courtesy of Realtor.com
Avoid regrets by knowing what questions to ask a REALTOR® or owner before you commit to a new home.
If you bought a house with no maintenance issues big or small, let us know. That would be one for the record books. In reality, most homeowners find a problem, quirk, shortcoming, whatever, within the first couple of months.
To actively ferret out your home’s trouble spots and head off headaches, know the right questions to ask before you buy. That doesn’t mean potential problems go away, but you’ll have eyes wide open and can adjust your budget accordingly.
And if you’ve already settled in, getting answers to these key questions will help you get to work putting the shine on your castle. Ask the previous owner, your agent, and your new neighbors for helpful answers.
Any Paranormal or Nefarious Activity?
Maybe for the sake of party conversation, you’re hoping the answer is yes. Regardless, ask.
Haunted houses fall into the category of what real estate pros call “stigmatized houses” — homes that have been the site of happenings like:
• Ghost sightings and other paranormal activity
• A murder or suicide
• A death due to an accident or unusual disease
• A meth lab
Again, real estate disclosures aren’t consistent. About half of all states have disclosure requirements for stigmatized houses, although most don’t include ghosts.
If the seller reveals the house to be stigmatized, you’ll have negotiating power. A stigmatized house generally sells for 10% to 25% below market value.
A meth lab carries the risk of residual toxic chemicals. If you suspect that kind of sordid history but it’s not being disclosed, you can check old news accounts or ask the local police for records of arrest.
You’ll want to ask the seller and your real estate agent directly if you’re concerned about ghosts and ghouls, and check your local real estate laws to get the local lowdown on disclosing paranormal activity.
What are Monthly Utility Costs?
You can’t get away from paying utilities, so know what your monthly budget is up against. Be sure to get an average cost — not the lowest monthly bill — and ask when peak months are.
While you’re at it, ask what kind of energy sources your house appliances use — gas, electric, propane, or a combination. That’ll help you understand where you might upgrade to energy-efficient appliances to save energy costs.
Remember that energy savings starts with the simplest of tasks, like sealing air leaks.
Has the Sewer Ever Backed Up?
As properties age and trees and other plants get bigger, roots find their way into sewer lines between a house and the street, causing clogs. It’s a mess for sure, and most homeowner insurance policies don’t cover damage from backed-up sewers.
Plan to have the sewer line cleared (about $150) every other year.
For $40 to $50 per year, you can add an endorsement to your insurance policy to cover damage from a backed-up sewer.
Is There Documentation on Warranties?
If the previous owners were conscientious enough to stash warranties and appliance manuals, be sure to get them.
If you get the paperwork, look for purchase dates on major appliances, so you’ll know how old they are and when they might decide to poop out. If you’re ready to upgrade, you can I.D. which appliances are least energy efficient and target those first.
Tip: Keep all warranty cards and product manuals yourself. If you decide to sell, those records show you care about your house and become a marketing asset.
How Much Insulation Is in the Attic?
After sealing air leaks and weatherstripping around doors and windows, adding insulation is one of the best ways to gain efficiency and keep your house cozy.
Knowing how much insulation you have lets you decide if an investment in more insulation is worth the cost. In colder regions, for example, a $1,500 attic insulation upgrade from R-11 to R-49 saves about $600 per year in energy costs, and you’ll see a payback in about three years.
The U.S. Department of Energy recommends adding more insulation if the thickness of your attic insulation is less than 11 inches (R-30).
Is the previous owner unsure? Peek in the attic. If the attic floor is insulated and you can see the tops of the ceiling joists, you should budget an insulation upgrade. If insulation was installed between the roof rafters — and you can see the edges of the rafters — you can beef up the insulation by covering over the rafters with rigid insulating foam board.
How Big is the Water Heater?
To avoid a family rebellion, make sure your water heater is big enough to cover the needs of your household.
Most water heaters have a life expectancy of about 13 years. A new high-efficiency water heater costs $900 to $2,000, depending on the size and model you choose.
When Was the Last Time the Septic Tank Was Pumped?
A typical septic system should be pumped every three to five years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Association. But the number of people in the house can affect that recommendation. We like this chart from septic installer Van Delden in San Antonio, showing about how often (years) you should pump based on capacity. A pumping costs $200 to $300.
Will My SUV Fit in the Garage?
It’s a fairly common doh! moment, says Sacramento, Calif., REALTOR® Elizabeth Weintraub. “Many garages are too low to accommodate the height of a big, newer vehicle.”
Cabinets and workbenches can shorten overall garage space, too, making length an issue.
With full-size SUVs and trucks nearing 20 feet in length and almost 7 feet tall when equipped with a roof rack, sizing up the garage space is a good idea before you buy.
Worst case: You buy without checking and come sailing happily home for the first time to discover — too late — your Chevy Suburban is too tall to fit in the garage.
Knowing everything you can about your home gives you a leg up on surprises, lets you budget smartly, and gives you royal satisfaction with your new castle.