10 Questions You MUST Ask Before You Buy a Home!

10 Questions to Ask Before Buying a HouseLet’s take a step back from decorating and thrift stores for a second….and let’s talk HOME BUYING. The reason I’m bringing this up is for 2 reasons. First, I got into a conversation yesterday with a friend who’s about to start the arduous process of HOUSE HUNTING. I started spewing off bits of advice to her, based on my own experience in buying this house. And then I realized, “HEY! Other people should know this, too!” Thus, the blog post :)

The second reason is because when you buy a house without asking yourself the right questions, you sometimes end up making costly mistakes. And isn’t the whole point of Thrift Diving to save money?? Definitely!

It’s been 2 years since we moved into this 4-BR single family house, and if I could have done it all over again, these items below are the questions I wish someone would have told me to ask before jumping in with 2 feet. Here, I’m sharing these tips with you in hopes of helping other people make better decisions about home buying!

So, for any of you that are home-shopping, or know someone that is buying a home, make sure you ask these 10 questions before you buy a home:


1. Will the windows need to be replaced? 

How often do you walk into a house and inspect the windows? Windows are boring. If anything, we swoon over the shape of them, the position of them, the scenery outside of them, but rarely do we consider the condition of the windows. But, have you ever had to deal with poor windows? Windows that don’t stay shut? Windows that are so drafty you’ve got to apply ugly plastic over them to keep the cold out? Old windows that have peeling, chipped paint (which may even have lead in them if the house was built before 1973)? And have you ever had windows replaced?? Okay–STICKER SHOCK–but expect to way upwards of $14,000 to replace all the windows in a 4-BR house. (Okay, go pick your chin up off the floor–I shocked you, didn’t I?). It’s one of the most costly home repairs and upgrades that you’ll ever pay for.

When we moved into this house, the last thing I was paying attention to was the windows. I was thinking about how pretty the house would look with my favorite colors of paint…and how much space we’d have. The last thing I needed to know was if the windows were drafty. We soon found out. And they all needed to be replaced. All 22 of them. Yes, 22. This is not the kind of expense you want to pay when you move into a house. Spend $14,000 on something worth while, like–a car–perhaps?? lol. Get a house with solid windows that will keep keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.


2. What’s the position and quality of the trees around this house?

In a bad storm, can those trees fall on your new house? Do any of them look rotted? Do any of them need to be cut down? Do those trees block the sunrise? What about the sunset? When we bought this house, it was winter of 2010. There were no leaves on the trees. Who even notices bare trees in the winter? We sure didn’t. But let me tell you–when those leaves came….and not only did they block out any sunlight, making our house feel like a dungeon, they are also close enough to the house that we’re nervous when high-winded storms hit the area. In fact, every time that we have a storm with high winds, everyone sleeps downstairs in the living room. Why run of risk of a tree falling on your house? Be cognizant of where those trees are in relation to the house you want to buy. Consider the fact that if you want to remove a tree, the cost is usually anywhere from $400 – $800, depending on if you remove the stump, too.


3. Do you see any signs of pests?

Could you imagine buying a house and finding–GASP!–roaches?? Thank God we didn’t have this problem! But you need to be vigilant about pests when you’re looking for a place. Look for mouse turds. They could be old, but they could be new. Ask the sellers for more information about it. Look inside cabinets, and moist places where pests like to hide. Heck–pull the refrigerator or stove out, and make sure there’s nothing there! Thankfully, we didn’t see roaches, but we did find centipedes after moving in. And OH MY GOSH, we were slammed with an infestation of ANTS; I even blogged and put up pictures of all the ants!! We had them in nearly every room of the house, and I was having nightmares about them! Thankfully, as the season went on, I was able to get rid of them. But the following year, I had to spring for a Terminix Pest Control plan. Although it’s only $100 a quarter, that’s STILL an extra expense I had never planned on.


4.  Are there sidewalks in the neighborhood?

Maybe you were too excited about the awesome house, but somehow, you didn’t even realize that there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood. Oh–yeah, this happened to US! Because of this, our kids can’t just go outside and ride bikes and tricycles; they might get hit by a car! Stupid us, right? If you’ve got kids, or nieces and nephews that come to visit, get a house with some sidewalks. Even if you have no children, for your own safety when walking or jogging, buy a home in a neighborhood where there are sidewalks! I find that older homes and neighborhoods tend to have no sidewalks.


5. Is the house too out-dated?

No house is going to be perfectly upgraded, especially if it’s a steal in price. But maybe you’re mesmerized by the beauty of the bay window, or the lovely wood floors, or how nice the house could be after you’ve gotten your DIY hands on it. Sometimes a home’s potential is its selling feature, along with the price and the promise of its beauty. But you must take a hard look at how outdated the house really is. How much will it cost to upgrade your new home? How much time will be involved if you attempt some DIY projects yourself? Are you being realistic regarding what you can accomplish, in time and budget? If you have kids, consider if you’ll have enough time away from the kids to get these projects done. Otherwise, you may end up like us, 2 years later, with rooms still donning the hideous wallpaper because there just isn’t enough time to get the house “done.”


6. Does the house have any weird odors?

What do you smell when you walk into the house? If you smell funk, RUN! Run far away. Because, seriously, if the house is funky, it’s either a) mold/mildew (read: water problems), b) dirty people, or c) cooking smells that may take a long time to go away. Don’t just think that you can “air a home out” after settlement.  When you walk into a house you’d like to buy, it should smell….well….like NOTHING. There shouldn’t be any odors that try to make the house smell “good.” You should smell very little. Homes that leave an odor means that you will be dealing with the odor when you move in, or it may be covering up other smells you don’t even realize are there until you move in. Sometimes this can be a costly problem to clear up, depend on its cause. This is from experience! When we came to look at our house, it had a rank odor. To this day, I still can’t even describe what it was–fried fish, maybe?? But it was horrible. I thought we would just air the home out. And although the smell dissipated after moving in, it was a long time before the musty smell that was present, which was hadn’t detected previously, improved.


7. Does the ground slope AWAY from the house?

Does the house sit at the top or bottom of a hill? Where does the water flow around the house? Grading is probably one of the few things people check when they go house-hunting. Don’t make this mistake! Grading that is poor and allows rain and water to sit at the home’s foundation is a recipe for flooding and water damage. Grading isn’t cheap to fix. Expect to pay upwards of $2,500 to have a professional landscaper or grading professional to regrade the entire perimeter of your home. We regraded our entire perimeter this past summer 2012, because of water seeping into the basement, and yep–that’s what we paid–$2,290.  OUCH. But we couldn’t take the threat of flooding anymore, and it needed to be fixed immediately!


8. What do the cars in the neighborhood look like?

Okay, we’re boarding on something probably unethical, but it’s true. Take a look around you. If you see broken-down cars, expect to find a broken-down neighborhood.The cars don’t have to be BMWs and Audis. But look for late model cars that look well-cared for. The quality of the cars, more so than the brand, that people drive in the neighborhood, really can tell you about the quality of a neighborhood.


9. What are the neighbors like?

Imagine the horror of moving in to a house and you end up hating your neighbors. YIKES! Go up and knock on the doors of the nearby neighbors and tell them you’re planning to make an offer on the house next door or across the street. See what they say. Are they nice? Are they gossiping about the other neighbors that are moving out? Do they seem SANE?? What does their yard look like? We should have done this, but we didn’t. And although we don’t see our neighbor much, we aren’t on good terms with her, either. Come to learn, many people in the nearby houses things she’s pretty wacked out. Her backyard is a nature’s preserve: she feeds the vultures…..including the 8 million neighborhood stray cats that poop in our yard….and she feeds the wild deer apples in her front yard, which make it a bit hazardous driving through the neighborhood at night, for fear of slamming into one of the million of deer you’ll see. My advice is to choose your neighbors wisely!


10. How much are the utilities for that house?

Granted, your usage will be different, depending on your family size and usage. But calling ahead to the utility companies (and even identifying WHICH utiilities you will need to pay–gas or electric? both?) will give you a great starting point to use when creating your budget, to make sure you can afford the property and all the things that go into moving into a new or larger home. There are tons of expenses you don’t even realize up front that you’ll need to pay when you move into a new house, but if you can nail down the utilities, you’re one step closer to making a wise decision.
NOTE: Some of these things your inspector will look for and note, but that’s AFTER you’ve already put an offer on a house. Why get to that point? Why not note these things beforehand so you’re not wasting money on an inspection for a house that you may end up not buying anyhow? Be wise. Look for the right things, from the beginning :).

So do you have any other questions that you think are most important to ask before buying a home? Please leave a comment to let everyone know what else they need to know before buying a house! :)

10 questions to ask yourself

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About the Author ()

Hey there, I'm Serena, a 37-year-old working mom of 3 young boys who can't get enough DIY! If you actually made it to the bottom of this post to read this, it means you're really enjoy my blog. That means SO much. If I can inspire just one person through my passion and energy for DIY, then I'm fulfilling my life's purpose. Thanks for joining me, and I hope you'll subscribe so we can keep in touch! ~Serena

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  1. anna says:

    Drive through the neighborhood after dark. Some neighborhoods change … loud music, teenagers hanging out, etc. Also remember that those pretty trees and bushes in the yard will get BIGGER.

  2. Serena says:

    Oh my! I can tell you about teens hanging out! Where my mother-in-law lives, at one time, there would be at least 10 teenagers just hanging out in the townhouse complex, until all hours of the night! It was crazy!! Thankfully, those teens have all grown up, but that is a perfect example of how you just can’t tell a neighborhood from one part of the day. You MUST go at night, AND on the weekends! Great point, Anna!

  3. Good tips! I agree with driving buy at night. If at all possible, talk to the neighbours. That will offer insite from someone who won’t profit from the sale.

    • Serena says:

      In fact, let’s make it a rule: talk to at LEAST 3 neighbors before you buy a house in the neighborhood! LOL. Two of them must live on either side of you, and one much be across the street. :)

  4. Wonderful tips! I think most people just see a house, and do not take other things into consideration! Right now, we have 3 empty houses ours. It always makes me nervous when I see people coming to look at the houses! I worry what kind of neighbors we will be getting….

    • Serena says:

      I can tell you, that was ME, Liberty! We were also hard-pressed to find a house because our condo had just sold and we were living with my mother-in-law. When you’re rushed, that also creates more room for error!
      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Ashley says:

    I know when I bought my home, one of my major questions was what is the neighborhood like at night. There were times when I knew I had to walk the dogs by myself at night. A neighborhood can look nice during the day, but it is always important to check it out at night too.

  6. Great tips! I have one to add if you’re moving into a different city/area… before you put in your contract do a ‘dry run’ of your morning and evening commute. I knew moving out into the country that my commute was going to be bad, but I guessed it at about an hour and 15 minutes. It’s actually closer to 2 hours most days (each way). We LOVE our house and I wouldn’t change it, but I will NOT be doing this commute for years on end!

    • Serena says:

      That is such a great tip, Joules! I know you’re in Maryland, too, and traffic here is awful. I work at Walter Reed in Bethesda, and from my house it’s only 11 miles, I believe. But it takes upwards of 1 hour to get to work some days! I totally agree–TRIAL RUN before you even get so deep into a contract!!!!

  7. Sonya says:

    These are great tips! Most of them I probably would not have thought of on my own.

  8. Kelly R says:

    These are really good tips. I will pass them on.. Thank you

  9. Tracy G says:

    Serena thanks again for all of the tips! I sure wouldn’t have looked for a lot of these things but I will now! You always have great advice!

  10. Kathy says:

    Ask if there is ever water in the basement. Look for signs of mold, water damage, fresh paint. We bought a home about 12 years ago – asked if it got water (finished basement). Home owner said no. We did a final walk thru with realtor 24 hours before closing. Water puddles everywhere in basement!! Mold growing up the walls. Discovered that when they painted the storage room – they painted around the stuff on the shelves. Wasn’t even the same color paint. So the walls that didn’t get painted, and had been previously hidden by their stuff also had mold. Fortunately THEIR realtor stepped up and got things done. Our own realtor dropped the ball – just wanted to make the sale and get her commission. Their realtor had them move $11,000 into an escrow fund to be used for waterproofing and repairs within 6 months if the basement did get water. The owners tried saying the basement shower must’ve had a leak. Their realtor ripped the shower apart and had plumbers come and replace things – all the same day. Next day was closing and it was pouring buckets. Their realtor said he’d meet us at the house. There was a river flowing thru the basement!! But since they lied they had to pay the $11,00 to get things fixed and waterproofed. Was a horrible experience, that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

    After our experience, all the realtors in our town made their clients sign some kind of disclosure form. If they had been honest upfront and we were dumb enough to buy anyway, we’d be liable. Since they lied – they paid.

    • Serena says:

      Kathy, the water in the basement is critical! We knew there was water that came through our basement door in the house we bought, but we had no clue that he came into the actual living area. We thought it was just the basement door stairwell area (we have one of those “Wizard of Oz” type doors). We soon found out that the water was coming into much more than we realized, and to get the basement door fixed, it as a good $2,000 to have it replaced. UGH! So yes, ask tons of questions!!!! Thanks for your tip!

  11. Kathy says:

    It was quite a nightmare. We wanted to back out of buying, and then our realtor, informed us we had to be out of our house within a couple days. (At some point during the counter/counter offer process she had neglected to tell us she took out the clause that said the sale was contingent on us finding a house of our choice. So we were screwed!) Never used HER again.

    Then the waterproofing company sent an inexperienced crew. The 1 1/2 day job took 5. All while my hubby was out of town. They jackhammered about 8 hours a day – while the girls and I were home. (I cried alot.) They jackhammered thru the linoleum covered floors, had ripped off the glued on baseboards, tearing drywall, knocked down a huge section of finished ceiling – yet no one knew how it happened. When my hubby finally got home Friday night and they were still there and it looked like a bomb had gone off, he had a few words for them. Within minutes there were gone. We went down to survey the damage and it was UGLY!! Our beautiful finished basement was just trashed. Plus they left every window open – with rain in the forecast. Oh, and the best part – after it rained, we still had little rivers flowing thru the basement the next morning.

    NEVER wanna go there again!! What a nightmare!! So do your homework, people!!

    • Serena says:

      That sounds like a LAWSUIT! Please tell me you sued something? That is horrible!!! When did this happen? And what’s the condition of the basement/water problem now? The even worse problem is that whenever you go to sell that house, you’ll have to disclose all that stuff to the next person! What a way to sock it to you TWICE–once when buying the home and again when SELLING! UGh….Sorry you had to go through that!

  12. Kathy says:

    The first thing we did was grab the video camera and get all of the damage, the open windows, the mop handle sticking thru an open window, etc. Then of course the water the next morning. We called the company rep first thing in the morning and he was heading to an air show with his family. My husband told him he needed to get to our house ASAP. We were planning to make the tape public. And sue. We did eventually share a copy with the president of the company. The rep did come right away, watched the video, surveyed the damage and promised to make things right. They came back to redo everything and they also paid for us to hire someone of our own choosing to repair/replace everything damaged. We ended up with a nice basement again, and no water after that. BUT,…we never should have had to deal with all of that in the first place. Let’s just say I cried alot that summer. That was about 12 years and 2 houses ago.

    Also, the sellers’ realtor was great. (Unlike our realtor who we never heard from again once she got her commission check). He stopped by often to check on things. In the end, there were some bills that came in late, after things were settled with the waterproofing company, and the realtor paid for them out of pocket. We ended up using him when we sold that house, bought the next and then sold it 8-9 years later.

  13. Kathy says:

    Funny thing is, we left that home after 2 years due to career change for hubby. But we just moved to a neighboring town. Anyway, we looked at alot of houses, and always asked about water in the basement. And then the realtors would tell us about this disclosure that the sellers had to sign – and then go into this “story” about a couple who bought a house that had major water problems, etc. We’d just say, “Ya, that was US.” So maybe our summer of hell made things better for future home buyers in the area.

  14. Sheryl says:

    Don’t just drive by the house at night–drive by during the day as well. I did a lot of my househunting after 5pm and on weekends, but if you know your house will be empty between 8a-5pm, you want to know what’s going on. Is the neighbor’s house a mecca for school-skipping teenagers? Are they any stay-at-home parents or telecommuters around or is the neighbor deserted? Is there a scuzzy guy with a big, um….”water pipe”…who sits on his porch all day “receiving guests” who “buy medicine” from him (yeah, 4 houses down from me, until the house was foreclosed on.)

    Also hang around at different times of the day and different days (if you can.) My house is on a pretty quiet street with sidewalks, but there is a U-Haul rental place 6 blocks away. Somehow, my street is a thoroughfare for people who just rented a truck and want to drive down a residential street way too fast.

  15. We bought our house in 2008. It was in move-in condition but problems came out one after the other; basement is so cold, some molds showed up the first winter we had and other gross things that are showing up… If we can only turn back the clock we could have been more careful in our decision specially after reading your post :) :)

  16. Leah says:

    we just put an offer on a short sale, that while dated and has some repairs and updating that need to be done, its in a neighbourhood that is well outside our price range and with updating will be a fantastic home. its in a cul de sac, so no sidewalks though :)

    I totally agree with the neighbours thing – very important!

    I think the biggest mistake people do when they are looking is they are so excited about the place they don’t think about what its going to be like when they really live there, not their dream version of living there. when we bought our condo i didn’t realize how small the kitchen was because of the open floor plan. the short sale we are buying has a kitchen that seems small because of the c shape but it has tons of storage, and room to expand, so that made a big difference to me.

    • olsonc says:

      Leah– Just curious how long your short sale took? We are signing one tonight and i’m IN LOVE with the house… .thank you

      • Leah says:

        Hey there, we submitted our offer in early March, the seller accepted and then it took until May 31 to close, which is relatively short for a short sale- we sold our condo in the meantime and moved in w my parents for 2 months because we did a month of work before we even moved in.
        The one really good thing was the sellers realtor was on top of everything- she had done 6 months of legwork prior to it going on the market and was all over the bank as well. Short sales can be worth it but they are also very trying. Good luck to you!

        • olsonc says:

          AWESOME!!! We’ll we’re up one already, before we even signed the sellers agreed to the amt we offered. :) :) :) so now we’re hoping that the bank will be similar.Thank you!

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  19. Trevor says:

    when looking for a new home make sure you have a home inspection done that includes having a plumber come in and send a sewer camera through your sewer pipes to make sure there are not any major breaks in the line.

  20. kate steeper says:

    he he ..my dear old dad was a builder and renovator , he always said just look at whats new , if your moving out you only renovate to hide something

  21. Johnny says:

    I’d second the neighbors thing… In fact, meet all of the neighbors! The last thing you want is some super annoying person constantly ringing your doorbell or spying on you. Also, meet the people in charge of the home owners association. If you don’t get along with them, they could make your life a living nightmare. If I accidentally already purchased a house in a neighborhood, I’d rent it.

  22. These are so good, Serena! We just moved from NM to OH and fortunately had a friend that used to live here give us a heads up on things like slope/grading, length of driveway (for shoveling snow!), trees, etc. We’ve never had to deal with a basement or issues surrounding that so it was a huge help. Passing this article onto to a friend who’s about to start her house hunt!

    • Deme, that’s so good you had a friend give you a heads up before moving to your neighborhood! I wish someone would have given me a heads up on these things. You’re kind to send this to your friend! :) Thanks for commenting!!

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  25. Beth says:

    I agree with all these points except about the sidewalks. We purposely looked for a neighbor hood with no sidewalks because: Unsavory persons tend to congregrate and loiter/hang out on sidewalks in front of houses (and some do the drug deals); you have to shovel the sidewalk every time it snows (which was a liability for us as we travel in the winter) and it encourages people to park alongside the sidewalk, sometimes blocking the driveway and costing you car repairs because you had to drive over a high curb to get your vehicle out during an emergency (ugh). Also, we got a lot more solicitations with a sidewalk in front of our house! Say no to sidewalks in my opinion! And the neighbor thing — I wish WISH we had that advisewhen we bought our first home, our Realtor told us the neighbors in the trashy house next door were moving out so we bought our first house based on that — they never moved out!!! One was a felon who wore an ankle bracelet for probation/house arrest, and eventually he would shoot out our windows, throw trash all over our property and vehicles, steal our water to fill up his pool when we were away, and even shot at my husband during one of my husbands early morning jogs. With three kids and fearing for their safety, we couldn’t get out of that house fast enough, and we lost our entire life savings and had to cash out some retirement in order to afford to do so (yes, we lost enough money that is equivalent to buying a new BMW in CASH) :( It still hurts to think about it :( But we were all the wiser when buying our second home, and we couldn’t be happier in one of the nicest neighborhoods around!!!

    • OH MY GOD!! Beth!!! That’s freakin’ HORRIBLE!!! Wasn’t there some charges you could press against them? Then again, you were living next to the enemy so there was only so much you could do! Was this in H-town too? You can tell me off-line. I would be curious to know what neighborhood this was. And you make some valid points I never considered about sidewalks. So true! Oh, but we still get lots of solicitations. I don’t even answer the door when they come to the door anymore. Just because you’re in a Verizon shirt means NOTHING, pal… LOL. Anyhow, I’m so happy you’re in a safer place with good neighbors. It really makes a place feel “homey”!

  26. Liza says:

    Check the HVAC *thoroughly*. Don’t just turn it on, make sure it blows both hot and cold air and consider asking for a separate inspection. I bought my house in late spring and had a full home inspection. I moved in during the summer and all was well until the first cold snap in November. Turned on the heat and nothing but cool air came through the vents. Upon inspection by a reputable heating/cooling company, I learned that the heat exchangers were seriously damaged and the pilot light had been disabled to prevent carbon monoxide from entering the house. Only five months after buying my house, I was hit with a $10,000 bill to replace the HVAC. Ouch!

    I was limited in my search for a house because I needed property for my horses. I didn’t expect the level of deception I encountered from the sellers. I have a much longer checklist for the next time I buy a house and another list of things I’m determined to fix so I don’t pass the same issues on to the next buyer.

    • OMG, Liza!! I can’t imagine the horror of getting a bill like that!! You didn’t have a home warranty? Even if you did, your out of pocket costs would still have run about $2000 – $3000. And man, I feel like first houses are the “practice” house: the house you get when you know NOTHING about buying a house. The next homes are the ones where you’re able to make a clear-minded choice because you know so much more. Thanks for that tip about the HVAC! Sorry you had to go through that. Stuff like that just kills the joy of owning a home!!!

  27. fran says:

    These are all great points. Also, You should also go and just listen to the neighborhood both day and night to see if you can live with the noise. If it is close to bars, you might hear loud music late at night. Is there an automated car wash nearby? You might wake up to the sound of the blowers. Are there hospitals close by? You’ll hear sirens constantly. Are you in the flight path of the air port? One of my neighboring families is the type that likes to yell at each other constantly using the “f” word. Luckily they aren’t right next to me so I don’t hear them too often but they have run of at least 3 of their next door neighbors over the years. Some noises you’ll get used to and are worth it…I live on cobble stone streets and they can be noisy when the cars go down them but I love them anyway. I don’t even notice them any more.

    • Fran, those are great points! Heck–seems like you should just pull out a chair and park it on the corner and just wait a couple hours. HA! And wow, cobble stone? That sounds awesome!!!

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