What to Look For While House Hunting

If you’ve ever bought a house, you know that there are somethings you notice right off the bat.  Even myself, when I walk into a home there are things that jump out at me. It wasn’t always this way though, and when I first started house hunting over ten years ago, I looked at more surface level components of the house, rather than the things that would make a big difference in the future.

Over the past years of helping buyers identify the good and bad in their new homes, I’ve been able to identify the things that make a house great as well as the things that might become problems in the future.

Houses are more than just their “bones” or their location.  The house as a whole is an intricate system of many parts working together to create an environment that both protects us and keeps us comfortable.  So often the things people look at in a home come down to the cosmetic beauty, rather than the functionality. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t look at the beauty of a home, because I actually think the way a home makes you feel is really important.  But I also think that it shouldn’t be the sole deciding factor when it comes to puting in an offer on a home.

Often times we leave our choice in home up to things like the feeling it evokes.  Once we fall in love with a house, it can be hard to use reasoning or logic to change our minds.  But if we went into house hunting with this logical approach rather than a purely emotional approach, a lot of heartache could be avoided.

House hunting is such an exciting time, but can be completely overwhelming if you don’t go into it with some logical thinking.  As someone who gets to walk through and dig deep into a home, I know that there are things often missed during a walk through before an offer is put in.  In the same breathe, I think arming yourself with an idea of exactly what you’re looking for prior to making an offer is the key to making a good decision.

By the time I get out to a house and walk through it, the buyer has already fallen in love with the house and usually there is very little to turn back or change their mind.  So before you or someone you know goes house hunting, use the list below to know exactly what to pay attention to BEFORE you fall in love with the wrong house.

LOCATION & DIRECTION

The location of your house, for obvious reasons is at the top of this list.  But it’s more than just where on a map your potential home is. Are there business nearby that manufacture various products and materials?  Is the home near a landfill of some kind? These are all things you want to look at when it comes to the environment around your house.

Something else you might be interested in is the amount of time it takes you to get to places of importance like school, work or church.  If the drive is a long one, you’ll start to notice it after a while or when there is road construction or winter weather on the roads.

You’ll also want to pay attention to the direction the home faces.  If you live in a climate where it snows and there is ice during the winter, a driveway that faces north might mean the snow never really melts off until spring.  

If you live in a hot, southern state and the driveway is blacktop, but faces south, you might notice more wear and tear and near for replacement.   A home with a lot of windows on the south side will retain heat in the winter and be more efficient during the heating season. A home with few windows on the south side will stay cooler year-round.

Depending on where you live and what your climate is like, you’ll want to pay attention to which direction the majority of the home’s windows face in order to help you with your heating and cooling costs.

what to look for in a potential home's direction and location
photo credit: unsplash.com

SIGNS OF WATER DAMAGE

Knowing the signs of water damage can be incredibly helpful and can help you rule out a house when you’re seeing it for the first time.  It can be really heartbreaking to fall in love with a house only to find out it has water damage that will be a huge expense to repair.

Look for staining on drywall and ceilings, as this is a tell-tale sign that something has leaked.  It often looks like yellow-ish, brown rings, but it can also just be a different texture on the wall or ceiling if it has been painted over.  

If you push gently on the different texture of wall and it is soft, that tells us there may still be a leak somewhere within the wall that needs to be addressed.

You can also feel around the corners of carpet to make sure it’s dry and not damp at all.

Water damage often means there was or is a leak somewhere from plumbing or from the exterior.  Most leaks are repaired as soon as they are noticed, however if the drywall has not had a chance to dry out within 48 hours, the potential for mold growth within the panel increases.

Checking with the seller about any water damage you notice can be extremely helpful as they are required to disclose any known water leaks in the home. Finding out what kind of leak it was (from plumbing or exterior) and how the area was cleaned up is the best way to decide if it really is a large issue preventing you from buying the home.

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ELECTRICAL UPDATES

If the home you’re looking at is a recent build within the last thirty years or so, there likely has not been a lot of updating to the electrical system.  This is usually completely fine and as long as there hasn’t been a lot of DIY work around the electrical, you probably won’t have major issues with it.

If you’re looking at an older home, hopefully the electrical has been updated at some point.  If you’re walking through the home and seeing a lot of older style “two prong” outlets without the grounding plug, the home’s electrical may not have been completely updated.

If you see an electrical panel and it contains, fuses you can know right off the bat that there is probably a pretty hefty electrical update that needs to happen. This definitely doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, but if you’re looking to move right in, most of the time you’ll need to have electrical service that is at least 100 amps (Some older homes have only 60 amp service) and you’ll want to make sure your home has circuit breakers rather than fuse boxes.

NUMBER OF PREVIOUS OWNERS

The home that still has the original owner living there has generally speaking, been well-cared for.  While this doesn’t mean this happens in every single case, but as a general rule of thumb, those with fewer owners during their lifetime, the more cared for they are.

When more and more owners line the list of past occupants, there also tends to be a bit of noticeable DIY changes to the home as each person tried to make it their own. While this isn’t bad, sometimes it can mean changes were made unnecessarily, compromising the systems or structure at some point.

If you find a home that has the original owner, and they have a lot of pride in their home, you’ve hit the jackpot.  These are the best homes to find as they have someone living there who loves the home and cares for it in a great way.

This isn’t to say that a home who has had new owners every 3 years is a dud.  It just means to walk with caution and make sure you’re being diligent as your realtor shows you this home.  Keep an eye out for evidence of a homeowner who DIY’d the home to be their own.

what prior owners say about a house

MAINTENANCE INVOLVED

So often when someone falls in love with a home, they talk themselves out of the idea that maintenance will become annoying.  They look right past and it tell themselves that the house is worth it and they will just love taking care of it. All for the sake of a feeling they get from the house.

Once you move in and the newness wears off, it can get tiresome to keep up with a home that has a lot of wood and a lot of maintenance around it. I experienced this first hand with our family’s home.  We had no idea the amount of work wood windows and wood trim would be when we moved in. We quickly found out that it was absolutely necessary to stain and seal the wood windows every year. The first year we didn’t do it we noticed the windows became extremely worn and started getting damaged from condensation in the winter.

Once maintenance isn’t kept up with, you start to play defense with your home rather than offense.  Defense is fixing and repairing, while offense is just maintaining the home’s elements and preventing problems.

Really think about the amount of work you’re signing up for when you’re looking at  home with a wood exterior, wood finishes or wood trim. Make sure you’re ready to stain, seal and paint on a regular basis in order to keep the home protected against insects, elements and moisture.

If you’re ready for the challenge, I always tell my clients to check with the seller about what they do for maintenance currently.  This can be really valuable information and likely they’ll tell you what products they use and what types of finishes they’re using to seal wood products.  This way you won’t even miss a beat when you move in and you’re house won’t be affected too much by a new owner.

TYPE OF FINISHES

There are some finishes that are just a higher quality than others.  Looking at a home with this in mind can help you spot a real gem and avoid something that uses cheap finishes you’ll likely need to replace.

First look at the interior doors.  Doors that are hollow core are generally the cheaper, builder-grade option.  In contrast, a home with six-panel solid wood doors, shows that a homeowner really cared about the finishes inside its home.

Another area to look at is flooring.  Flooring that is high quality hardwood, tile or another natural material is going last longer and look better than some of the cheaper alternatives.  You can tell just by looking at it often times if it’s a more sturdy, high quality flooring. But definitely, by walking on the flooring you’ll be able to tell just by how it feels.

Other high quality items you can watch for are cabinets made of solid wood and trim that is solid wood rather than composite or fiberboard.

Obviously, you could change any of these elements of a home to be of higher quality at any time.  The problem becomes you’ll be spending a lot of your budget on finishes rather than on other systems within the home.

what to look for while house hunting
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DAMP BASEMENTS

When you walk down into the basement of the potential home, you might get an overwhelming scent of musty basement smell.  Many basements have some time of odor, but some have an overpowering odor of wetness or damp carpet. If a basement smells damp and musty, it usually is, even if it’s under carpet or behind walls.

Notice the smell as you walk down and pay attention to if it feels damp as well.  You can also be on the look out for a dehumidifier somewhere in the lowest level. This is a tell-tale sign that the basement gets damp often and the current homeowner uses the dehumidifier to reduce moisture inside.  

You can also look at areas of concrete, either on the floor or on the foundation wall itself.  If there is evidence of wetness, or it looks damp, it’s likely pulling moisture in from the exterior, which is why the home feels so damp in the basement. Sometimes a home may have a moisture barrier painted on the concrete walls in the basement, which helps the damp feeling, but it may be peeling or becoming worn.

The reason to watch for a damp basement, is because a basement that’s very damp can house mold or mildew and can also have a compromised foundation due to the high levels of moisture surrounding it.

It’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but it could mean more cost to you in the end if it’s the home you choose.  It may mean installing gutters or a drain tile system around the home and that can add up rather quickly.

what to look for in a basement while house hunting
photo courtesy of unsplash.com

If and when you or someone you know will be out and about house hunting, make sure you’re armed with these items to watch for.  A home isn’t all about just how you feel when you see it or the fact that you love the look of it. A home is also an investment for you and your family and by choosing the right home, you’ll be guaranteeing your investment doesn’t become a money pit.

This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. The basement is something I’ve never had to worry about always living on the gulf coast. But, the direction the house faces is something we’ve always considered. We make sure the bedrooms aren’t on the south side so they aren’t as hot in the evening.

    1. Such an important thing to keep in mind in Southern states!!

  2. These are such great tips. We just bought a house that was new construction and we got to choose the location. These tips still would come in handy for things.

  3. Oh yes we have fallen in love with many a house that we ended up not being able to get because of issues!

    1. Oh, that is so hard! But at least you know before you buy.

  4. Such a great tip for those looking for a home. All you’ve mentioned were very important sometimes houses appear to be beautiful but you have to dig deeper or else you’ll regret it. Thanks for sharing

  5. We will be building a house in two years and since we live in Texas which way the house faces will matter.

    1. It makes such a difference when you’re home faces the right direction for your climate!

  6. Ooooo so many helpful tips!! Location is always super important to me. I always know what area I want to be living in!

  7. I think my biggest concern is the maintenance involved. We just started the house hunting process and have never owned before and it is super overwhelming all that goes into a house!

    1. It really can be at first! Have fun house hunting!!

  8. I am not looking for a house right now as houses here are expensive here in Japan, but I will share this to friends who are!

  9. We move a lot due to my husbands job. These are great tips for people like us who moved to the Midwest and never had a basement before. The things you never think about in a basement are the things that could get you in the long run.

  10. There are so many great tips here, and a lot of them I never would have considered. The number of previous owners is one I’ve never thought of!

    1. I’m so glad it was helpful 🙂

  11. This post took me to the time when we started to look for a new house! We rejected so many houses just for their locations, water damage signs and damp basement. Great practical tips you have shared here ☺

    1. It’s so great you were already looking for those things in a house!

  12. These are such great tips! I love your guide for people in the hunt for the perfect home! Thank you!

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