Here's Why You Should Ask Questions Before Buying Your First Home---Even if They Tell You Not To
Every first-time home buyer has spent hours browsing for homes of sites like Zillow or Trulia and dreaming about the possibilities. Even the fixer-uppers can get you dreaming of gutting kitchens and laying wood floors with your bare hands. That is, until you come across something like this:
"Buyer assumes responsibility for the month-to-month tenancy in the upstairs apartment. Occupant has never paid, and no security deposit is being held, but there is a lease in place. (Yes, it does not make sense, please don't bother asking.)"--a recent Zillow post in Cayce, SC.
Wait. We have questions. Like, a lot of questions. Who's up there? Are they elderly or sick? How is there a lease if the occupant has never paid? Am I responsible for feeding and caring for the tenant? Should I call the police? And most importantly, why are you telling us not to ask questions?
No matter what anyone says, you should never buy a home without asking some questions first. In fact, you should ask all the questions you can possibly think of. Your first home is a huge investment of both your money and your time. You want to be sure it's somewhere you can be happy for years to come. If you don't know what questions to ask, we'd suggest starting with these.
Problems with the neighbors
When you're a renter, annoying neighbors are, well, annoying. But they also aren't forever and they aren't bringing down your property value. Before you buy your first home you need to ask about the neighbors to find out if they're known for playing their Tibetian monk chant CD at top volume at three in the morning or if their kids are known for throwing rocks at windows and cars. Don't just ask your Realtor this one, either. If you see other neighbors walking around the neighborhood, introduce yourself and ask a few questions about the community as a whole.
What are the HOA rules?
HOAs can be great if they have reasonable rules. They make sure your neighbors take care of their yard and they keep the neighborhood pool clean and operational. But if you were planning on painting your house a brighter color, getting backyard chickens, or even building a privacy fence, your HOA might have rules against it. Be sure you ask to read the covenant before you buy a home with an HOA.
Are there skeletons in the closet?
Not literally. Well, okay, you should literally check out the closets just to see their size and condition. But, we're talking more about anything unsavory that may have happened in the house. Will you be creeped out knowing that someone died in your bedroom? Does it make a difference if it was a murder?
A death in your home is creepy, but not necessarily harmful. But asking these questions might also protect your health. For example, if your house was ever used as a meth lab you might find yourself dealing with migraines, skin irritation, and breathing problems.
The answer to this doesn't have to be tragic or illegal to make a difference, either. You should also ask if the previous owner ever buried a deceased pet in the backyard. The last thing you need when you're digging a new garden or removing a tree is to find the remains of someone's beloved pet.
Has it been flooded
Just because your house isn't on the ocean or a big river doesn't mean it's never been flooded. Some homes that sit in or near a flood plane can be free from flooding for decades. But a big storm or unusual weather pattern can bring the water up into the home, causing flooding and water damage.
Even if the home has never flooded because of a natural event, there's always a chance a pipe might have burst and left several feet of water in the basement before anyone noticed.
Knowing that can tell you if you need to consider extra flood insurance or if you need to get an additional mold inspection before putting in an offer.
Is that deck up to code?
It's beautiful and really opens up the yard. But if it wasn't built to code it might be unsafe or it might cause problems when you're ready to sell your home. And speaking of decks...are there any wood-boring insects around?
Many termite issues start outside, but by the time a lot of people realize they have termites, the damage is already done. The last thing you need is to be happily settled in your new home just to realize the foundation full of holes.
How much of your first home is actually yours?
Property lines can be a funny thing. The owner of the home might have gone years assuming that their yard is twice the size of what they actually own. They might have planted trees, built a deck, and put up a swing set--all on their neighbor's property. Maybe no one lived in the house next door when the deck was built. Or maybe the two neighbors were best friends and had a "what's mine is yours" mentality when it came to the property line. But now you're stuck with a deck that's halfway in your neighbor's lawn and chances are you're going to have to tear it down one day. What's worse is you thought you were buying a home with a huge outdoor space, only to realize you have more of a postage stamp green area.
When it comes to buying your first home, there's no such thing as asking too many questions. And if anyone tries to stop you from asking, consider that a big red flag.