9 Questions Every Home Buyer should Ask before Buying


Tim Lucas
Military VA Loan editor
9 questions every home buyer should ask

Every home buyer should be prepared to ask the right questions. Photo by Rick Martinez/Photos.com.

by Realtor® and U.S. Army Veteran Ed Kunkel, Jr.

Many buyers in the market are “first timers” and should be asking a lot of important questions in this market before making any decisions. Buying a home is a huge decision coupled with not a lot of knowledge about the process – a dangerous combination.

Sometimes first time home buyers don’t know the right questions to ask. Here are nine that are a great start to finding your best path to home buying.

What kind of home will work for me?  First things first, get pre-approved with a lender. You need to know your maximum home price before you start looking. A particular home might work well for you, but it may be out of your price range. Don’t waste your time looking at those homes.

Once you know how much home you can afford, it’s time to sort out what you want, and sometimes what helps is learning what you don’t want.  You should have some idea where you would like to live, and what you would like the home to have to cater to your needs and interests.  Talk with your agent about what your preferences are, and look at options that are available.  Look at homes to compare features, and take careful notes from what you learn.  Figure out what you know you don’t want to help you move forward when you’re ready to make an educated decision.

Can I make a lower-than-asking-price offer on a home?  Of course you can.  It’s an open market, and everything is negotiable in Real Estate.  Every market is different, and it’s worth the time to spend with your agent to define what your market looks like so you know what to prepare for when you are ready to make that offer.

Anyone can make a low-ball offer just to see if it sticks – and it usually doesn’t. But a smart consumer that knows what they want, and how to go about negotiating the purchase will be more likely to achieve success.

How flexible should a seller be on price and terms?  This depends on the seller’s perception and motivation to sell.  It also depends on how effective the communication is between the seller and their agent.

Not all agents are equal – some agents are effective leaders that educate their clients, while earning their trust to navigate through their market.  Other agents only enable sellers to make choices about selling their home that have no bearing or influence on what is happening in the current market.  The most common mistake agents make is to allow sellers to overprice their home. It means that buyers like you are less likely to consider it.

What should I know about short sales?  The term ‘short sale’ can be misleading to consumers that don’t understand them.   When a home owner needs to sell their home but they don’t have the equity to do so without losing a lot of cash, the owner can sell “short” and leave the bank with the loss. This only happens with the bank’s approval.

It’s situations like this that are all the more reason to have a professional guiding you through the process if you choose to pursue a short sale. It’s important to know how many loans are on the property, who is negotiating with the owner’s loan holder, and how any repairs will be completed.

What should I know about foreclosure homes?  If you want to go to the public auction and never have before, I recommend that you find a local auction and witness how they work.  If you have access to immediate cash to invest in purchasing a foreclosure, this may be a good venture for you.  Otherwise, you can look for REO (Real Estate Owned, otherwise known as bank owned) homes available on the open market through your local Multiple Listing Service, or MLS.  To purchase an REO, it may require special addendums or a bidding process online through your professional.

There are lots of things to consider about purchasing an REO that are similar in nature to a short sale.  Both homes are classified as “distressed,” which means abandonment, neglect, the possibility of excessive repairs, and a host of other issues.

How do I know if there’s something wrong with a house I like?  Before committing to a purchase, do a visual inspection of the home, inside and out.  Look under the eaves, the siding, the foundation, and the roof.  Do you see something out of place, cracked, or damaged?  Does the roof material look clean and defined, or does it appear worn with corners curling?  Looking inside the home, how do the walls and ceiling look?  Do you see any excessive patches, or different texture patterns in the drywall?  Is there any discolored drywall around the ceiling?  Look at the cabinet doors and drawers in the kitchen and bathrooms, do they look straight and neat?  Do the floors appear to be level?  Are there any strange creaks or sounds when you walk through the home?  Usually a 5-10 minute ‘poke around’ will help you in your decision to make an offer and commit to paying for a professional inspection.

What out of pocket costs should I anticipate up front for buying a home?  Aside from how you plan on paying for a home (Cash, loan with a down payment, or a no down payment VA loan), you will need money for an inspection, an appraisal, additional inspections for specific purposes (lead based paint, further inspections recommended by you inspector, etc.) and anything else that you may have agreed upon with the home seller.  Ask your agent for a referral list of home inspectors, and contact them for rates and availability.

You’ll also need to pay for VA home loan closing costs, if the seller has not agreed to pay some or all of them for you.

Do I really need a Realtor®?   The short answer is yes.  You are making one of the biggest decisions of your life, and it’s very likely that this is your first time buying a home.  It makes sense to hire a professional.

A Realtor® assists clients daily in their pursuit to buy and sell Real Estate – they know what to expect in the current market conditions now, and what to prepare for in the not too distant future.

The best part is that a Realtor® is typically free to the buyer. The seller pays his or her commissions.

Can you provide references for me?  A quality agent that has mastered their skill set is what you want, so ask for their references.  What should you do with said references?  Call them, email them, ask them how the experience was working with their agent.  Keep the conversation brief and cordial, don’t interrogate them.  And keep in mind, you may likely be added to that reference list for other new clients.  If the overall response from their references is favorable to the agent, be prepared to sign an agreement.

Ed Kunkel, Jr. is a Managing Broker/Realtor® at Keller Williams Realty in Olympia, Washington. Visit Ed here. Ed’s Military History: Veteran – U.S. Army and Air Force Reserve; Highest rank, E5; 11 years combined military service.