Finding a Suitable and Affordable Home
If you want to be entirely satisfied with your new home, ask yourself the following
- Is the house suitably located for schools, churches, shopping facilities, transportation
and your place of work?
- Is the neighborhood well-maintained and are the other houses similar in type and price
range to the one you wish to buy?
- Are emergency facilities close by, such as police, fire, hospitals, etc?
- Is the house located so that you won't be bothered by noise and danger from highways
and other streets with heavy traffic?
- Does the area have local zoning laws or deed restrictions which will protect the neighborhood?
In addition to the general location and neighborhood, you should make sure you are going
to be satisfied with the size and shape of your lot, and with the existing or proposed
lawn, shrubbery, walks, driveway, garage. etc. If any additional work on the lot is to
be done, make sure that the purchase agreement lists all such improvements which the builder
or seller will make as part of the purchase price, if any. If you want to add rooms, have
play space for the children, a pool, garden or other exterior amenity, make sure that sufficient
space is available.
Is the land properly graded to prevent standing water and soil saturation while maintaining
convenient access to the lot area? If it is an existing house, take careful notice of the
slope of the ground around the house. If possible, it should slope away from the home so
that water will be carried away from the foundation. If possible, check the lot after a
heavy rain to see whether it drains properly.
If you are building a house on land you are purchasing separately or already own, consider
how far away the utilities are and the cost of hookup. If service from a public or community
water and sewage system is not available, find out if the ground water and subsoil conditions
are satisfactory for an individual well and sewage disposal system.
The criteria you use to determine the quality of the home you wish to buy depends on
a number of factors: age, location, type of home, the reputation of the builder, how well
the home has been maintained, etc.
In general, there are a couple important guidelines to follow when purchasing a home:
- If you're buying an older, "pre-owned" home, have a reputable and experienced
home inspection service company conduct a thorough inspection of the property prior to
purchasing. In most cases, it is the buyer's responsibility to pay for and obtain this
inspection, but it is well worth the expense, even if you're familiar with other homes
in the area. Securing a satisfactory report from a private home inspection firm should
be a contingency of yours (as the Buyer) in the purchase agreement of the house. Beware
of any seller or real estate agent who tries to pressure you into purchasing the home without
- If you're purchasing a new home, particularly a "tract home" in a subdivision
of similar homes, investigate the builder. Contact the Better Business Bureau and Consumer
Affairs offices in your region to see if there are complaints on file regarding the builder.
You can also search the Internet for information about builders, particularly the larger,
well-known firms. In particular, you should be looking not only for negative information,
but positive commentary as well. If you're purchasing a home in a "Phase" other
than the first (such as Phase 2, 3 or 4) in a particular subdivision, consider talking
to several residents in the already completed sections regarding their overall satisfaction
with the quality of construction and service of the builder. Document any problem issues,
particularly those that owners may have in common. For example, if two out of every four
new homeowners claims to have had electrical problems, be sure to find out what type of
problems and how well the builder responded to correcting the situation. Don't be afraid
to present findings of problems to the builder, and do so in advance. Let the on-site supervisor
know about your concerns and ask what, if anything has been done to ensure that you won't
experience the same problems. Remember, too, that you can employ the services of a home
inspection service company during construction of a new home to verify the quality of workmanship
and materials, although you will bear the cost for such an inspection.
- If you're having a home custom built to your specifications, be sure that the builder
you employ can provide references to other satisfied customers, and call those people to
confirm the quality and service of the builder. Oftentimes, a custom-build contractor merely
oversees and supervises the construction of homes and the subcontractors contracted to
perform various services. Don't be afraid to obtain references for subcontractors as well.
If you're buying a house with a FHA loan, a FHA-approved appraiser will appraise the
property to establish its reasonable value, which is an estimate of the current market
value. Both you and your loan broker will be notified of the reasonable value. If you are
building a home or buying a newly completed home with FHA financing, HUD/FHA will usually
inspect the property during construction.
But remember that the Federal Housing Authority cannot guarantee you that the house
is properly constructed in all respects, nor can it guarantee that you will be satisfied
with the house in every way. The responsibility of the FHA is limited under the law. FHA
is guaranteeing your loan, but it cannot guarantee your house.
As you look over the house, your primary job is to make sure that the house meets the
needs of your family. This printable checklist
can assist you in looking over the main features of a house that you're considering. The
following pointers are also provided to help you to know what to look for:
You should examine the floors carefully to see that they are level and without serious
surface defects. If it is a wood floor, take careful note to see that the joints are tight
and that it has been properly sanded and finished. Small knots in the flooring do not necessarily
mean that it is of poor quality, but they should be tight knots to be acceptable.
Wood flooring comes in a number of types. The two major types are square blocks (known
as "parquet flooring"), and flooring that is in strips of various lengths (known
as "strip flooring"). A good way to determine if the floor is well laid and tight
is to walk over it slowly to make sure that there are no places where there is noticeable
depression under foot. If so, that part of the floor should be corrected.
Some new houses today may have concrete floors covered with asphalt tile or wood flooring.
When asphalt tile is used, you should be able to tell whether the flooring is well-laid
and tight. It is important that the joints be smooth.
Kitchen floors may be either linoleum or asphalt tile, and the bathroom floors will
usually be either linoleum, asphalt tile, or ceramic tile. You should inspect these floors
to see that the material has been well-laid. In some rare cases, bathrooms may be carpeted.
Make sure the condition of the carpeting in a bathroom is the same, and not worse than
any other area. Moisture, mold or mildew can adversely affect carpeting when used in bathrooms.
The asphalt tile or linoleum should be properly fitted around the corners and fixtures.
If there are cracked or chipped pieces, you should require that these be corrected, because
water may get down in these places and work its way under the material and loosen it.
Open and close all exterior doors a few times to see that they fit well. Large gaps
can cause drafts in outside-facing doors, although some clearance around the door is necessary.
Look at the finish of all exterior doors to make sure that they're painted or varnished
so as to be protected against moisture. While examining these doors, also look at the threshold,
which is the separate piece installed under the door and fastened to the floor. This threshold
or bottom piece should be well-fitted to the bottom weather stripping to keep out wind
and moisture. Check the existing locks for proper operation and adequate security.
Inspect all of the interior doors also. Make sure they all close and latch properly
and are not warped out of shape. Be sure that locks on doors to children's rooms are keyed
on the outside, and not lockable only from the inside of the door which could represent
a safety hazard in case of fire or emergency.
Ceilings and Walls
Inspect the walls and inner ceilings for cracking or staining which could indicate a
leaky roof. Regardless of the wall material (brick, plaster or drywall), the walls should
be smooth and even both vertically and horizontally.
If you're buying an old home, keep in mind that most of the paint used in structures
built in 1950 or earlier contained significant amounts of lead. Lead-based paint has been
determined to be a health hazard to children who might eat chips from the paint. Before
you decide to buy any older house which has cracking, peeling, scaling or loose paint,
you should know if the house has been repainted with non-lead-based paint. If not, insist
that the paint is removed and replaced or that an adjustment is made in the purchase price
to offset the cost for replacement.
You should also know that asbestos was used in wall materials in some homes built between
1945 and 1978. You should determine if asbestos-based products are in your home before
purchasing, and what, if any, remedial construction is necessary to replace this material
if replacement is necessary.
Utility & Electrical Outlets
While looking at the walls, take time to note the utility outlets, their locations,
and if there are enough of them to meet your needs. Make sure that the cabling is actually
in place behind blank face plates for utilities. Light switches should be placed so they're
reachable when you open the doors. Make sure you have sufficient power circuits to run
whatever appliances or equipment your family intends to use. Remember that many older houses
were not originally wired to accommodate electricity, cable television or telephones in
every room, as is common today.
Tip! If your home is just being built, consider whether
you would like to have a computer network in your home. For example, many families can
save money by sharing an Internet connection between computers rather than having multiple
ISP accounts. If you'd like to have your home "network wired", talk to the builder
(or builder's electrical subcontractor) about installing network cabling (CAT-5) at the
same time other wiring is being installed. In most cases, the added cost is very reasonable
and the feature can be considered an upgrade. The same principle can be applied to other
wiring needs, such as a whole-house audio system.
Be sure there are enough windows to give proper light and ventilation. Try opening and
closing all windows to see that they operate properly and that they close tightly to keep
out the weather.
Security bars on windows should always have a working quick-release mechanism accessible
from the inside of the house in case of fire or emergency. You should seriously consider
removing or replacing security bars which are permanently bolted to the window frame.
If you find the windows in a new house do not close tightly, ask the builder to correct
them before you move in. If you find the windows painted shut, be sure to have the builder
free them because if you try to do so you might damage the window or chip the paint, and
you may have to pay the replacement cost.
Does your contract provide for screens? If not, keep in mind that you may wish to add
them later. The same applies to storm windows and storm doors.
Bathrooms should be conveniently located. Inspect the bathrooms to see that fixtures
are installed and are functionally well-placed.
Examine the location of the wall switch for the light in the bathroom. Be sure that
this switch is located so that you cannot reach it while standing in the bathtub. If you
can reach the switch easily from the tub, require the builder to move it, because you or
your children can get a severe or even fatal shock by standing in a tub of water and turning
on a switch.
The lower part of some bathroom walls may be covered with ceramic tile, plastic tile,
or some other waterproof material to protect the wall against splashing. Inspect the tile
and bathtub for proper installation and look for signs of chipping which may lead to an
expensive repair job later.
Check on the number, size and location of closets. Do they meet the needs of your family?
Make sure there is sufficient room for storage and that there is no evidence of mold or
mildew in the walls or flooring.
When you buy your home, certain equipment for the kitchen and laundry may be included
in the purchase price. Be sure that any appliances and fixtures included in the sale price
of the home are written into the purchase agreement. Examine the equipment to make sure
that you have received the the agreed upon make, model and capacity of included appliances
or their price-equivalent substitutions. For example, do not accept a second-rate range
or refrigerator when you were offered a top-of-the-line model. Your sales contract should
specify the type and size of kitchen and laundry equipment to be included in the purchase
price. The same goes for the water heater, heating unit, and air conditioning unit if you're
buying a new house.
Heating & Air Conditioning
The main concern for heating and air conditioning equipment is that the particular units
have the proper capacity for comfort and yet remain economical to operate.
Besides testing the units themselves during your inspection of the home, it's best to
consult with a professional heating and air conditioning supplier or service professional
to determine if the units installed are sufficient in capacity to perform well. This holds
true for both new and old homes. Also remember that in areas with hard water, water heaters
need to be flushed and/or decalcified periodically. Find out from the previous owner if
proper maintenance has been performed on the water heater.
Tip! If you're buying a pre-owned home, consider purchasing
additional insurance which covers the repair cost and/or replacement of high-dollar items
such as air conditioners, water heaters, major appliances, etc. Most insurers offering
basic homeowner's policies have some form of extended coverage. These plans usually carry
a nominal additional cost, but have very reasonable deductibles. Cover the most important
and expensive items, including your electrical and plumbing systems. If you're purchasing
a newer home, be sure you verify any warrantees on existing equipment before committing
If insulation is specified, check on the insulation in the attic and also see that you
have open louvers (ventilators) in the attic. A louver is a slatted opening with screen
wire on the inside that provides circulation of air, summer and winter. It is very important
that these attic vents or louvers be left open throughout the year. Occasionally, homeowners
cover up the vent opening to conserve heat or keep out wind-driven rain or snow. Openings
should never be left closed up for more than a very brief time, such as during a severe
storm period. Closing up this ventilation area can produce excessive condensation, and
the resulting moisture may cause rapid deterioration of parts of the roof, walls, or ceiling.
There are a number of types of insulation which are satisfactory. Foil, fill, slab,
or board types of insulation installed between, over, or under framing members will be
effective when properly used. If you have a flat roof, the method of installation will
be different from that for sloped roofs. The important consideration is proper use of the
particular type specified.
In basement-less houses with crawl spaces, foundation vent openings are for the same
purpose of providing air circulation. It is important also that these foundation vents
be left open the year round except for very brief periods of severe storm. Where a heavy,
treated ground-cover paper or roofing has been laid over the entire surface in the crawl
space, the need for foundation ventilation is reduced. However, in all cases some ventilation
is important, not only to prevent excessive condensation and deterioration of floor construction
but also to maintain safety. A tightly enclosed crawl space where gas-fired heating systems
and/or sewer pipes are located without proper ventilation could cause accumulation of explosive
gas pockets and represent a substantial danger to your family.
Check to make sure the home has ample storage space. In houses with no basement, storage
may be found in attic space, utility rooms or the garage. Be sure that the garage is large
enough to park vehicles and that the garage door is in workable condition.
Check the condition of the roofing material. If you're purchasing a pre-owned home,
find out if and when the roof was last replaced. Inspect the inside ceilings for discolored
staining which could be an indication of a leaking roof. A good home inspection service
person will usually carefully examine the condition of the roof as part of a complete inspection.
Additional Notes About "Old" Houses
If you buy an "old" home, you should be absolutely sure the house is in sound
condition. If you find some defects in an old house which the seller agrees to correct,
be sure to get a written agreement specifying what the seller will do before you obligate
yourself to buy.
The time and expense of getting expert advice is well worthwhile - you don't want to
buy a house with termites, a leaky roof, a poor foundation, poor lot drainage, a faulty
sewage disposal system, an inadequate water supply system, or defective floors, walls,
or ceilings, without knowing exactly what you're getting into. Extensive repairs to correct
such defects may be very expensive.
If you have any doubts about the condition of the house you are buying, it's in your
best interest to seek expert advice before you legally commit yourself in a purchase agreement,
particularly with a previously occupied home. Most sellers and their real estate agents
are willing to permit you, at your expense, to arrange for an inspection by a qualified
residential inspection service. Also, most sellers and agents are willing to negotiate
with you concerning what repairs, if any, are to be included in the purchase agreement.
Steps of this kind can prevent many problems, disagreements and disappointments later.
As always, feel free to call or email me with any questions
you may have.