Questions to Ask Before Buying a House

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What to Know When Buying a Home For The First Time

Buying a home for the first time can be daunting. Before you put down your hard-earned deposit and sign away the next 15-20 years of your lives, there are a few points to clarify, and this is the time to ask the questions.

When you are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, there are no questions that are too trivial. If you have a real estate agent, make sure you lean on them for advice. If they are worth their salt, they will be someone to lean on for all the things you’re unsure of.

Having a first-time home buying guide is always useful. You can also seek assistance from family and friends that have already been through the process.

Consider a few of the following points as a first time home buyer. These are great questions to ask yourself as you journey towards owning your first house.

  • How far will you be from work, and how good is the public transport?
  • How long does the commute take?
  • Do you want to live near shops, schools, hospitals, cafes, and parks?
  • Will you be near enough to Mom and Dad so you can drop in for dinner?
  • If you are pregnant, how near is your hospital?
  • Can the kids walk to school? Homes in sought after school districts always sell really well! So even if you are not having children consider this fact from a resale perspective.
  • You want a neighborhood with a good community appeal, where you have a large enough population to support cafes and diverse restaurants, and possibly a good pizza/sub shop.
  • Do you have a dog? You will want an off-leash dog park, to take Fido for a run, and a local vet.
  • You are busy, so look for a home requiring minimal renovation. Major renovations are not affordable when you are in your first home. It would help if you got a bit more equity first. Having said that, even minor renovations require a handy hardware store nearby.
  • Try not to exceed your budget. The lender will look for some leeway in the budget, so when you choose a home, make sure, based on your combined salaries, that you can afford it. You want to keep your housing costs, including insurances, between 25% and 28% of your monthly take-home pay. This is a bit easier for a couple than for a single buyer.
  • Are you eligible for any first home buyer grants or incentives? The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also provides grants to first home buyers. If you apply early in the new financial year, you may be eligible to receive one, important to apply early as the program has limited funds, is soon exhausted, and is not refunded until the following fiscal year. You just may qualify!

Questions to Ask When Buying a Home

Questions to Ask and Things to Do Before Buying a Home

Get a Mortgage Preapproval

Once you have everything in place, try to get your mortgage preapproval in writing from a well-known lender. It is always a good idea to comparison shop a few lenders as well before settling on one.

Be prepared to have your financial information (proof of employment and income) verified for written preapprovals.

These last for about three months and you are then ‘buyer ready.’

Make Sure You Have a Professional Home Inspection.

Have a look to be sure that the roof, foundation, HVAC systems, flooring, and walls are all in good order. Make sure you have a house inspection before closure done by a well respected local professional.

You really want to know before you put the escrow deposit down if there is anything to be done. Home inspections are also a great learning exercise about the property you are purchasing.

The home inspector will go over all the systems, especially the furnace, air-conditioning, and electrical. They will check the basement for dampness and mold. A good inspector will also have a keen eye for evidence of termites, other insects, and rodents.

Getting a home inspection done is especially important when you are purchasing a fixer-upper home.

Is The Home Low Lying?

Is the house near a river or a low lying flood plain. You don’t want to be paying for flood insurance as it is costly. If the area is a flood zone, it might be why the home is cheaper. Once a house is flooded, it is never the same again. So, avoid any possible flood area.

Is The House on a Busy or Noisy Road?

Houses on major roads are usually less expensive. If you decide to purchase on a major road, make sure that the house has insulation, as a major road can be very noisy and polluting. Avoid big thoroughfares if you can, because it won’t have a good resale value.

Think About Using a Buyer’s Agent?

If you are having difficulty sifting through the choices available, you may decide to hire a buyer’s agent. It likely won’t cost you anything as real estate commissions are typically paid by sellers.

A great buyer’s agent will be in your corner working hard to find you the right home. The best agents will not offer any pressure for you to purchase. If you are a busy professional, having someone scouring the multiple listing service for you every day can be a godsend.

Make an Offer Stick

Start attending open houses to get a feel for the market. Are real estate values rising, falling, or stable. If home prices are falling, that will be good news for you. It might be possible to find a house you previously thought to be unaffordable.

When you find the home that makes you happy, you’ll want to pounce on it, especially if it is an excellent deal. Get together with your real estate agent and write the offer. Be prepared to have some give and take, which is often the case. Negotiating is something buyers, and sellers do. Try to make it a win-win if you can.

If the seller has already bought elsewhere, you will probably be in the driver’s seat as there will be some urgency to get a deal done.

On the other hand, if you are in a hot seller’s market, be prepared to move quickly. There could be multiple offers and bidding wars. Unfortunately, there will be less flexibility. To get the house you really want, you’re probably going to need to step up to the plate and give the seller their desired terms.

It is vital to be proactive at this stage, as you want to get into a house before your preapprovals expire. The financial markets are very mercurial, and especially in a rising market, conditions change very quickly.

Prepare For Moving

One of the most arduous tasks when buying or selling a home is moving. The move can not only be physically stressful but mentally as well. There are so many things to get done. Did you change your address with the post office? How about getting one of the best moving companies in the area?

Maybe you have found that hiring professional movers will be too expensive and rent a moving truck instead? Lots of folks choose to rent a moving truck from U-Haul because of the convenience and lower cost.

These are all things that should be thought about well in advance. Proper planning goes a long way when buying your first house.

Final Thoughts on Buying a First House

Once you have the finance approved for your new house, it is important to be ready to recognize and grab a good deal when it comes along. Buying a home for the first time can be a full time and stressful job. You will have a limited amount of time to perform what seems like an endless list of tasks. The good news is, it will soon be over, and you will be in your own home.

Hopefully, you have found some of these first-time homebuyer tips to be useful.

How to Know When It’s Time to Downsize Your Home

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The decision to downsize your home is a personal one that depends on many different factors. Although it may be an easy way to lower your bills, it can often be difficult to leave a house that holds treasured family memories. This is especially true for those who have been in the same place for many years, perhaps even decades.

The good news is, there are a lot of benefits to downsizing. The vast majority of people do it to save money, but there are plenty of other reasons why it may be an attractive option.

If you’re debating whether to sell your home and find something smaller, here are five signs it’s time to downsize. There are many considerations for downsizing.

  1. Maintenance is overwhelming or costly

Signs it is Time to Downsize

Taking care of a house can often feel like a full-time job. From routine cleaning to repairs and improvements, all of this maintenance takes time and money. If you have a large yard, you also have to worry about landscaping or perhaps even pool cleaning. 

Experts recommend putting away $1 per square foot for annual maintenance. When you take a look at your monthly spending, is this viable for your budget? If you are being forced to dip into your savings account to make repairs, this may be an indication that it’s time to downsize. 

When upkeep becomes too daunting, a smaller house is appealing, especially if you need to pay someone to accomplish cleaning and maintenance tasks.

  1. You have a lot of unused space

If your kids have all grown up and moved out, you’re probably living with a lot of unused space. Chances are, you don’t need two or three spare bedrooms, whether you use them for guests or your hobbies. Plus, once you hand over your kids’ belongings, there’s less to hold onto, making it possible to downsize more easily. 

Remember, even if you’ve paid off your mortgage, you’re still spending money on utilities for all of this unused space.

From water to electricity and gas, the extra square footage adds up. Likewise, property taxes and homeowner’s insurance premiums are also higher for a larger house. 

Ask yourself whether you’re really using the entirety of your space.

  1. Retirement is on the horizon

Retirement is an exciting phase of life that offers so much to look forward to. You’ll have time to enjoy the activities you love, spend time with friends or family, and travel.

For some people, this is a perfect opportunity to embrace the life of “snow birds” and purchase two small homes in different places. Going back and forth is a great way to escape extreme weather, such as desert summers or East Coast winters. 

Although retirement is something to look forward to, it does require a savvy financial plan to ensure you can live comfortably without the income of a full-time job. Selling your home is often a great way to cushion your bank account and ensure you have enough money to live the life you want for years to come. 

It’s also important to consider the fact that housing price increases have outpaced inflation by 150% over the past 50 years. This is good news for retirees holding onto homes they simply don’t need anymore. Your house is an important investment and retirement is often the best time to cash out. 

  1. Your lifestyle needs have changed

If you purchased your home 10, 20, or even 30 years ago, your life likely looks very different than it did back then. 

You’re probably less concerned with the schools in your neighborhood and more worried about aging in place. Even those in perfect health may have changing needs.

For example, it may be difficult to get around as easily as you once did, especially when it comes to stairs. This makes downsizing to a single-story home ideal.

What’s more, many people want to be closer to family members as they age. This makes it more convenient to get assistance with everyday tasks from grocery shopping to changing a light bulb. Plus, one of the big benefits is easier access to those you love and want to spend more time with, such as grand kids. 

  1. There are significant financial benefits

If you’ve already been thinking about downsizing, timing is everything. Are homes in your neighborhood flying off the market with high price tags? It may be a good time to consider this option.

Although the housing market can always change, there’s no denying we’re in a seller’s market and have been for quite some time! Low inventory is leading to higher home prices that make selling very attractive.

Further, it’s good to follow the 30% rule. If your housing expenses (mortgage, utilities, maintenance, property taxes, and insurance) are more than 30% of your monthly budget, it’s time to free up some cash. This is especially true if you’re finding it difficult to save or spend money on hobbies and fun activities. 

Downsizing can help ease the mental burden of feeling like there isn’t enough money to go around every month.

Explore your options

Making the decision to downsize isn’t easy, but there are many ways to explore your options.  

First, consider meeting with a real estate agent to talk about the housing market in your area. Find an experienced realtor who is interested in getting to know more about your wants, needs, and any concerns you have.

A real estate agent will help you navigate whether it’s the right time for you to sell by determining a realistic price estimate for your home. 

Prefer to sell to a cash buyer? While it’s better to work with a real estate agent, this can be a good option if you’re facing extreme financial trouble or have a very tight timeline.

There are many companies that buy houses for cash, as well as iBuyers. The iBuyers use technology to make an initial offer that can close in as little as two weeks.

You will just need to avoid some of the common house flipping mistakes.

In most cases, they pay closer to market value than the companies that buy houses for cash.

Tips to Prepare Your House Before Long-Term Travel

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Whether you are a snowbird heading to warmer weather for the winter or an avid traveler going to explore the world, when you travel for an extended period of time, you leave a lot behind.

One of the biggest things left behind is your home. It’s important to take the steps to prepare your home before leaving on a long trip.

There are many things to take care of to prepare your property for your absence, from household tasks to safety precautions, figuring out insurance and house sitters, and finding a way to check in while you’re away.

Let’s face it: At times, the list can feel never ending. Not to mention, you will also be making the preparations for your trip, which is a big undertaking. If you’re moving in the summer, you may need even more time to plan ahead.

While this can all feel a bit daunting, there are also some fun tasks along the way, like letting those close to you know you’ll be heading off to new and exciting places.

How to Prepare Your House For Travel

Social Media and Home Insurance

Send out a group text or post on social media to let friends and family know. In fact, posting about your absence could be helpful in the long run because of the connection between home insurance and social media.

Insurance companies are now using social media posts and texting conversations when you file an insurance claim. The specific photos, geo-tagging, and even text messages can be used as evidence when filing your claim. It’s a good idea to keep a record of these things just in case you need to use them later.

With so many things to do, it can be helpful to break down your list into categories to make sure you’ve checked everything off. This list of things to do before leaving on long-term travel will make getting your home prepared quick and easy.

Let’s dive in, starting with the household tasks to check off your list.

Take Care of Household Tasks

There’s a never-ending to-do list of household chores when you’re home, so of course, there will be a list of must-do’s before leaving. Many of these tasks are quick and easy and can be done in the days before leaving, or even on the day you actually leave.

Important Tasks to Do Before Leaving Home:

  • Pay any outstanding bills: If you have any bills to pay, make sure you do so before you leave. If there are bills that will need to be paid while you’re gone, you will need to make sure and set up automatic payments or find an e-pay option that allows you to pay online from wherever you are.
  • Empty the fridge of perishable food: Eat any food that will go bad while you’re on your trip. If you have any items that will go bad but don’t have time to eat them, consider gifting them to a neighbor or donating to a food shelter.
  • Water plants: Make sure your plants have plenty of water before taking off.
  • Adjust your heating and cooling: Depending on the temperature where you live and the weather forecast, you’ll need to adjust your thermostat to make sure that all is good while you’re away. You can greatly reduce your bills by turning off your heating and cooling altogether if it’s an option for you.
  • Turn off the water: If no one will be using your plumbing, consider completely turning off your water and save yourself some money while you’re gone.
  • Unplug electronics: Don’t pay unnecessary energy bills because you’ve left things plugged in around your home. Unplug anything you can before leaving.
  • Tidy up: No one likes to come home to a messy house. Take a half-hour to tidy up your home so it’s nice and clean when you return.
  • Pets: If you have pets, you’ll have to find someone to watch them or a kennel to board them. Make sure the sitter or kennel knows to give your pets the right amount of exercise.  If you’re taking them with you, or you have no pets, this is no concern.

Depending on exactly how long you plan to be gone, you may want to have some home maintenance done while you’re away.

Having someone stop over to take care of things like shoveling snow or keeping up with your landscaping isn’t a bad idea, and it saves you from having to do this when returning home.

Make the Necessary Safety Precautions

For many, the biggest concern when leaving home for an extended time frame is safety. You want to make sure that your home will be safe during your trip. There are a few major steps you can take to make sure of this.

  • Set your lights on a timer: Setting lights in your home to turn on at a certain time is a very easy way to secure your home while you’re gone. It gives the illusion that someone is home, which can defer unwanted guests.
  • Make sure all the doors and windows are locked and secured: This is another very simple step. You may even consider putting a wood board in some windows for extra security.
  • Consider finding a house sitter: If you have the option available, a house sitter is a great idea. This is someone who can stop in and check on your home while you are gone. There are even house sitters who will stay at your house the entire time. They can take care of pets in some cases

The Benefits of a House Sitter

If you’ll be gone for an extremely long time, having someone stop in to check on your house is a good idea. There are many benefits to having a house sitter. They can do simple tasks like getting your mail, watering your plants, and performing a general wellness check on your home.

You might even consider having them do some light cleaning, such as dusting and vacuuming, so you can come home to a nice, clean home.

You could even consider paying them to take on a bigger project you never have time for, like cleaning the basement or redecorating.

Some house sitters will even offer to stay at your home for the entirety of your trip. In this case, it’s an added security benefit as well. They can send you updates frequently. This would be an added cost, however, as you’d likely have to pay the house sitter and they will be using utilities such as electricity and water.

Check in While You’re Away

If you have a house sitter, this is the easiest way to check in on your home during your trip. It’s as simple as sending a text message.

Remember, texting can also be used as evidence in a typical car insurance coverage claim. So, if anything were to go wrong while you were away, this would be a great way to keep proof.

Beyond having a sitter, you can also invest in cameras for your home to check up on things while you’re away.

There are many options available, from security cameras to doorbell applications. They make it very easy to see any activity that is taking place.

Heading out on long-term travel is exciting, but there are many preparations that come before the fun.

Making sure your house is taken care of while you are away will give you peace of mind and ensure your return home is as stress-free as your vacation.

Sam TimmermanAbout the author: The above article on how to prepare your home before traveling was written by Sam Timmerman. Sam writes and researches for the insurance site, USInsuranceAgents.com. She is a frequent long-term traveler who has experience in making the necessary preparations before many trips.

Best DIY Home Renovation Tips

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Home renovations don’t always require a big budget. With some planning and know-how, you can DIY your way to functional, updated spaces without spending a fortune.

The possibilities are endless, but there are a few key things to keep in mind before you get started.

Know — and Grow — Your Budget 

Every project, no matter how big or small, needs a budget to stay on track and keep costs from spiraling out of control. 

Whether you’re a seller who’s renovating to get ready to list, a renter looking for a house, or a buyer anticipating projects in your new home, the fastest way to boost your renovation budget is by saving money on real estate costs. 

Using a flat-fee agent or broker, for example, could save you thousands, which ultimately means more money for renovations. 

Consider using a credit card to pay for renovations, especially if you have an opportunity to earn cash back, points, or other rewards when you purchase materials or supplies.

Be sure to pay the balance each month to avoid interest charges, or your DIY project could end up costing significantly more than you intended.

You might also grow your DIY budget with funds from a side hustle or gig work. Setting up a separate savings account for DIY projects, particularly if you plan to space them out over time, is an ideal way to set money aside so it’s there when you’re ready. 

Best DIY Home Renovation Tips

When to DIY and When to Call a Pro

Before you take on any DIY project, ask yourself if you have the necessary time and skills to accomplish it.

There’s nothing wrong with taking on a project as a learning opportunity, provided you have the time and patience to build up your expertise, but be honest with yourself.

If you bite off more than you can chew and need to pay someone to fix your DIY disaster, it could cost you more in the long run.

And of course, some projects are best left to professionals — anything that requires a permit or will need to pass inspection, for example.

Complex electrical rewiring, plumbing, or projects that involve the basic structure of your home like the foundation or roof should be handled by a pro; now is not the time to YouTube it. 

Choose Your Projects

There’s no limit to the projects you might choose to make your home more enjoyable for everyday living but also consider growing your equity with the right home improvements.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

Paint (Almost Anything)

Nothing creates an instant facelift or provides more bang for the buck quite like a fresh coat of paint. You might: 

  • Create a feature wall by painting one wall in the room a contrasting color or slightly lighter or darker shade. Consider adding a geometric shape to highlight a focal point like a sofa or a dining table. 
  • Forgo the hassle of wallpaper, and style your walls with a stencil and paint instead.
  • Paint your front door or garden gate an eye-catching color for more curb appeal.
  • Update your kitchen cabinets by painting them in on-trend colors.
  • Paint old hardwood floors in a solid color, geometric pattern or with a painted border around the perimeter. 

Create a Home Office

Working from home is here to stay, so it might be time to ditch the dining room table office and invest in upgrading your space. You don’t need an entire room — plenty of people are turning a quiet corner, attic nook, or even a closet into a home office. 

Remove the hanging rods from a closet, and install deep shelving for a desk and shallow shelving for storage. Paint the surrounding walls, or decorate with peel-and-stick wallpaper. Don’t forget a stylish (but functional) office chair to complete your new space.

These are all excellent home staging tips.

Update a Bathroom

Add new life to an old bathroom without a major remodel. Start by removing old wallpaper or repainting in a fresh new color. Update the lighting to fit your style, and trade old hardware for a new sink faucet, towel bars, and vanity pulls.

Upgrade your shower head or install a rain shower if it’s within your budget, and replace outdated mirrors or medicine cabinets with updated versions. 

Design a Gallery Wall With Floating Shelves

Floating shelves are relatively inexpensive, easy to install, and create extra display storage almost anywhere. Use floating shelves or picture ledges to display framed photos or other artwork of varying sizes — just be sure to adjust the spacing to accommodate your tallest piece of art.

Floating shelves allow you to switch out your artwork seasonally or whenever you feel the need for a change. Fill in any gaps and bring some life to the display by decorating with live plants

Add Crown Molding

Don’t forget to look up — if you wish your rooms had more architectural details, adding crown molding to the ceilings is an easy way to give any room a more polished look and vintage feel. 

While you’re looking up, consider adding wallpaper to a ceiling to make a bold statement with texture, color, and pattern. Don’t go overboard, though. Choose one room to make the most impact. 

Make it Stick

Peel-and-stick tiles are a quick and easy way to update floors, walls, and backsplashes. You can find peel-and-stick tiles in specialty stores as well as online, and in a wide range of materials — from ceramic and glass to felt and vinyl.

Make sure you follow the installation instructions carefully (practice first), and prep your surfaces thoroughly before you begin. With proper installation, peel-and-stick tiles can last anywhere from five to 25 years. 

Add Storage With Built-Ins

Create your own built-in storage using unfinished stock kitchen cabinets you can find at the hardware store. Upper cabinets tend to be less expensive than lower cabinets, and can be configured in a variety of widths and sizes to create a custom look.

Add high-end hardware and embellish with molding for an elegant look. 

While not everyone is a DIY expert, there’s no shortage of projects for homeowners of any skill level to choose from that can be accomplished with some patience, planning, and creativity.