Let’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 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, this 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 4 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?
Did you know that new windows can set you back upwards of $10,000…..$15,000, or more? I know: GASP! 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)? Windows are costly and they’re 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, and even twice that if you want to have the stump removed.
3. Do you see any signs of pests?
Could you imagine buying a house and finding–ICK!–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. 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. Yikes! 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 pest control plan. We pay about $40 a month now and haven’t had any major problem with ants. But it was still an expense we hadn’t 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 or scooters; they might get hit by a car! 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 years later with rooms still donning the hideous wallpaper because there just isn’t enough time to get the house “done.”
It took a while for me to turn this old house around, but slowly I’ve been tackling each room as part of my 30-Day Room Makeover Challenge that I do as part of this blog every quarter. Here are some of the outdated rooms I have been able to complete, but there is still so much more to work on:
Our outdated laundry room, with old wallpaper and peel-and-stick vinyl flooring:
My Laundry – BEFORE
It took 30 days, but I was able to turn it around! (Read more about my laundry room makeover).
The same was true of my kids’ bathroom. It took nearly 4 years to finally get around to transforming this room, too!
Removing wallpaper was the worse part, along with the totally outdated green toilet. I did the whole room myself!
My Kids’ Bathroom – BEFORE
Completing makeovers like these, though, take time, especially if the whole house is outdated. Just remember this rule of thumb: each room will take about 30 days to transform, if you focus on one room at a time. How many months will it take for you to totally transform your new home, in that case? Factor in more time depending on budget, children, etc. How much time are you willing to do it?
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, depending on its cause. This is from experience! When we came to look at our house, it had a rank odor. It was horrible. I thought we would just air the home out. And although the smell dissipated after moving in, our house still has a slightly “old” smell, probably emanating from the basement. It’s slightly stronger in the spring and summer.
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 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 one our our neighbors much, we aren’t on good terms with her, either. The neighborhood agrees she’s crazy. Her backyard is a nature’s preserve: she feeds the vultures…..including the 800 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 utilities 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!
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