Financial questions | Property-specific questions | Location questions
Buying a house can feel complicated and overwhelming – especially for those navigating the process for the first time. If you’re nervous about making one of the biggest financial transactions of your life, you’re not alone.
In a recent survey of 1,000 homeowners, our friends at the Clever Data Center found that 56% aren’t comfortable handling real estate paperwork themselves. And nearly half (46%) don’t feel confident negotiating a home sale on their own.
The good news is, you don’t have to. An experienced, local real estate agent can provide insight, expertise and support to give you peace of mind in your decision-making.
Overall, asking the right questions when searching for a house will empower you to make educated buying decisions. Here’s what to ask when buying a house.
1. How Does the List Price Compare to My Budget?
Before searching for a home, review your budget to determine how much you can afford to pay each month. To simplify this process, consider using a home budget tool — like this one on Bankrate — that calculates how much home you can afford based on income and other monthly debt payments.
An accountant can also review your financial records to determine how much you can comfortably commit to a new home each month. Then, evaluate the list price of each possible home to see how it will fit into your monthly finances.
These are some of the most substantial factors to consider when determining your budget for a home:
Gross monthly income
Current monthly expenses
Outstanding debt payments
Available cash for a down payment
Finding a home that fits in your budget is key to long-term satisfaction in your new space. Do your research up front to make sure you won’t be overextending yourself with monthly mortgage payments.
💡 Buyer’s Tip: Talk to a Mortgage Lender Early
A mortgage lender can provide you even more detail for budgeting if you’re planning to finance your home purchase.
For example, you might have enough income to pay monthly mortgage payments on a home, but if your credit score is too low, lenders may require higher interest rates, which would increase your monthly mortgage payment. Or worse – they may not offer you a loan at all.
Our tip: Talk to a lender early to get preapproved, which can help you avoid roadblocks later on.
2. How Much Will the Home Cost Each Month?
Beyond the overall list price, monthly mortgage payments are perhaps the most important consideration when choosing a home. Use a mortgage calculatorto estimate your monthly payments based on purchase price, down payment amount, loan term, and interest rate.
But many homeowners underestimate the true cost of homeownership, which goes beyond your mortgage.
In a recent survey of 1,000 Americans, our friends at the Clever Data Center found that the average U.S. homeowner spends $15,405 each year on maintenance, home improvements, and other hidden costs.
Common costs include:
🔒 Homeowners Insurance
Varies | Around $1,400 per year for a $250,000 home
🏦 Mortgage Insurance (PMI)
0.2-2% of the purchase price | N/A for buyers who put 20% down
🏡 Homeowners Association Fees
$200 – $300 per month
Property taxes vary by location and are based on the assessed value of the home and land. You can view a property’s current assessed value and current tax amount by visiting the local assessor’s website and viewing past tax bills for the home. Keep in mind that you may have to pay property taxes for both the city and county.
Lenders require all borrowers to carry home insurance on a mortgaged home. The average cost of homeowners insurance with $250,000 in dwelling coverage was around $1,400 per year as of May 2022. However, this varies by region, home value, coverage limits, and other factors. Listing websites like Zillow often include insurance estimates, but contact a local insurance agent for a more precise quote.
Mortgage Insurance (PMI)
In general, homebuyers must purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI) if they make a down payment of less than 20%. PMI is typically 0.2–2% of the home purchase price, but may be higher.
Homeowners Association Fees
Ask the seller’s agent about homeowners association (HOA) fees or other mandatory costs related to neighborhood amenities and maintenance. Fees vary widely depending on the neighborhood, but often average around $200–$300 per month.
3. What Are the Commissions and Closing Costs?
Real estate closing costs generally range from 3–6% of the total purchase price, but vary by state, lender, and the type of loan. Closing costs may include everything from a loan origination fee and underwriting fee to title search, escrow, and attorney’s fees.
On average, Americans paid just over $6,800 in closing costs for a single-family home in the first half of 2021.
How to Estimate Your Closing Costs
To estimate your closing costs, ask your lender about how much it will charge in origination and underwriting fees, and contact a closing attorney or title company to find out how much they charge for a title search, closing, and related costs.
If you don’t have an existing relationship with a lender or local attorney, an experienced buyer’s agent can provide a list of resources.
Do I Have to Pay Buyer’s Agent Commission?
For listed homes, buyer’s agent commissions are generally paid by the seller or included in the price of the home.
If you are buying a home that’s unlisted or listed for sale by owner (FSBO), ask the seller how they plan to handle commissions. You may need to pay your realtor out of pocket if they’re helping you close on a property that’s not represented by a seller’s agent, but these scenarios are less common.
Details About the Home
4. Have There Been Any Major Renovations?
Most real estate listings include the year the home was built and information about recent renovations. If a listing indicates there were major changes to the home, ask the seller’s agent to provide details about the extent of those updates and the year they were completed.
If the listing doesn’t include these details, pay attention to whether portions of the home seem newer than the original structure. Signs of a major renovation can include disjointed styles, mismatched flooring, and a change in construction type or quality.
In either case, check with the local building department to see if the home has undergone any major renovations. A local building official can also tell you whether the work was completed according to applicable building codes and whether all of the permits were properly closed.
5. How Long Has the House Been On the Market?
If a home has been sitting on the market for a while, it could be a sign there’s something wrong with it or that it’s overpriced. Your real estate agent can review each home’s listing history on the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to determine how long it has been on the market — and whether there have been price drops.
Then, compare that to listing times for other comparable homes in the area. If you don’t have access to the MLS, visit a site like Zillow to view the home’s listing history or visit the local property assessor’s website to view the sales history.
This question is important because it can signal an issue, but if that issue isn’t a dealbreaker, you might be able to offer lower than the listing price. When a house has been on the market for a while, an anxious seller might be willing to sell for less.
6. Are There Any Known Problems With the House?
Buying a home with major issues – or one that is located in a high-risk area – can make it difficult and expensive to get financing and homeowners insurance. Sometimes a seller’s agent is aware of issues with a home that are not explicitly stated in the listing, so come prepared with questions to ask when looking at a house.
For example, a seller may know that:
The septic tank has failed
There are mold issues
There are problems with the foundation
If the agent doesn’t provide this information upfront or in the listing, state law generally requires sellers to disclose this type of information as part of the contract negotiation process.
Also, check whether a home is located in a flood zone by contacting the local building department or by searching for the address through FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center. Finally, determine whether the home is in an area with a high frequency of tornadic activity or likely to be impacted by hurricanes, wildfire, or other natural disasters.
» Learn More: The BEST Time to Provide Property Disclosures
7. Will the Zoning Restrictions Conflict With My Lifestyle?
Zoning restrictions can be a deal breaker – especially for homebuyers with unique needs. For example, many local zoning restrictions and HOAs limit the type and number of vehicles or boats a homeowner can park on their property. More restrictive areas, like historic districts, may also impose more stringent requirements for things like landscaping and house color.
Likewise, restrictions may dictate how many pets a homeowner can have or even the types of animals that can live at a property. Homeowners who wish to raise chickens, grow a large-scale garden, or otherwise live off the land may find their needs are only met by more rural areas with agricultural zoning.
Most listings indicate whether the home is covered by an HOA and provide the relevant zoning code. The seller’s agent can also share applicable HOA documents and provide insight into local zoning regulations. If not, contact the HOA board directly and visit the local zoning board’s website to find out what uses are approved under the relevant code.
8. What Are Other Homes Like In the Area?
Real estate agents often base home listing prices on comparable properties that have recently sold in the area. Before buying a house, do your own review of comps by looking at recently sold properties online or have your real estate agent review relevant sales on the MLS.
This research can give you an idea of whether the house is appropriately priced or if your offer is below the market value.
9. Does the House Have a Bad Reputation In the Community?
While it may seem unlikely, otherwise perfect homes may be the subject of local lore or the site of tragedies that make them difficult to sell. If a house has been sitting on the market for a long time, it’s possible it has a bad reputation in the community that will make it difficult to sell in the future. These stigmatized properties may also come with price tags that are out of line with local comps.
Some states require listing agents to disclose whether someone died in a house within a certain period of time. Most states require agents to disclose whether there was a murder or suicide at the home. However, this is not always the case, so always search a home’s address online to make sure you’re comfortable with its history.
10. Are Appliances and Fixtures Included?
In general, fixtures that are attached to a home at the time of listing must transfer with the property unless otherwise specified in the description. And, while appliances are not considered fixtures, they are often included with the home.
Ask the seller’s agent to clarify whether appliances, fixtures, window treatments, and other items are included in the sale. The listing agent can also tell you whether the sellers are willing to sell furniture and, if so, whether it is included in the price of the home.
11. When Were the Roof and Mechanicals Installed?
The last thing you want to do after buying a new home is replace the roof or pay for an all new air conditioner.
To avoid any pitfalls, ask the seller’s agent about when the roof was installed. Having this information can help you make an informed purchasing decision and save money down the line. Not only are roofs expensive to repair, homes with older roofs often come with higher insurance premiums.
The cost to replace important mechanicals like central air systems, water heaters, and furnaces can also add up quickly. If the seller is unable to provide installation dates for these items, make sure the inspector investigates them during the due diligence period.
12. How Much Will Utilities Cost?
The cost of utilities can significantly increase the monthly costs of owning a home. Before buying a home, find out whether it is connected to city water or if there is a well on site.
Likewise, ask the seller’s agent whether the home is connected to city sewer or a septic system. If the house relies on municipal water, look into the average monthly cost for homes of a similar size; if the house is on well and septic, ask when each was installed and consider the cost of maintaining those systems.
Also inquire about the local electricity, propane, and natural gas suppliers as they apply to the home. A knowledgeable buyer’s agent should be able to provide general information about these costs and point out energy-savings features already present in the home. If not, look into average power costs in the area across all four seasons.
13. What Community Services and Amenities Are Available?
No one wants to move into a home only to discover they don’t like the neighborhood. To avoid this, research the local neighborhood and surrounding community before buying a house. Where applicable, visit the clubhouse, pool, and other amenities to make sure they meet your standards.
Likewise, check out local shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues to make sure the area aligns with your interests. Depending on your preferred mode of transportation, evaluate walkability and explore the accessibility of local parking and public transit.
If you’re new to an area and unsure of where to start, ask your real estate agent for a list of recommendations near the house. Then, take some time to explore the area to ensure it’s a good fit for you and your family.
14. How Are Local Schools?
It isn’t uncommon for homebuyers to choose an area based solely on the quality of the local school district. However, if you’re basing your search on other factors, it’s still important to familiarize yourself with the quality and proximity of schools to each prospective home.
Even if you don’t plan to have kids, a highly rated school district can improve the resale value of a home and make it easier to sell in the future. According to data from the National Association of Realtors, between 26% and 46% of home buyers are influenced by the quality of local school districts when choosing a home.
Start by looking at factors like school scores and rankings on a site like GreatSchools. Real estate agents can also provide insight into the quality of local public schools, as well as the caliber and availability of private schools, magnet programs, and other local options.
15. How Can I Get a Better Deal?
Above all, your real estate agent’s job is to help you get the best possible deal — especially if you’re competing against other buyers in a hot market.
A local realtor can help you navigate tricky decisions, such as:
Choosing a lender with competitive rates
Determining a competitive offer price
Negotiating repairs and contingencies
What questions should I ask when touring a house?
When touring a house, make sure to ask questions about its condition and anything you notice that seems off. Ask the seller’s agent if there are any known issues or hazards in the home, and whether the home has undergone any renovations. You should also ask which appliances will stay with the house when it’s sold. Learn more about which questions will help you avoid regrets when buying a house.
What should I ask a real estate agent?
When interviewing a real estate agent, ask about their length and depth of experience in the local market. Also ask about which brokerage they work for so you can assess its reputation. And don’t forget to ask about their commission rate, especially if you’re hiring a seller’s agent.