The excitement of finding the perfect place can often be overwritten by the anxiety that comes with committing to a 30-year mortgage and having to make split-second decisions to avoid losing out.
One easy way to manage those anxieties and help assure you make the right decision for yourself and your family is to come prepared. If you know exactly what you want, what to look for, and what questions to ask, you’ll feel much more confident in your decisions.
Our ultimate house hunting checklist is meant to do those things and more. Below, you’ll find our printable checklist with customizable sections, detailed descriptions of important considerations, and a list of everything you need to bring and ask when walking through a property.
Printable Ultimate House Hunting Checklist
We suggest printing a copy out for each house you inspect, then filling out the details to ensure you have all the facts when making one of the biggest decisions of your life!
Customizing Your List
The checklist above is a great thing to bring with you when you go to showings. But being fully prepared to house hunt requires some prep work long before you start looking at houses.
Discussing your must-haves, non-staters, and dream specs with your family before you start house shopping will assure everyone is on the same page. It will also make it easier to identify potential buys from the start while assuring you don’t make any decisions you’ll regret.
Must-haves are the house features that you absolutely cannot live without. These go beyond the number of bedrooms to things like a short commute, an open floor plan, and a fenced-in yard.
Consider what is making you move out of your current home. Assuring your next house has those features will help keep you there longer. You’ll also want to consider what the future has in store and how your new home needs to accommodate that.
This is also a good time to discuss how much work you are willing to put into your next house. Do you want a fixer-upper, and if so, how much fixing does that entail? Or is a turnkey, move-in-ready home a must?
These aren’t your dream features but rather the characteristics potential homes must have if they are to be considered.
Non-starters are the opposite of must-haves—these are the things you absolutely do not want your new home to feature. And if any homes you look at do have these, then they’ll be automatic passes.
Common non-starters include shared walls, a lack of AC, and locations on busy streets. But everyone has their own preferences, so be sure to dive deep into this discussion.
Again, consider why you are moving out of your current situation as well as what will absolutely not work for your future plans. Settling for a home that features things you can’t stand is one sure way to regret your purchase.
These are the things you hope your new house has but aren’t required for purchase. Features like a great view, a big backyard, and an extra play space for the kids tend to fall into this category.
Dream specs won’t make or break a deal, but they can be useful when comparing two houses that check all the boxes on your must-have list. So don’t be afraid to dream big here. Most importantly, discussing these will help others involved in the purchasing process get a better idea of what you really want in a new house.
Don’t forget to add these along with your non-starters and must-haves to your ultimate house-hunting checklist.
Now that you’ve done the proper prep work, let’s discuss some things to consider as you’re walking through houses during viewings.
The inside of the house is where you’ll be spending the most time. It’s also the more difficult area to change if it ends up having problems or not meeting your needs. So paying close attention to these details as you move through the showing is vital.
Age of Home
The age of the home tells you a lot more than what kind of shape it’s probably in. As housing laws have changed through the decades, so have building codes and approved materials. Buying an older home could set you up for a huge headache if you ever have to do major repairs or remediation.
Here are some of the most notable dates to keep in mind when considering the age of your next home:
- 1989 – Prior to the asbestos ban occurring in 1989, many houses utilized asbestos vinyl flooring, pipe and duct tape, shingles, and siding. Even after the ban, stockpiles of products were still used to build houses well into the 90s.
- 1978 – Homes built before this year were often painted (inside and out) using lead-based paints that are now known to be harmful if breathed in or ingested, especially for children.
- 1977 – Homes built in 1977 and earlier likely contain asbestos textured paint and wall joint compound.
- 1962 – According to the NEC handbook, three-prong grounded outlets didn’t become commonplace throughout the home until 1962. Many homes built prior to this that have not been updated will feature two-prong outlets and require a big investment to update the electrical.
- 1950 – Homes built between 1930 and 1950 are likely to contain asbestos insulation.
Be on the lookout for signs of dysfunctional electrical in the home. Things like flickering lights, unused outlets next to overused outlets, burn marks on outlet plates, and taped-over switches should be taken as red flags. You’ll also want to take a good look at the breaker box to check for signs of flipped breakers and unpermitted changes.
Electrical fixes and updates to outdated systems can be very expensive. This is especially true when breaker box work is required. Unless you have the budget for such work, it is best to stay away from houses in need of this kind of repair.
Central heating, built-in AC units, water heaters, and other large, integrated appliances are notoriously expensive to replace. And in older houses, finding the right parts to fit the original design can be nearly impossible.
Check the manufacture dates on all large appliances. Central air units usually last between 15 and 20 years while water heaters start to go around the 10-year mark. Brown water coming out of faucets, noisy operation, and rusted parts are all signs of systems reaching the end of their lifecycle.
It can be hard to pinpoint areas of a home that have been added onto or remodeled, but it is worth doing some detective work to figure it out. Rooms that have a different roofline than the rest of the home were likely added on after the original build. Walls made with updated materials, upgraded integrated systems, and other big changes all mark potential remodels.
These are all good things as long as they were properly permitted by the homeowner. If not and you become the new homeowner, you’ll be responsible for covering the permits or redoing the remodel entirely if the city finds out. Plus, unpermitted projects have the potential to be unsafe.
Ring cameras, ADT alarm systems, and similar products are becoming more popular. If you see these on a potential buy, you should enquire if they are included in the sale.
If they are, find out how the change of accounts will be handled to assure old owners no longer have access. If not, find out if flood lights, peepholes, and any other items covered by the security system will be replaced at move out.
Kitchen Set Up
The kitchen is one of those areas you are destined to spend a lot of time in whether you plan to or not. Since the layout of this room can change dramatically from house to house, it is worth spending some extra time in the space to assure it will work for you.
Is the space for the fridge going to be big enough for your dream refrigerator? Is the room open enough for your needs? Are the appliances standard sized, or will they cost extra to replace? These are all questions worth asking.
It can be easy to chalk funky odors up to the current residents of a house and ignore them. But all too often, strange smells are an indication of a bigger problem that won’t go away so easily.
Common odors that often require mitigation, heavy painting, or floor replacement include:
- Mold – a sign of leaky pipes, leaking toilets, or past flood damage
- Mildew – indicative of humidity problems and standing water issues
- Cigarette smoke – can require multiple coats of primer and paint to cover as well as flooring replacement
- Urine – heavy pet urine odors may require carpet replacement and subfloor priming
- Musty Ammonia – thicker than pet urine smell, this scent can indicate a rodent infestation
- Musty Detritus – often accompanies a roach infestation
Note: Be wary of any home showing that utilizes a lot of scented candles and sprays—they may be trying to cover something up.
We all want a huge bedroom, but what are we willing to settle for when it comes down to it? This is something worth considering as you walk through a potential buy. Even if you’re willing to go smaller, you better be sure the room is wide enough to fit your bed and any furniture you don’t want to get rid of.
Along this same vein, take stock of the hallways and stairways leading to the bedrooms. Some houses were built before king beds were a thing, and getting a mattress of that size (or any large furniture) into the room could be downright impossible. Unless, of course, you invest in a new boxed mattress!
Total Square Footage
While many people establish a minimum square footage they will settle for, most don’t think about limiting the size of potential houses. While it’s true that your price point will usually do this for you to some extent, it is still a parameter worth discussing. A big house costs more to heat and cool, takes longer to clean, and is more expensive to upkeep overall.
Once you are viewing new homes, pay attention to how the square footage is utilized. You may find that some homes within your desired square footage range “feel” better or bigger than others while some feel much more cramped. This is worth noting as that feeling is not likely to go away once you purchase the home.
If you’ve done your homework, then you’ve already established how much work you’re willing to put into your new house. Now comes the challenge of determining how much work each potential house will actually require.
Here are some common remodeling projects for newly purchased homes:
- Replacing flooring
- Updating fixtures
- Upgrading integrated systems
- Updating bathrooms
- Knocking down walls to open spaces
- Replacing old doors
- Adding insulation
- Finishing basements and garages
- Structural repairs
- Roof replacement
As you go on showings, be sure to make note of all updates and remodel projects you foresee for each potential home. By writing them down on our Ultimate House Hunting Checklist, you can easily compare the remodel costs of potential buys later on.
In most cases, the exterior of a home and the yard are easier to make changes to than the inside. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to find a property that already fits your needs. Here are some things worth paying special attention to as you walk around the outside of a potential new home.
We all want big yards, but most of us don’t have the time or money to care for them. Even small yards with a lot of trees and plants can become a maintenance nightmare over time. Of course, for people who love spending time in the yard, this is more of a dream than a terror.
As you look at potential future yards, consider these questions:
- How long will it take to mow the yard each week?
- How much fall and spring cleanup will be required?
- Are landscapers available for hire in the area?
- Are there any dead or dying trees that will need to be removed?
- Is the lawn in good shape or will it need work?
- How long will it take to weed the garden beds each week?
- Will you have to hand water anything?
- What kind of upkeep will the irrigation system require?
If you spend some time considering how much effort, money, and time you’re willing to put into your new yard, then the answers to these questions will quickly tell you whether this is the right yard for you or not.
Space for Pets
If you have a pet, then the yard isn’t just about your needs. The space needs to be big enough and secure enough to assure your dog, goat, horse, or other furry friend will be happy.
Downgrading to a smaller space may require other sacrifices on your end (like more walks for Fido). A bigger space is an upgrade in most cases, but only if the right fencing is already in place or you can afford to get it there.
This is also a good time to investigate the setup of your potential neighbors’ properties and whether they have pets. While your pup might not be able to jump that four-foot fence, the neighbor’s dog may be able to. Issues with neighbors’ pets can become your problem, so it is best to be aware of them going in.
The backyard can be home to some great amenities, many of which can be very appealing to prospective home buyers. But these same amenities that entice often come with a long list of maintenance and safety considerations.
Here are some common yard amenities and the caveats that come with them:
- Pools – Can be a huge safety hazard for youngsters and pets; require a lot of professional maintenance and frequent cleaning.
- Hot Tubs – Use a lot of energy, require frequent cleaning, and are notorious for needing professional maintenance.
- Playsets – Great for kids but can be a pain to get rid of once those kids have grown up; many require yearly maintenance.
- Ponds and Waterfalls – Can be a safety hazard for small children; require maintenance to keep clean and working correctly.
- Fire Pits – Gas pits cost money to operate and need occasional upkeep to assure they don’t leak.
Before you get seduced by the prospect of having a new recreational resource at your disposal, be sure you are willing to take on the work and responsibility required.
Beyond the maintenance required by your new yard, you also need to pay attention to what work will need to be done upfront to make it livable for you. Just like with remodels to the inside of your new home, changes to the exterior can be costly and take a lot of work.
Here are some common projects for newly purchased yards:
- New fencing
- Driveway repouring
- Mudjacking steps and patios
- Replacing or putting in lawn
- Putting in new lighting
- Painting the exterior of the home
- Replacing damaged siding
- Adding outbuildings
- Removing trees
- Adding/cleaning up garden beds
- Creating berms and visual screens
Just as you did inside the home, make note of any major work that needs to be done to the yard. This will help you compare properties later down the line.
Some important investigational work you can do before looking at a new home is to check into the location. Multiple aspects will play into how happy you are with your new purchase.
How close is the home to things you enjoy? Places like shops, restaurants, recreational spots, and entertainment? And how about necessities like work, school, and the grocery store?
Consider how much drive time you are willing to commit to your new home. And if certain home aspects, like a larger yard, are worth a longer drive.
If driving is not always an option, or if you have teens that will want to get around on their own, then having things close by will be that much more important.
When we talk about community, we are speaking specifically about the area your home is located in. Especially in the age of suburbs, this can play a lot into how much you will enjoy your new home.
Here are some questions to ask (yourself and your agent) concerning the community:
- Is there an HOA? If so, what are the fees?
- If there is no HOA, how much does the city enforce curb appeal?
- Does the community provide amenities like a clubhouse or pool?
- Are there community events?
- Are there any nearby parks?
- What is the crime rate in the area?
- Are there nearby facilities that could have a negative impact (airports, music venues, fracking operations)?
- Have there been any large-scale infrastructure problems in the area (sewer line breakages, water contamination, road work)?
A neighborhood can look great on the outside while having some major issues below the surface. Talking to neighbors, checking into community posts, and spending some time in the area can help you uncover problems before you commit.
One of the worst possible things that can happen to a new homeowner is to learn the view they bought the house for will soon be blocked by new development.
If the house you are viewing has open space around it or older homes and buildings that are vacant, it is worth checking with the city for future development plans. Ask yourself if you will still want to live in that house during construction and after the development is completed. Even if you don’t mind, it’s possible the changes could negatively affect your resale value.
Even the perfect house can be made unlivable with the right (read: very wrong) kind of neighbors. Before you commit to a house, you should do what you can to get to know your potential neighbors.
This may mean introducing yourself, talking to the original homeowner, or just hanging around the area to get a feel for the houses next door. The last thing you want is to move in next to someone who lets their dog bark all night or a sketchy rental situation.
What to Bring With You
Bringing our Ultimate House Hunting Checklist with you to every showing is a great way to keep track of the homes you look at. But, to get the most out of each viewing, you’ll want to pack a few extra items as well.
Here is what we suggest bringing to showings:
- Our Ultimate Checklist
- Notepad – for writing down questions
- Phone or Camera – all these showings will blur into one eventually, best to have a visual reminder to go with your checklist
- Tape Measure
- Hand Sanitizer
What to Ask
In addition to all the property-specific questions listed in the sections above, there are also some sale-specific questions you should ask for homes that show potential.
Some of these, you’ll be able to find answers to on Zillow or similar sites. Others, you’ll have to ask the selling agent to get the right answer.
Here are some of the most important questions to bring up if you are considering a property:
What known issues does the property have? The listing agent is required by law to tell you of any known safety or structural issues the home has.
Why are the owners moving? This isn’t something the agent is required to tell you, but if you can press the issue and get an answer, you may learn something that would keep you from wanting to move in.
What kind of insurance is required for the area? If you are unfamiliar with an area, this can help you get a sense of what types of natural hazards exist there. Flood insurance is required for homes in known flood plains, and hazard insurance can be required for homes in areas where tornadoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes are common.
What is the average cost of utilities? The cost of the home isn’t the only monthly payment you’ll be making. It’s a good idea to make sure you can afford the utilities before going all in on a property.
How motivated are the owners to sell? This is another question you may not get an answer to. But if you do, it can help you determine whether you make an offer higher or lower than asking.
What is included in the sale? This is something you’ll know once the contract is made up, but it can be nice to know ahead of time to help you narrow down your choices.
How old is the roof? Roofs are not cheap to replace. If the roof on one of the houses you’re considering is near the end of its life, you may be able to get the seller to replace it as a contingency for the sale or get money knocked off the asking price.
Have there been any renovations to the property? This question goes back to our section on unpermitted projects. If the answer is yes, then you can ask for proof that permits will be pulled to cover yourself against future headaches.
Are the owners willing to make repairs? There are certain repairs in addition to the roof that sellers will often address before the sale. But if there are a lot of offers, they may be less inclined to cover these expenses.
When are offers due? In hot markets, owners will often set a certain time frame to accumulate offers for review. You’ll want to know when this offer window opens and when the final offers are due, so you don’t miss out.
Have there been any offers made? For homes that have been on the market for more than a minute, there is a chance offers have already been made and are still being considered. This will affect not just how quickly you make an offer but how much you offer over asking.
Armed with your Ultimate House Hunting Checklist, information on everything you need to consider, and the above list of questions to ask, you are well on your way to finding the home of your dreams.
But before you go to your first showing, we have a few final tools to share with you. Below are some of our favorite hacks and apps for making the house hunting process easier.
- Zillow and Realtor.com Apps – both of these are great apps for helping you find available properties based on search specifications and location.
- Rocket Homes App – Good for finding homes but better for preparing you for the financing process with tools that help you track your credit score and get you preapproved.
- Next Door App – This locals-only app is a great way to get a sense of your future neighborhood. By inputting your future address, you can learn about crime patterns, community issues, and the overall personality of the area.
- Sex Offender Registry – This website is a vital tool for parents and single women looking to buy a new home. It allows you to search by location for registered sex offenders in the area.
- Public Records Database – Get information on property taxes and previous owners with this aggregated source for public records.
Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to get out there and find the home of your dreams!