While you’re attending open houses and appointments to look at potential homes to buy, there are certain protocols you’re expected to follow.
There are also certain ways to get around such protocols so you can truly educate yourself about the details of the property.
Sure, you should follow basic standards of politeness when touring someone else’s home — taking off your shoes, keeping everything clean and orderly and not sifting through personal belongings. But you may want to push the boundaries a little if you’re serious about a potential purchase and wish to take a closer look at its assets and possible flaws.
“When you’re house hunting, don’t think of poking around in someone else’s home as nosiness,” advises Jamie Wiebe on HouseLogic.com. “It’s a smart, must-do investigation.”
The average U.S. home shopper takes seven different home tours before making a selection, conducting online research before talking with a real estate agent to make a final decision.
Consider the following (slightly snoopy) suggestions while house hunting:
- Camp out in the bathroom. Turn on the faucets, run the shower and flush the toilet a few times to check for water quality, clarity and pressure. Listen for any unusual noises associated with the plumbing. Is the height of the shower head adequate, and is the shower enclosure solid and roomy? Is the tub big enough for your needs? Do the fixtures look easy to clean, or are they unnecessarily fussy? Do you smell any hint of mold or dampness? Are floors sound, or could water damage be a possibility? Is lighting sufficient? What about ventilation?
- Peruse both the basement and the attic. Such spaces can hold a lot of unpleasant surprises; as such you’d be wise to bring a strong flashlight so you can examine all nooks and crannies for water issues, rot, mold, critters, structural issues, unusable windows, ventilation problems, etc. If the owner's belongings are blocking your view, ask that they be moved so you can get a good look during a second viewing.
- Scout out storage space. Obviously, rummaging through the owner’s belongings is inappropriate. Nevertheless, you need a clear picture of the full amount of space the home offers for storing all your possessions. It’s OK to open closets, doors and built-in cupboards so you can check for cleanliness and soundness and imagine where you’ll put all your stuff if you buy the place.
- Check out the neighbors. The friendliness (or lack thereof) of your neighbors can have a huge effect on your quality of life after moving into a new neighborhood. And the only way to find out if you’re facing the neighbors from hell may be to knock on their doors and converse with them. Explain you’re thinking of buying the house nearby and need info about the neighborhood, then watch for their verbal and nonverbal responses to get clues about what it might be like to live there. Try to talk to several different families. You might identify deal-breakers — or you might be completely charmed.
- Conduct research online. Start by Googling the address and the names of the owners to identify any red flags such as lawsuits or disputes with the city. You may also wish to pull the permits for any additions done on the house to make sure they were lawful. Planning further work on the home? Check with city zoning laws and check the property’s certificate of occupancy and easement history to ensure your plans don’t conflict. Finally, you might read reviews of the neighborhood on the real estate websites available online. Current residents tend to give their opinions on such sites, providing a good overview of pros and cons you may not have considered.
- Prepare a list of questions. Be your own investigator by taking time to write out everything you’d like to know about a given property, from the habits of its previous owners to the possibility of ghosts. If the Realtor can’t answer those questions, find someone who can. You may turn up some red flags, or may find your worries were unfounded and you can proceed full speed ahead.
Are you still unsure about your decision? Tour the home with an eagle eye a second and third time, if that’s what it takes to feel certain about your decision.
“After touring homes for a few days, you will probably instinctively know which one or two homes you would like to buy,” notes Elizabeth Weintraub on TheBalance.com. “Ask to see them again. You will see them with different eyes and notice elements that were overlooked the first go-around.”