When looking at homes to buy, it's easy to get caught up in beautifully-designed listings, well-curated staging, and the excitement that comes with touring homes for sale. It's important, though, to think of a home purchase as a business transaction and ask plenty of tough questions. Armed with information on the home's market value, possible repairs, flood and earthquake risks and more will help you make an educated purchase.
What is the Home Worth?
Your agent can't tell you directly how much you should offer for a home. She can, however, obtain recent comparable sales, or comps, to help you determine the approximate value of the home. Your agent also can tell you how long the home has been on the market and whether any other offers have been made on the property. This will help you understand the home's value and attractiveness to other buyers and whether the seller might be flexible on price.
Will it Need Repairs?
While real estate agents are not home builders, they are generally knowledgeable about a home's potential need for repairs. Ask your agent whether she spots any possible problems with a home's foundation, roof, windows, appliances and general construction. You'll have a formal inspection if the seller accepts your offer, but having some idea of the home's condition as you're looking will help inform your purchase. Some states also require the seller to provide a disclosure stating the home's condition; ask your agent if this is available.
Is it at Risk for Flood or Earthquake?
If a home is in an area vulnerable to flood or earthquake, it may require additional insurance that will raise the cost of living. In some cases, disaster insurance will be required by your lending institution; other times, the insurance is optional. It's also possible that the cost of insurance will be so high compared to the risk of damage that you're better off looking for a different property. Your agent can help you find an insurance provider with whom you can discuss these risks.
You may want to ask your agent other questions about property taxes, public schools nearby and whether any other costs are associated with the home such as association dues. It's also important to determine whether unpaid fees or debt have caused any liens to be put on the property; if a lien does exist, it may affect your lender's willingness to give you a loan for the purchase. Ultimately, you should ask your real estate agent, loan officer, home inspector and closing agent lots of questions; if any question is out of their areas of expertise, they'll refer you to someone who can answer it.
Megan Hill is a Seattle-based writer with more than 10 years of experience. She has served as a writer and editor for websites and nonprofit organizations, as well as a reporter for magazines such as "Seattle Met," "Seattle Magazine" and "Edible Seattle."