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What to look for when buying a house

Trulia fills you in on what to look for when buying a house.

Odds are that your house-hunting wishlist includes the number of bedrooms and maybe a patio, but not the condition of the sewer lines. But when you’re thinking about what to look for when buying a house, there are some super important things to put on your checklist. Here are some of the big ones.

What to look for when buying a house:

  1. 1. Healthy bones: roof, foundation, and systems

    Some of the things we think about the least in a home matter the most. A solid foundation and a new, sturdy roof are great signs. A small crack in the foundation wall or a few aging shingles can turn into big-money problems in a hurry. A new construction home’s roof should last you 20-30 years, but an old one can cost $5,000-$10,000 (or more) to replace. Ignoring roofing issues can cause damage to your entire house, including the foundation. And foundation issues? Those can run into the tens of thousands to correct.

    Along with roofs and foundations, make sure the following systems are in good shape:

    • Electrical
    • Sewer or septic (and well, if there is one)
    • HVAC
  2. 2. No signs of water damage

    Few things are worse for a home than water. It can destroy walls, floors, foundations—basically your whole house. And the origins of water issues can be tough to find and correct, so signs of past damage can be warning of future damage. Discolored rings on ceilings and other surfaces are good to look for, but there are more subtle clues, too, like if utility systems and basement storage are propped up a few inches or there’s a musty smell.

  3. 3. Reasonable renovation needs

    Ugly carpeting and wild paint colors attract a lot of attention, but those can be easy, and relatively inexpensive fixes. And a house that’s perfect except that it needs a total kitchen remodel might not be as perfect as it seems. A kitchen remodel averages more than $20,000—and can get much higher very easily. Before making an offer on a fixer-upper house, make sure the price, plus any obvious renovations on your checklist will fit your budget.

  4. 4. Easy-to-open windows

    Original windows in an older home can look great, but they’re better when they work great, too. Sometimes they’re painted shut or not airtight, which can make your utility costs huge. Even more importantly, windows that don’t open easily can be an early sign of foundation problems.

  5. 5. No health hazards

    Older homes are full of charm—and sometimes mold, asbestos, and lead paint. These are major issues to look for when buying a house. A home inspection won’t necessarily point out mold and asbestos-prone materials, so it’s up to you to get them professionally tested. For lead paint, you can buy a cheap test kit at a hardware store and do it yourself in a few minutes. These don’t have to be dealbreakers, but knowing about them allows you to negotiate to have the seller fix the issue into your offer. And if the home is in an area where radon is common, ask a pro to test the home’s levels.

  6. 6. Clean insurance history

    FA real estate agent can help you find insurance claims that have been filed on the house in the past five years by requesting the seller provide a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, or C.L.U.E. report. You might look at that new kitchen flooring differently if you learn it was put in after repeated water damage. In some cases, too many past insurance claims can affect your potential homeowner’s insurance rate, so checking will benefit your future budget, too.

  7. 7. The right neighborhood

    Your ideal home could still end up being a bummer if it’s in the wrong neighborhood. If you dream of walking to nightlife and restaurants, you may never be happy in suburbia. And if you fall in love with a home that’s not in the right school district for your kids, it’s a no-go. For all the evaluating you do of the inside of potential homes, don’t forget to take a look out the front door as well. You can use Trulia Neighborhoods to learn all about neighborhoods across the country, including What Local Say reviews from real-life residents. And on every Trulia property page, you can find local information, like schools, safety and amenities maps as well as local demographics.

    Want to learn more about finding the right neighborhood? Now that you know what to look for when buying a house, we’ve got you covered with a guide on how to choose the best place to live.