the home search: tour must haves
Despite all the advances in modern technology such as virtual tours, nothing beats seeing the house with your own eyes. Here’s a list of items to make note of as your visit open houses or tour listings and questions to ask the listing agent:
Overall Condition of the Home/Building
It is easy to get swept up in new kitchens and glamorous bathrooms, but buyers need to be able to see beyond that. Pay attention to the condition of the floors, carpets, countertops, paint, exterior concrete, doors — pretty much everything that doesn’t appear brand new. Has anything been recently replaced?
The average lifespan of a single family home roof is 20 years, so by asking when the last roof repair was done or when the home was built can give you a clue into the timeline you have to repair the roof (which can be a minimum $10,000).
Past Insurance Claims
Have there been past insurance claims by the owners (or condo owners) and for what purposes? If the home is located near water, be sure to ask if flood insurance is required, as this will affect buyer financing.
Few agents and buyers have insights into the health of their sewer and septic systems. Find out how old the sump and ejector pumps are, if they’ve ever had backups or issues, and consider having a plumber come out to take a look as sewer and septics are not always part of a standard home inspection done during closing.
Depending on the age of the home, the electrical system may pose a risk. A good test is to look at the fuse box. Old fuses generally have circular knobs, different than today’s boxes with toggle switches. If the home or electrical system is old, it may be worth the money to have an electrician do a review, if the seller complies.
Are the appliances dated and nearing the end of their useful life? Water heaters and kitchen appliances generally have useful lives of ten years.
Look for water spots on the ceilings and along walls. Also, pay keen attention in basements to new carpet or new flooring. Is this due to recent water damage or a leak? Are appliances and boxes in the basement propped up on cement or bricks?
If it’s cold outside, run your hand along the windows to ensure they’re properly sealed and airtight.
Condo HOA Management
If you are planning to buy a condo, be sure to ask how much the association has in reserves and confirm the HOA monthly dues. If the dues are paid monthly but the reserve balance is low, ask if there have been any recent large expenses. If not, it may mean the association isn’t regularly collecting or is mismanaging their HOA, a red flag that could cost you lots of out-of-pocket expenses.
For those buying in multi-unit buildings, what percentage of the unit has renters, and what is the capacity to rent in the bylaws? In many instances, banks will be reticent to lend money to a borrower purchasing a building where more than 25–50% of the units are rented (renters don’t treat their units and the building as nicely as owners). If you are planning on using the property one day as a rental property, be sure you can. For example, if the bylaws state that no more than 25% of the units can be rented out and 25% are currently rented out, you may not have the opportunity to do so in the future.