You can listen to your heart when evaluating a house, but always go with a critical eye and a calculator when considering a place you may be calling home for many years to come.
A thorough evaluation of a home begins before you step inside the house. Especially if you visit more than one property, that you should bring along a home evaluation checklist to keep track of the criteria that matter to you. The checklist should include the property address, the asking price, a section for rating each part of the house from one to five and a notes field. You should tailor the list to your requirements, noting things details like how easy it is to enter and exit the house and all its rooms, or how many electrical outlets are present.
As you pull up to the house for the first time, look around. Are the surrounding homes well-maintained? At a quick glance, you will find that the neighbors’ lawns, garage doors and roofs are a good indication of the neighborhood. Check the exterior of the property you are evaluating, keeping an eye out for missing roof tiles, neglected exterior areas and damage to the outside walls near the ground. Once inside, make sure you have access to all parts of the house, and that it’s okay for you to take pictures or videos of the place. Bear in mind that the house has been spruced up to look its best (beware of fresh-baked smells from the kitchen), so keep your eye out for flaws and don’t hesitate to ask questions of the seller or agent. Be systematic and professional, using your checklist and knowing what to look for:
- Uneven floors
- Water stains on walls, floors, ceilings
- Cracks in the walls or ceilings
- Missing or broken appliances or hardware
Don’t forget to look out every window to see the view (it's hard to change!), and estimate how much natural light you can expect inside. Use your sense of smell, and beware of homes that were inhabited by smokers, as the odors may be temporarily masked, but will always linger. Ask if pets lived in the house, and if any renovations have been done recently. Be courteous and quick, and don’t overstay your visit. If it comes down to a seller’s decision on whom to entrust his precious home to, the most annoying buyer will be shuffled to the bottom of the deck.
Check what the parking situation is. Especially in the case of urban homes without garages, you will want to note if it's difficult to find a parking spot (we're looking at you San Francisco.
Don't be afraid to snap some photos on your camera phone or jot a few notes to check back on later, as it can be hard to rely on memory alone when deciding between multiple homes.
After you leave the premises, the evaluation continues with online research and analysis of similar homes in the area. Compare the market values of comparable houses, and find out how long they were on the market, and how much above or below market value they sold for. If the home you want has been on the market too long, or has been re-listed, it could mean it’s overpriced or in disrepair. According to what’s important to you, you can research your prospective home’s proximity to schools, freeways, shopping facilities, restaurants, police, fire or houses of worship, as well as the quality of each amenity.
If you see several homes, and one really stands out in your mind, it’s time to take a closer look. We suggest you visit the house at different times of the day, and different days of the week, to evaluate the neighborhood. Is it loud and unruly on Friday night? Can you sense peace and quiet on Sunday morning? Is there enough street parking for you and your friends? Use the market value comparisons you did of the neighboring properties (“comps”) to formulate a winning offer on the house.
You’ll have plenty to evaluate with the naked eye, so don’t concern yourself with finding problems you can’t see, like mold under shower tiles or electrical problems. Those will be uncovered in the home inspection, title reports and seller disclosures. Buyers can choose home inspectors who also test for radon gas, asbestos and lead toxicity, and there are inspectors who are trained by both the American Society of Home Inspectors and FEMA to detect and evaluate earthquake damage.
Did you know that Open Listings can schedule private tours? Click the "Schedule a showing" link an any property and enter the times you're available or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule.