Shopping for a home is often the most enjoyable part of the homebuying experience. But it’s important to do some homework before you take the plunge.
Here are a few big considerations to keep top of mind.
If you want to be entirely satisfied with your new home, be sure that you can answer yes to the following questions: Is the house suitably located for schools, churches, shopping facilities, transportation and your place of work?
Is the neighborhood well maintained and are the other houses similar in type and price range to the one you wish to buy?
Does the area have local zoning laws or deed restrictions which will protect the neighborhood? Zoning laws and deed restrictions protect against such things as the construction of commercial property in residential areas, and may regulate lot sizes, the types of houses that can be built in the area, and whether or not manufactured homes may be placed on privately owned land.
Is the house located so that you won't be bothered by noise, dirt, and danger from highways and other streets with heavy traffic? You can find out much of this information for any neighborhood at Neighborhood Scout.
In addition to the general location and neighborhood, you should make sure you are going to be satisfied with the size and shape of your lot, and with the existing or proposed lawn, shrubbery, walks, driveway, garage, etc. If any additional work on the lot is to be done, make sure that the purchase agreement lists all such improvements which the builder or seller will make as part of the purchase price. If you want to have play space for the children, or a garden, make sure that sufficient space is available.
Will the land be properly graded to provide diversion of water away from the building and from the lot, to prevent standing water and soil saturation harmful to the structure and to lot use, and also provide appropriate finished grades for safe and convenient access to and use of the lot area? If it is an existing house, take careful notice of the slope of the ground around the house. It should slope away from the house so that water will be carried away from the foundation; otherwise, the water may cause trouble. If possible, check the lot after a heavy rain to see whether it drains properly.
If you buy a house with a VA loan, VA will appraise the property to establish its reasonable value, which is an estimate of the current market value. You will be notified of the reasonable value. VA appraisers will also consider how the home stacks up against the VA’s Minimum Property Requirements. These are broad and often-localized requirements that consider how safe, sound and sanitary a home is at the time.
The government cannot guarantee you that the house is properly constructed in all respects, nor can it guarantee that you will be satisfied with the house in every way. The responsibility of the VA is limited under the law. VA is guaranteeing your loan, but it cannot under the law guarantee your house.
It isn’t required, but buyers may want to strongly consider paying for a home inspection. The VA appraisal is required, but it’s not the same thing as an inspection.
You should examine the floors very carefully to see that they are level and without serious surface defects. If it is a wood floor, take careful note to see that the joints are tight and that it has been properly sanded and finished. Small knots in the flooring do not necessarily mean that it is of poor quality, but they must be tight knots to be acceptable.
Take a good look at the front and rear doors, opening and closing several times to see that they fit well. Large cracks can cause trouble although some clearance around the door is necessary. While examining the doors, also look at the threshold, which is the separate piece installed under the door and fastened to the floor. This threshold or bottom piece should work in combination with the bottom weather-stripping so as to keep out wind and rain.
Inspect all of the interior doors also. Make sure they all close and latch properly and are not warped out of shape. Look at the finish of all doors to make sure that the builder has painted or varnished them so that they will be protected against moisture.
Inspect the walls to see that they are of the material that you expected. There are two main types of inside wall finishes, known as "dry wall" and "plastered wall." The "dry wall" can be of plywood, gypsum wallboard, or fiberboard that is placed on the walls and taped and then painted or papered; this provides a good finish that is very serviceable.
The "plastered wall" is constructed of lath and plaster. Experience has shown that both types of wall are satisfactory if properly finished. The walls may be painted or papered, and you should inspect the finish to see that it meets with your approval.
Chipping or flaking paint in pre-1978 homes will usually need to be treated and addressed to satisfy the VA’s property requirements.
While looking at the walls, take time to note the electrical outlets, their locations, and if there are enough of them to meet your needs. The wall switches should be placed so you can reach them when you open the door. Make sure you have sufficient power circuits to run whatever appliances or equipment your family intends to use. Remember that some older houses were not originally wired to take care of the many electrical appliances and the equipment commonly used today.
Be sure there are enough windows to give proper light and ventilation and that they are located so that they will not interfere with your furniture arrangement. Try opening and closing all windows to see that they operate properly and especially whether or not they close tightly to keep out the weather.
Does your contract provide for screens? If not, keep in mind that you may wish to add them later. The same applies to storm windows and storm doors. If you think they will be necessary, allow for them in your estimate of total cost.
When you buy your home, certain items of equipment for the kitchen may be included in the purchase price. Make sure of exactly what you are supposed to get, and have it in writing. Examine these pieces of equipment to make sure that you have received the make, size, and price range specified, or the equivalent. Your sales contract should specify the type and size of kitchen and laundry equipment to be included in the purchase price.
If your house has a basement, look it over carefully. Concrete floor and walls should have a sound surface, and if a drain is provided, the floor should have proper gentle slope toward the drain. A dry basement, which will remain free of water penetration through walls and floor, is highly important. Drainage of rainwater by good outside grading and intercepting drainage swales (low-lying land) to provide drainage off the lot, including provision for carrying water away from downspouts and waterproofing of foundation walls, should be in accordance with specifications.
Damp spots on walls or floor are not necessarily an indication of leakage. In humid areas, condensation will take place when inside and outside temperatures vary. A glass of ice water gives a practical example. Good ventilation of the basement or brief periods of turning on the heating system may well eliminate such dampness.
If you are buying a house that is located where there are public sewers, you will have little to worry about. If there are no public sewers, you will probably get a septic tank. Septic tank systems, if properly installed and maintained, should give no trouble. Proper maintenance procedures call for the septic tank to be inspected at least once a year.
If you buy an "old" home, you should be absolutely sure the house is in sound condition. Get expert advice, if necessary, from some impartial person who has experience in housing construction. A thorough inspection of the property by you or a reputable inspection firm may help minimize any problems that could arise after loan closing. Particular attention should be given to plumbing, heating, electrical and roofing components.
If you find some defects in an old house which the seller agrees to correct, be sure to get a written agreement specifying what the seller will do before you obligate yourself to buy.