It may have taken you years of living frugally to save for a house, but when it comes to putting your money into a home, it can feel like a huge risk if you don’t know what to look for.

Knowing what to look for when buying a house isn’t always easy, especially for first-time homebuyers. In this guide, we’ve provided you with a list of all the key considerations so you can feel confident when making a decision.

What To Look for When Buying a House: 9 Key Considerations

Your future plans, budget, and lifestyle play a major role in what you look for when buying a house. However, here are a few key considerations that you should pay special attention to when you’re viewing homes.

1. Location

The most commonly heard real estate saying, “location, location, location,” is famous for a reason. The location of your home will have a direct impact on your everyday life. When going to open houses, here are a few key things to consider:

  • Learn more about the neighborhood and community and check the local crime data to ensure it’s safe.
  • Even if you don’t have children, research your local school district. A home in a highly-rated school district will be easier to sell in the future.
  • Check to ensure the location is easy to commute back and forth to work. Check the traffic during rush hour, see if it’s close to major highways, and if there are train or bus stops in close proximity.
  • If you’re buying a home in a flood zone, check the zone code and consider buying flood insurance.

2. Size and Layout

Start by determining the type of house you’d like to buy. If you’re a first-time buyer, a condo or a townhouse may be a good starter home, but you’ll have less space and privacy. Single-family homes are the most desirable, but the costs can be quite high, especially in certain parts of the country.

Once you’ve decided on the type of home you want to purchase, you’ll also have to ensure the size and layout are right:

  • Check to ensure the number of bedrooms and sizes are ideal for your requirements.
  • Consider your future needs when checking the square footage of a home. For example, you may need more space if you’re planning to have kids or have family come visit regularly in the future.
  • Don’t overlook the outdoor space. A large backyard is a great bonus for those with kids, but it can be hard to maintain. Check to see if the land slopes and if the yard grading can affect your ability to add a swimming pool or patio in the future.  
  • Ensure there’s enough storage space in the home, including the number of parking spots in the garage.  What good is buying a home with an attached garage when you have to park your vehicle outside every night?
  • The floor plan of the home should be functional. For example, having a bedroom on the first floor can be useful for those considering aging in place.
  • The design and style of the home are also something you should consider. However, when inventory is low in the housing market, you may want to keep an open mind and be willing to consider something other than your first (or even second) preference.

3. Condition of the Property

The condition of the property matters the most when buying a house. A few missing shingles on the roof, or a small crack in the foundation can become very expensive structural issues in the future. Buying a fixer-upper may not be the right decision for everyone, especially if you don’t have the experience, the know-how, or the financial resources to invest in the house.

A new roof, water heater, and solid foundation are signs of good condition you should look for. A new roof can last you 20 to 30 years, but replacing an old roof costs $11,500 on average, even for a moderately-sized home. When checking the condition of the property, here are a few more things to look at in addition to the foundation and roof:

  • The HVAC system- What is its maintenance/replacement history?
  • Septic, plumbing, or sewer system- Any issues or leaks?  Repair/replacement history?
  • Electrical- Is it up to code, and will it be able to support your energy needs after you move in?
  • Windows- Are they energy efficient or Energy Star compliant?
  • Insulation- Will it keep your home cool in the summer and warm in the winter?
  • Appliances- How old are they, and what are their maintenance/replacement histories?  
  • Foundation- Are there any visible cracks or repairs needed?
  • Mold/mildew- This is a hidden health hazard that can affect any home environment.

4. Price and Affordability

For most home buyers, the price range of the property is the main area of focus. Consider getting a preapproval from a mortgage lender before you begin viewing potential homes. This will give you a clear idea of how much mortgage loan you can get and how much down payment you’ll need.

You’ll also want to check the current mortgage rates for the loan term you are seeking (15, 20, or 30 years), determine whether you need private mortgage insurance (PMI), and decide if the monthly mortgage payments are affordable for you now, and in the future.

Keep in mind there are other costs involved, such as closing costs, moving costs, property maintenance, and property taxes. Knowing how much you can afford will ensure you aren’t at risk of becoming house-poor.

5. Neighborhood and Community

Even if you find your dream home, it will be wrong for you if it’s in the wrong community. For example, if you find your perfect home but it's not in the right school district, it can be a deal breaker. Here are a few things to keep in mind when evaluating the neighborhood:

  • Safety
  • Proximity to amenities like shopping centers and parks
  • School district
  • Proximity to airport and major highways
  • Public transportation availability
  • Noise levels
  • Local demographics

6. Homeowners Association (HOA)

Even before you start looking at homes, you’ll have to decide whether you want to have complete control over your home or live in a community run by a Homeowners Association (HOA). The HOA is an organization that manages planned developments and residential communities. HOAs enforce the rules for living in a community that chooses to be governed by the HOA membership’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions.

If you buy a home in such a community, you’ll usually pay a fee for the maintenance of community amenities and common areas. The HOA may also limit what you can and can’t do with your home, which may not be right for everyone, especially when it comes to the exterior appearance and condition of your home.

7. Insurance History

If you’re working with a real estate agent, ask them to help you find information about any insurance claims filed on the home. You can request the seller for a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (C.L.U.E.) report.

Knowing the insurance history of a home will give you a clear idea of any past issues, such as water, fire, or mold damage. Too many claims in the past can also impact your insurance rate.

8. Health Hazards

If you’re planning to buy an older home, pay special attention to health hazards like lead paint, asbestos, and mold. A home inspection may not always identify asbestos and mold, so you may have to get them tested professionally.

Some homes may be located in areas where radon gas is commonly present, so you may have to get the home’s radon level professionally tested. Knowing about these hazards can help you negotiate the purchase price or have the seller fix these issues when you present an offer.

9. Future Potential and Resale Value

A number of factors can impact a home’s value in the future. Here are a few key factors to consider, especially if this is more of a starter home than a forever home:

  • Check the home’s historical sales price through tax records and public property records to see if the value has gone up over time and by how much.
  • The comparable home sales or “comps” in the area are also a good indicator of whether the home will sell easily and for a good price in the future.
  • Check the crime trends, zoning laws, and new infrastructure plans in the area, which can all impact the resale value.
  • Energy efficiency upgrades to a home can also increase the resale value, such as efficient heating and cooling systems, appliances, triple-pane windows, and solar panels.
  • Legal claims or liens on a house mean there’s some debt that needs to be paid. Properties with liens are harder to sell, so it’s important to get a title check before you can get a home loan and close.
  • Ask your seller for a complete list of disclosures so you’ll know about any problems with the property that can make buyers hesitant to buy when you resell it.  

Red Flags To Look for When Buying a House

Other than the tips on what to look for when buying a house we’ve listed above, there are also many red flags you should be aware of.

  • Cracked, bowing, or bulging in the foundation
  • Leaks and signs of water damage
  • Old or damaged roof
  • Clogged sewer lines
  • Poorly installed, leaky, or poorly insulated windows
  • Sinks, showers, or toilets that don’t function properly
  • Broken appliances
  • HVAC system with coolant leaks, water damage, or parts that need replacement
  • Poor flooring work or other renovations
  • Improper ventilation
  • Signs of mold
  • Nearby body of water or home in a flood zone
  • Poor maintenance

Get Help Looking into a Home for Sale

Most homes have some flaws, even new houses. However, knowing when to step back from a property and when to spend money to fix an issue can be tricky. Your best bet is to have an experienced realtor on your side to guide you through the home-buying process.

While an experienced real estate agent can help you identify what to look for when buying a house, a certified home inspector can discover hidden issues, hazards, and generally poor-quality construction or repair work, based upon which you can negotiate the home price with the seller. If you’re planning to buy a house, we recommend working with a professional to ensure you’re aware of any problems and are confident in your decision.