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« How One Family Went from Two Incomes to One -- And Developed a Business in the Process | Main | Help a Reader: What to Do with a Rented House »

June 22, 2010


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Like you said most of the questions here regarding leaky roof, age of heating/cooling, possible repairs etc should be covered with a good home inspection. Ours covered all of this and in fact some of the repairs we made we in line with the home inspection report (replaced a water heater after 5 years). You might also ask the seller to purchase a 1 year home warranty to help minimize these risks. Typically these run a couple hundred so not too much for someone to get and keep a buyer.

You might get stock answers from a Realtor on ques like neighborhood/neighbors. Something like great neighborhood with families and schools. My suggestion here is to drive by several times at various times of the day and night and see what you see. We had a house we loved and after doing a couple drive-bys, especially at night, determined it wasn't the right place. Turned out a good assumption as we kept an eye on that area and watched crime creep in over the years.

As for taxes don't ask the current homeowner their taxes because they are likely to be different. Work with your bank/mortgage company to best estimate taxes on any home you are wanting to buy. You may also be able to get an assessment through your state's website. Michigan has a property tax estimator on their website.

Lastly I would ask for a second/third look at the home before making an offer. This is for a critical look at the small details. Are there cracks in the walls? Is paint peeling or is the paint job just shoddy in general? Do wood floors look worn? Are carpets stained? Do doors stick (could be a sign of structural issues). Also ask for pictures of the outside from various seasons. Most often when making your first pass through the house these details are glossed over and you never look back. Then when you move in and start noticing the flaws you get upset that they weren't caught sooner. Too often we buy homes based on emotions and not fact...which is what a Realtor wants.

These are good questions--and you have to understand that you have to answer them yourself. Go ahead and ask the realtor, the homeowner, the neighbors, the inspector. But in the end, you are the one who needs to know so don't just take the first answer you get.

There's an important question, though, that is left off the list:

You have to also ask yourself, do I really need all this?

or would a smaller/older home in a different neighborhood suit my needs just as well? Too many people get up-sold by the realtor when they start looking at houses, IMO.

Be bold enough to visit the neighbors once you are serious enough to make an offer (The questions/answers you ask them are not as important as how they receive you as a potential neighbor. To each his own, but to me having great, friendly neighbors is more important than whether the roof is 10 years old versus 15).

Many times you cannot 'ask' the sellers these questions since usually only the realtor will take you through (and will not allow seller to be present). The seller is asked to fill out a disclosure and sign at the bottom to state that the answers are truthful (to the best of his knowledge).

FMF is right...the seller will say that there was water one time in the basement when a previous owner had lived there, etc., etc. And if it is drywall, the buyer's inspector cannot tear it down to see defects. It is always BUYER BEWARE.

Best bet is to have your own ETHICAL buyer's agent (word of mouth works great to find a good realtor) to protect your interests.

Questions on pets - that's a very good idea, and one that is probably not top of mind for many homeowners.

If you have allergies, you need to ask this. It's tough to completely eliminate the impact of pets, especially cats from what I understand.

One story on pets - a couple I knew some years back shared a story about their experience buying their first home. The furniture was in strange places when they toured the house, but they didn't ask questions - just laughed about it. During the walkthrough, right at closing, they noticed that some of the furniture was still there. They were told the seller would take care of it within hours. Once the couple moved in, and the strangely placed furniture was gone, they noticed severe pet damage to the carpets. They later found out it went all the way to the floorboards. Not a nice revelation!

Anyway, I like animals, so not hating on the pets here.

Just saying, be careful, and don't be afraid to ask questions when purchasing a home. Lots of questions. If they won't answer, it might be a red flag. If they can't answer, for whatever reason, not much harm in asking, as long as reasonable and tactful.

Be attentive to the silence, and be aware of how the laws in your state view silence.

Like FMF said, asking these questions is a good idea, but you'll only get good answers. Be thorough when you check out the house and get a really thorough inspector too.

I agree about multiple visits. Be there IN PERSON when the home inspector goes through, it is invaluable for them to show you things directly, rather than just look at a report. If you then go through again on the final walk-through just before closing, that would be three times to pick up any little things.

Tax records are now mostly online at the county web site in a lot of cases. Your realtor can also almost always tell you the taxes last year, it is usually in the listing itself.

Beware of the DOM Days on Market number. In some states, it can be "reset" by taking it off the market, then putting it right back on, or just changing listing agents.

If the house is vacant, look for the business cards of the agents on the kitchen counter. It can tell you roughly how many people have looked at it.

You can look it up on,, and a few others for tax records, comparable sales, comparable current listings, and sometimes past listings of the property, or even get the mortgage amount of the seller!

When looking for a multi-family home we came by one day without the realtor and spoke to the tenant. She originally was hesitant to talk to us but saw we were a nice family and let us in for a few minutes to talk about the place. That conversation and driving around at night convinced us not to buy.

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