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Helpful Hints for House Hunters

Sure, you want the right-sized house, with a certain number of bedrooms, and you probably know what other amenities and conveniences are important to you and your family. Schools are important, too.

Couple with Toy House

But here are a few things to consider that you might not have thought about:

Be comfortable with your Realtor and lender.

These professionals will help you find and finance your new home, providing guidance and advice along the way. If you are not happy with your agent, find someone else who will provide you with the appropriate level of service. Remember that the Realtor's fee is negotiable.

Check the outside of the house to see where downspouts and storm drainage are located.

Make sure stormwater runs away from the house.

Look carefully at the condition of the house.

Once the purchase goes through, will you be able to afford repairs that will be necessary - plus have enough left over for an emergency fund should something unexpected arise?

  • What type of material was used for the exterior siding? When was it installed? What condition is it in now? For each of the different materials that can be used for exterior siding (like vinyl, wood, and brick), there are different maintenance needs (including cleaning, painting, or mortar repointing depending on the material). Make sure that whichever kind of siding exists on the home you want to buy was properly installed and has been properly maintained.
  • What type of material was used for the roofing? Most asphalt shingles last about 20 years. Wood shakes don't last much longer than that. Clay tile roofs are very expensive to replace, so beware if a clay tile roof is beginning to spall, crack up or otherwise deteriorate.
  • What about the windows? Do they open and close (and seal) properly? Older, single-pane windows may need to be replaced with ENERGY STAR qualified windows. Also check for condensation and feel for leaks. Look for visible cracks or signs of deterioration. Take a look from the outside as well. Patches of rotting wood may indicate that the entire window frame needs to be replaced.
  • Beware of bubbles in the paint or raised bumps on the wall. This is a sign of water damage. Be sure to look at the ceilings for indications of water damage. Windows with visible condensation are also a bad sign.
  • Is there any moisture build-up or excessive dampness in the basement? Beware, especially if it smells moldy.
  • Check the bathrooms for water leaks and poor maintenance. If something is rotted through because the homeowner didn't bother to re-caulk the tub, you risk structural damage underneath the tub. Plus, if the homeowner won't take care of $3 maintenance, he's probably not taking care of larger maintenance issues.
  • Is the attic well-insulated? How about the walls? The crawl space?
  • Don't be afraid of ugly carpeting (example: bright orange shag). Pull up the corner to see if there might be beautiful hardwood floors underneath.

Consider the heating, cooling, and hot water equipment.

Generally speaking, the older it is, the less efficient it is. And the bigger the house, the more it costs to heat and cool.

  • How old is the heating and cooling equipment? Will it need to be replaced? What are the utility bills compared to other homes in the area?
  • How old is the water heater? Most models are expected to last 10-15 years.

Be sure to look at more than just the carpet and fixtures.

For example, an 80+ gallon water tank might seem good because you'd always have hot water. But you will be paying to constantly heat that water.

In other words, look carefully at the condition of the house.

Once the purchase goes through, will you be able to repair or replace the materials and equipment that need it that first year? The next year? Will you have enough left over for an emergency fund should something unexpected arise? Can you afford the winter and summer energy bills?

If you're buying a fixer-upper, or if you are otherwise expecting to make some home repairs, check the Energy Efficient Rehab Advisor to find out how economical it is when you upgrade with energy efficiency in mind. If you buy new windows, doors, refrigerators, freezers, furnaces, air conditioners, TVs, or almost any other major appliance or consumer electronics, choose ENERGY STAR.

Content updated on 2/27/2008

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