The home buying process can be confusing, especially for first-time buyers. It’s so easy to fall in love with a property and forget to ask the right questions. The more questions you ask during the buying process, the fewer chances you have of facing surprises after you purchase the home.

We’ve put together a short guide on the questions that buyers should ask their realtor or the seller before signing on the dotted line.

1. Why Are You Selling the House?

There are many reasons people move, including relocating for a job or downsizing to a smaller house, but the answer to this question may help you determine whether the neighborhood has gotten worse in recent years, or whether there’s an issue with flooding or excessive moisture.

In addition, depending on the reason for moving, the seller may be willing to accept a lower price offer for the home, especially if they need be out of the house by a certain date.

2. What is the condition of the home?

Ask about past issues with the home and don’t make assumptions about its condition. While disclosure rules generally require home sellers to disclose any current problems with the property, they don’t always have to tell you about past problems that have been corrected. It’s important to know about past problems because they may lead to other problems in the future.

For example, while a leaking bathtub drain on the second floor may have been repaired, what was done about the water that ended up in the ceiling and walls below the leak? How long did the leak go unnoticed, and were the affected areas checked for mold or structural issues?

3. Have there been any major repairs and renovations?

It’s very important to ask about any major repairs or renovations that have been done since bad renovations or sketchy, unpermitted work can end up costing you down the line. Any major work that was done to your home should have been done to code, with proper permits in place.

If the seller doesn’t have copies of the building permits, you can check with your local building department. If it turns out that the work wasn’t done to code, and permits were not issued, it could cost you both financially and emotionally in the future.

4. How old are the major components in the home?

It’s important to understand the age, and anticipated lifespan, of major systems and appliances in the home so you can be prepared for any large expenses you could face in the future.

  • Heating & Cooling System (HVAC)
  • Hot Water Heater
  • Appliances
  • Plumbing System
  • Electrical System
  • Age & Condition of Roof

If any of these items are already 10-15 years old, you might be looking at a fairly immediate large expense.

5. Are there any health or safety hazards in or around the home?

Ask the seller to provide documentation if there have been past issues such as lead paint, radon, mold, termites, carpenter ants, or other major hazards. Find out exactly what was done to resolve those issues and consider having additional testing done prior to purchase to provide peace of mind.

If the home has too many problems, and you included a home inspection contingency in your offer, you should be able to back out of the deal without any penalties.

6. Has the sewer ever backed Up?

All buyers should obtain a sewer inspection if the home is over 20 years old. Tree roots are the primary cause of blocked sewer lines, but it can be very expensive to dig-up and clear out the lines.

If the house has cast iron sewer pipes, definitely have them inspected since cast iron pipes were designed to last, at most, 50 years. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, any home built before 1985 is likely to have cast iron pipes.

The time to find out if a sewer line is faulty or needs replacement is before you buy, not after.

7. Are the walls and attic well insulated?

It’s important to ask the seller about the home’s energy efficiency and find out the quality, age and amount of insulation used in the home. Most older homes in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas were built with less, or in some cases, zero insulation, so it’s important to find out for sure before you buy.

Knowing how much insulation the home has will help you decide if an investment in more insulation is worth the cost.

8. How much do utilities usually cost?

Prior to buying a home, be sure to ask about heating, cooling, electric and water costs to make sure you are not surprised later as many older homes may not be as energy efficient as newer homes, resulting in higher utility costs.

Performing a Home Energy Audit may save you thousands of dollars in future operating costs by pinpointing features of the house that need correction to improve efficiency. It will also identify if the house is an energy guzzler, which may give you room to further negotiate the home purchase price with the seller.

The Residential Energy Services Network provides a directory of certified energy raters and auditors near you.

9. Is the home in a flood zone or prone to other natural disasters?

If the home is in a flood zone or other natural disaster area, you may require additional insurance coverage. For example, a home that is in a FEMA designated high-risk flood hazard area may require flood insurance. Find out if a property is located in a flood zone by using FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center.

10. How old are the windows?

We understand that windows are boring, and it may not be the first thing you check when touring a house, but they are an important detail to consider when looking at potential homes because they can either add to the overall value of your home, or add to the long-term costs.

Here are some things to check before you close on the house:

  • Are all of the windows the same age?
  • Are any of the windows painted shut?
  • Are the windows still under warranty?
  • Are the windows easy to open and close?

Check to see if the windows have condensation on the inside as that may indicate that they are not properly insulated anymore.

You should always ask the seller to pay for a 1-year home warranty to cover many of the major items in your home such as HVAC, water heater, etc. If something breaks within that year, you pay a small service fee and the home warranty company will send out a professional to fix or replace the item at no extra charge. Specific coverage & fees will depend on your policy.

Knowing as much about your home up front can give you a leg up on surprises and help you budget smartly.