Buying a house is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. Like deciding on a college major, a career, or a life partner, it’s all about making the right choice to set yourself up for success—and the best way to do that is by asking a lot of questions.
While the questions you ask often depend on the specifics of the house you’re looking at (and your wants and needs), there are questions that are consistently vital to ask during the process.
Some questions you need to ask yourself before you even get started looking for a home. Other questions you will ask the realtor, the seller, and the home inspector as you move through your home-buying journey.
Here, we’ll cover the essential questions to ask when buying a house and what else to consider while putting together your home buying checklist.
Questions to Ask Before You Start Looking for a House
Before you begin the long, exciting process of buying your new home, start by asking yourself some basic questions to understand what you want out of your new home. If you go in blind, you’ll find yourself looking at far too many homes, many of which you can’t see yourself living in.
Use the following questions to approach the market with a firm idea of what you’re looking for.
What’s My Budget?
You may feel antsy to find your next home, but it’s important to determine your budget before you start looking. Getting preapproved for a loan will set you up for success, as you’ll know what you can afford.
And even then, within that range, you should know what you’re personally willing to spend.
Having a fixed budget will narrow down your search quickly, so you don’t waste time looking at houses you can’t afford. Think about the amount you’re willing to spend each month and if you only want to make the minimum mortgage payments.
We all want that five-million-dollar mansion with the pool and the home cinema, but maybe it’s not realistic right now. (If it is, lucky you!)
How Much of a Down Payment Do I Need?
You’ll also want to figure out how much of a down payment you need and have that money tucked away within your financial considerations. You don’t want to find your dream house, make an offer, and discover that the closing costs are thousands more than is in your savings account. If it’s within your capability, try to over-budget for this, just in case. Closing costs can rack up.
Where Am I Willing to Compromise?
Making a list of wants vs needs will help you narrow down which houses to look at and which to ultimately buy, but it requires being honest with yourself.
There are many luxuries you may think you need, but having an idea of what you’ll compromise on is invaluable. Your heart might tell you that a second-floor balcony is essential to your happiness, but is that the truth or are you willing to give it up?
On the other hand, if you have things you consider necessities, don’t rush the house viewing process and let them slip away. As long as you’re reasonable with your list, you’ll find the right house for you. It’s okay to make an ensuite bathroom in the main bedroom non-negotiable, though perhaps unrealistic to want a home gym in a two-bedroom townhouse.
Is There a Specific Area I Want to Live?
Narrowing down your search to a specific area early in the process can help save a lot of time. You may have narrowed it down to one town or city, but you may even have a couple of neighborhoods you’re interested in—or some you’re sure you don’t want.
Let your realtor know your preferences early on to avoid touring places you’d never settle down.
Questions to Ask Your Realtor
Once you’ve answered your personal questions, you’re officially in the market to buy a house, and it’s time to find a good real estate agent.
While choosing your realtor, you should never feel guilty about being picky or asking questions to land on one you trust. Having a good relationship with an experienced and knowledgeable realtor will be a key factor in creating a great home buying experience. It’s their job to know the market and get you the house you want—within your budget.
How Long Have You Been a Realtor?
Is it possible that a new realtor is great at what they do? Yes. Could they be on their way to being the best realtor in your area? Maybe! Working with them will help them gain more experience, but if you want to play it safe, finding an experienced realtor is the way to go. They will have experience with pricing and negotiating contracts and may have a better understanding of what’s worth the effort or where to walk away.
They’ll also better understand the market in your area, provided they’ve worked in the neighborhoods you’re interested in. When they answer, ask them to be specific about their experience—has it always been in this town, or have they recently come from somewhere else where the market might be very different?
What Is Your Average List-to-Sales Price Ratio?
Recently, many homes have sold above their asking price—as much as 51% in 2021. This is far from the norm, as it was a much lower 26% the year before.
Research market conditions in your area, and ask your realtor how they’re matching up to it. It’ll give you a sense of how well they can negotiate.
For example, suppose a realtor consistently gets their clients’ houses under the asking price. In that case, it’s likely a good sign for their negotiation skills and willingness to go to bat for their clients.
Do You Have Referrals?
Asking for client referrals is a great strategy when hiring any service, and it’s no different for a realtor. If they’re unwilling to provide names of people you can contact, it suggests they have no recent clients in the area—or worse, a trail of unhappy people who feel like they didn’t get the best deal.
A good, experienced realtor will gladly give you testimonials or people you can contact to talk about their home-buying journey with the realtor in question.
What’s Your Availability?
You likely have more responsibilities than just buying a home. Whether it’s children, work, school, or something else entirely, you’ll want to ensure you hire a realtor that will be available to accompany you to viewings at times that are convenient for you. If you don’t, it could take months to find a home. Houses can move fast, and you can’t afford to wait around.
Am I Being Realistic?
This is quite possibly the most important question you can ask your real estate agent. You’ll want to pay careful attention to what they say because it will help you understand what you can count on them for. You want your realtor to help steer you in the right direction, so trusting them to help you make realistic decisions is crucial.
Present your budget, wants, and needs to the realtor and ask the all-important question: am I being realistic? Can I reasonably find the house I desire within the monetary constraints I’ve set for myself in this market? They know the market best, so be willing to take their answer.
Questions to Ask Before Making an Offer
You’ve found a home you love. It’s within your financial reach, has all your “musts,” and maybe a few dream features too. It’s easy to get excited at this point (especially in a fast-moving market) and jump right into making an offer. However, there are still some important questions to ask before buying a house yet.
How’s the Neighborhood?
Before making an offer on a house, you should research its neighborhood. If you already knew exactly where you wanted to live, you may have completed this step already, but if not, it’s time to verify that you’ll be happy in the exact location.
Consider what you want in a neighborhood. If you have children, the school it’s zoned for could be a dealbreaker. Or perhaps you need decent sidewalks for your morning jogs or to walk your fur baby.
You can search for information like safety statistics online, but the only way to get a good feel for the area is to experience it yourself. Walk around. Check it out during the day and then again at night. Ensure you feel good about it and have no reservations.
You might even get a chance to talk to the neighbors if you see people outside in their yard. Say hello and ask questions. It’s the best way to get honest opinions about the neighborhood and your potential new home.
What Are the Disaster Risks?
With 15 million U.S. homes at risk of flooding, you’ll want to check if your new house is one of them. There’s more to consider than the potential damage—many home insurance policies won’t cover flooding, and you’ll have to purchase a separate policy, raising your monthly costs.
You should also check the potential for other natural disasters. Some states are more prone to tornadoes and hurricanes than others, and if you have a lot of old trees surrounding your house, this is even more important to know. The last thing you want is a brand new house with a tree limb through the roof.
How Old Is the Roof?
If the roof is old, you’ll have to anticipate replacing it shortly. Roofs have different lifespans depending on what they’re made of, but having a sturdy one in place isn’t something you can opt out of if the time comes for a replacement. If the roof is relatively new, you should also ask about the warranty. How long does it last? Is it transferable?
How Old Is the Plumbing?
Would there be anything worse than settling into your new home, flushing the toilet, and hearing the telltale gurgle of water backing up into the finished basement’s shower? Probably not. This is why, even if you can’t see any issues with the plumbing, this is one of the most important questions to ask before buying a house.
If the plumbing is old, there’s a much higher risk of things going wrong. Tree roots may have grown through the sewer line, or there may be cracks in the pipe that could cause other issues. A home inspection can’t usually see into the ground to tell if there are any problems with the pipes, so asking questions about them could save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
While an old plumbing system isn’t necessarily detrimental, it is wise to ensure you have money put away after the purchase in case you need emergency repairs. Functional plumbing is not exactly optional in the twenty-first century.
This is one of those first-time home buyer questions that can fly under the radar, but once you’ve experienced plumbing issues in your home, you’ll never forget to ask again.
How New Are the Appliances?
Many homes come with appliances, especially in the kitchen. Knowing how new they are can help you understand if you’ll need to replace them shortly or how long they’ll remain reliable.
Fortunately, you can look at appliances when you tour homes. Most will have a sticker with their model number, serial number, and potentially a manufacturing date. After you’ve looked at a few houses, you’ll also get a sense of what newer appliances look like. If all else fails, ask your real estate agent to find out for you.
Does the Neighborhood Have an HOA?
Homeowners Associations are usually mandatory, and you’ll want to know if you’re moving into a house with HOA rules attached. If you’re buying a home listed by a realtor, you can usually find this information on the listing itself.
Even though a select few HOAs are opt-in, you may not be popular if you choose not to join and then paint your house neon yellow in a mostly beige neighborhood. If you want the freedom to do whatever you want with your house and yard, it’s better to pick a neighborhood without an HOA. However, some people appreciate the structure, support, and benefits of being part of an HOA. It just depends on your personality and what that particular HOA offers.
How Many Days Has the House Been on the Market?
In healthy markets, good houses are snatched up quickly. If the house has been on the market for a long time with no offers, it’s an indicator that something is wrong or it’s significantly overpriced for what it is. If it’s been more than a couple of weeks, ask questions. If it’s been more than a couple of months, proceed with extreme caution and make sure you understand exactly why the house is still available.
Remember that you may want to sell this home one day yourself, and if the current owner has trouble selling, you will want to know why. You can adjust for undesirable pricing or items that are failing a home inspection, but you won’t be able to move the home if the location itself is undesirable.
What’s the Reason for Selling?
“Why are you selling?” is one of the most important questions to ask the seller. It may feel like one of the more invasive questions to ask when buying a new house, but the seller should be expecting it. Just be aware that the answer you get may not be entirely honest, so get your realtor’s opinion on this one too.
You want to hear that the seller got a new job, is moving closer to family, or has different needs now—not that their next-door neighbor throws loud parties every weeknight and has slowly crushed their will to live or that the feral raccoon problem in the backyard has just become too much.
Does the House Have a History?
This one is rare, thankfully, but it’s worth considering. While you may not believe in ghosts, a house’s reputation for a past violent crime can directly impact its resale value due to it being on the market for a long time.
Although it’s a valuable question to ask when looking at a house, the seller may not know the whole story, so the internet is your best friend here. You’ll be amazed at what a search engine can turn up just by typing in the address.
Some states mandate that sellers have to disclose if a house has a reputation for being haunted (though some do not). People who are superstitious or do not want trauma attached to their home may decide not to go ahead with a purchase.
Questions to Ask Before Closing
You’ve done it—you’ve made an offer. You’re likely feeling excited and maybe even a little scared, especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer. Before you pop open that bottle of champagne to celebrate, there are a few final questions to ask before you seal the deal.
What Are the Results of the Home Inspection?
A home inspection is part of the traditional selling process and involves having a third-party home inspector evaluate the home and report any issues they find. Even if you’re in a fortunate position where you can buy a house for cash, you should still hire a home inspector. If there are problems with the house, a good home inspector should sniff them out.
After the home inspection, you can either choose to take on the house, not make the offer you were considering, or negotiate any necessary repairs discovered. If you’re unsure about any part of the inspection or how much work something might take, do your research before continuing.
Am I Satisfied With the Negotiations?
If the home inspection did turn up any issues or repairs, are you satisfied with the conclusion you and the seller have come to? You might be able to negotiate closing costs in return or have the seller deal with repairs before you close. Your realtor will also be able to advise you on what’s reasonable to expect here.
If you’re not happy with the solution, you can still back out of the process. Just make sure you decide within the inspection contingency time frame because if you wait too long, you might lose some money.
What Will It Cost Me to Own This Home?
Because you prepared a budget before looking for a home, you’re aware of how buying a home will impact your finances. It’s a good idea to take some time here to understand exactly what you’ll owe at closing and what you’ll pay each month if you’re getting a mortgage.
Consider the cost of your home insurance, estimated utilities, and how much you will need to save for home maintenance costs. There are many expenses associated with buying a home, and they can quickly add up if you’re unprepared.
What Do I Need to Bring to the Closing?
Lastly, make sure you know what you need to bring to the closing appointment. You’ll likely have to provide proof of funds and home insurance, though your mortgage advisor will be able to give you a detailed list. Delaying or forgetting any of these things could stall the process. Since you’re likely impatient to have the keys in hand, preparing in advance is key.
Prepare to Ask the Right Questions When Buying a House
While we have armed you with the essential questions to ask when buying a home, it’s not a complete list. Depending on your situation, you’ll likely have many unique questions. Take some time to come up with your own and add them to this list.
You should also know that it’s acceptable to refer to your ‘questions to ask when buying a house’ checklist when talking to a realtor or seller. The most important part of this process is making sure you get the house you want. People in this business prefer someone who comes prepared to someone who doesn’t ask any questions at the start and isn’t sure what they want.
Buying a house can be exhilarating, but only if you do your due diligence throughout the process and ask the important questions. If you do, you’ll attend the closing meeting ready to purchase your new home with confidence.