Key questions to ask during the homebuying process
Last updated: January 1
Buying a house can be overwhelming, but if you break it down into smaller steps, you may find the process much easier to handle. Here are some important questions to ask to help make homebuying a little more manageable, each step of the way:
How much house can I afford?
You can't start looking for a house until you know how much house you can afford. Typically, a few elements determine that.
- First, there is your budget. Beyond the monthly mortgage, you'll have to account for property taxes and possible mortgage insurance, and for related costs like home maintenance and homeowners insurance.
- Next, make sure you have enough savings to cover closing costs and a down payment. Lenders typically prefer a 20 percent down payment, though some will accept less (but it might result in a monthly fee, called private mortgage insurance, tacked onto the loan).
- Finally, you'll want to know how much you can borrow. A mortgage lender will review your financials (your income, employment history and debt load) to determine that. Experts say getting preapproved for a loan before you start your search will help you act quickly when you find the right home.
Where should I live?
Now that you have a budget, you'll need to settle on a location. List your priorities, or take a fun quiz, to help decide: Are you looking for a single-family home, or will a townhome do? Are schools important, or commute time? What about local parks, restaurants or other amenities?
Once you've narrowed down your needs, do some research on neighborhoods that fit the bill. Look at crime statistics, school report cards, and even the minutes of local board meetings to determine how well the community is run.
How do I make an offer on a house?
Sometimes you'll have to look at several homes to find the right one, and other times you'll happen on it quickly. Either way, it's best to keep your head when it's time to negotiate the price.
Start by finding out whether the seller is motivated in some way: Have they bought another home? Are they moving out of state? If there's an element of urgency, they may be more willing to negotiate, says Zillow.
Researching recent sales in the area can also help, letting you gauge whether the asking price is fair or whether you can reasonably submit a lower offer.
If the seller has other offers, though, you may find yourself having to decide whether you love the house enough to engage in a bidding war, potentially spending more than you've budgeted.
Why do I need a home inspection?
Once you've found the right home, you may be tempted to rush or even skip a home inspection. But experts say that's not wise, because a home inspector can often alert you to potentially expensive problems you wouldn't otherwise know about in the home.
Sitting in on the inspection is also an opportunity to learn about the home's systems and what it'll take to manage, repair or replace them, and to ask all kinds of questions along the way.
The final report can act as a home manual of sorts. But it can also serve as a point of negotiation (asking the seller for repairs before you move in or for a price reduction). It can also help you decide if any problems are too big to take on, making it a final opportunity to walk away from the sale, says Zillow.
How do I prepare for a closing?
You've come a long way, but the home isn't officially yours until the closing day. You'll start this final phase by doing a final walkthrough of your home, making sure any repairs you requested were made and that that the home is still in the condition you agreed to buy. The walkthrough generally takes place anywhere from a day before to just a few hours before the closing.
At the closing itself, you'll have to present proof that you've purchased homeowners insurance, be ready to sign all sorts of legal documents, and present a cashier's check to cover your down payment and closing costs (your lender will advise you of the total in advance), says Zillow. You can also elect to wire the funds before the closing
Once you've signed all the documents and settled the finances, you're officially the owner and you'll receive the keys to your brand-new home.
Now all that's left is the move in. And if you've given the move the same consideration you've given the process of buying a home, then you should expect that it'll go off without a hitch, too.