of the Space
During your viewing, it is essential to remember that this is likely still someone’s home, and so you should treat the space with respect. It is good practice to remove your shoes before going inside and ensure not to leave a mess or trash around. Anything that is moved should be put back, and be careful not to damage the floors.
Questions to Ask the Seller or Seller’s Agent
While knowing what to look for during a house tour is important, it isn’t the only thing you should be doing. You should also talk to the seller’s agent and even the seller if they’re present. Online listings will feature a ton of information on the property, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions.
Asking the right questions can give you a better idea of the quality and history of the home and ensure you have all the information needed to make a decision. Below is a list of questions you can ask the seller or seller’s broker.
1. What’s included in the sale?
Don’t assume that everything you see in a home will be included in the sale. You should ask the seller what you can expect to get when you buy the home. Things like furniture and decor will almost always go, but there are times when sellers may take larger pieces such as sheds, appliances, and window coverings with them. So, be sure to ask what is all included in the price of the home.
2. How is the neighborhood?
While your agent might have an idea about the reputation of a particular area and you may have visited it a few times, it’s a good idea to ask someone who has actually lived there. Consider asking the seller how safe the area is, how loud it is, the quality of the school district, etc.
3. How old are the systems and appliances?
All homes are full of essential systems like plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems that all work behind the scenes to keep the home functional. It would help if you asked them about the age of these systems and how long it has been since they were updated.
If these systems are old, you may have to begin worrying about fixing them up or replacing them quicker than you would have liked. Also, if the current owner hasn’t updated its electrical in decades, it could be dangerous and not up to code anymore.
The same goes for appliances, as older appliances will require maintenance or replacement quicker than new ones in most cases. Be sure to ask about the property age, too, if it’s not included in the listing.
4. Are there any problems or easements relating to the property?
One of the best questions to ask is to simply inquire about potential problems with the house. While the owner isn’t required to reveal information about the home, many will do so if you ask (as it will likely get caught in the inspection anyways). Listen and make a note of the condition of the home, and judge whether these problems are acceptable for you or not.
The owner may be required to disclose this information if the home has things like lead paint, water damage, or asbestos. However, this depends on the exact disclosures required in your state.
5. Has the seller done any renovations?
It is also a good idea to ask the owner about any renovations they have made throughout the home. You can get a better sense of the overall state of the property and how long certain things can last before you need to make repairs or renovations. You should also find out if the upgrades were done by professionals or on their own. DIY renovations aren’t always bad but can be poorly done at times.
More importantly, if a renovation was carried out and there were material changes to the property’s structure, you’d want to ensure that the current homeowner followed the code and secured permits for the job. It’s possible that the seller completed the remodeling without permits. If that’s the case, there’s a chance your homeowner’s insurance won’t cover it, which will be a huge risk for you.
6. Why is the seller moving?
While the seller may not always want to answer this, asking why someone is moving is a good call. In some cases, knowing the reason could help you land a better deal (such as if the seller is motivated). If you find that they are moving due to the unsafe neighborhood, the road noise, or lousy neighbors, it can help make your decision easier.
House Tour Checklist
Are you looking to buy soon? Use the checklist below as a quick reference for your next viewing.