Use these house hunting tips and our property viewing checklist to simplify your search
By Jenny Rose Spaudo
In this article
If you’re ready to buy a home, you’re probably excited to go house hunting. We get it! It’s fun to walk through various homes, see what you love about each one, and imagine your family living there. But with all the details to track and decisions to make, house hunting can become exhausting after a few days.
Thankfully, our thorough house hunting checklist keeps your search fun and simple. Learn what to think about before buying your next home, what to look for during walk-throughs, and what questions to ask the sellers.
What you’ll learn
- Using a checklist can help you make a wise, informed decision about a home for sale.
- When house hunting, pay attention to your overall impressions and key aspects of the home, such as exterior features, interior features, and the community.
- Don’t take a home at face value. Follow up with the sellers with key questions.
- Once you’ve walked through several homes, compare your filled-out checklists to help you decide which one is the right fit for you.
Why use a house hunting checklist?
You’ll likely look at several homes when house hunting. And after a few walk-throughs, it can be tough to remember all those important details. In fact, studies show we forget 60% of new information within just a few days.
Using checklists will help keep you on track while house hunting, doing the final walk-through, and moving in. It’ll also make it easier to compare the homes to one another to see which one best meets your needs and tastes.
What to think about when house hunting
Before doing any walk-throughs, it’s important you’re clear on what you really want in a home. There are dozens if not hundreds of homes available in your area—and you can’t see them all. Narrow down your search by asking yourself these questions:
- How many bedrooms does my family need?
- How many bathrooms?
- How important to me is having a big kitchen?
- Do I want two stories or one? Or does it not matter?
- Do I want a pool?
- Do my kids need a big yard to play outside?
- Do I need a home office?
- How close does the house need to be to my workplace or my kids’ school?
- How much can I afford to pay per month on a home? (Include mortgage, HOA, property taxes, and utilities in this budget.)
When walking through a home, it’s easy to focus solely on what you see—the style, floor plan, size of the rooms, and fixtures. But these aren’t a home’s only important features. It’s crucial that you also pay attention to things like the roof, exterior siding, odors, ceilings, and the neighborhood to name a few.
The checklist in this article will help you analyze all those important features. Here’s how to approach each of the sections of our comprehensive house touring checklist.
The home’s exterior
A house’s exterior is just as important as its layout and rooms. If the outside looks unkempt, chances are, the owner hasn’t taken great care of the rest of the property.
A fresh, green lawn makes a home instantly more attractive. But a lawn riddled with soggy spots, dying grass, or mold can present major issues.
Pay attention to the fence, too. If the wood is decaying and falling apart, you’ll likely need to replace it, which costs $1,580 to $3,418 on average.
Look at the backyard, too. Is it big enough for your taste? Can you make landscaping changes if you want to? If you have kids, can they safely run around and play there?
Siding and roof
Look at the home’s exterior materials. For wood, look for any mold, rot, or decay, which could indicate termite or water damage. Holes can also give critters easy access to infest the house. Check the windows, too, to see if they’re in need of repair.
Don’t forget the roof. You probably won’t be able to climb up to see it for yourself, but you can ask the seller how old it is and if it has any damage. Take a look at the gutters as well to see if they’re broken or missing.
The home’s interior
People spend about 90% of their time indoors, which means looking at a home’s interior is extremely important. Here are several common issues to watch out for, especially in older homes.
When you walk through the front door, pay attention to what you smell. Unpleasant odors like cigarette smoke, pets, or mothballs can be dealt with easily enough. But if the home has a strong musty smell, it might have a hazardous mold or mildew problem. And if you smell something rotten, there could be a dead animal or decaying vegetation somewhere in the home.
Damage to walls, floors, and ceilings
Large cracks in the walls, ceilings, and floors could indicate structural damage. Keep an eye out for signs of water damage, too:
- Water stains
- Warped floors
- Bubbling or flaking
- Drips from the ceiling
- Damp or musty odors
- Intense humidity inside
If you come across extra rooms that aren’t on the official floor plan, ask if the seller received a permit for that work. Unpermitted additions might not seem like a big deal, but if the local government found out, they could send you a hefty fine.
Broken appliances and systems
It can cost thousands of dollars to fix a broken appliance. Take a look at each of these systems while walking through the house:
- Water heater
- Air conditioning unit
- Heating system
- Lights and fans
- Garbage disposal
- Washer and dryer
You may not be allowed to test all of these appliances and systems, but at least ask how old they are and if the seller has had any problems with them recently.
Some people prefer an open floor plan while others like having distinct rooms. Walk around the home and ask yourself if the layout works for you. Think about whether you want a separated dining room and kitchen, whether you need a home office, and whether your kids need a closed-off play room.
Next, look at how many windows the house has and where they are. Is there enough natural lighting?
Perhaps you’ve heard real estate agents emphasize how important location is for any property. There’s a lot of truth to that! Your next home’s neighborhood can make your experience there delightful or miserable.
Before doing a walk-through, research the neighborhood:
- Crime rates
- School rankings
- Proximity to highways and busy roads
- Property values
- Local taxes
- Amenities (Community pool, sports courts or fields, gyms, libraries, etc.)
- Weather hazards (Is the house in a flood zone or a fire zone?)
Then, while driving to the house, ask yourself these questions about the neighborhood:
- What’s the traffic like?
- How clean is the community?
- How’s the noise level?
- Is the neighborhood gated?
- How are the neighbors interacting with each other?
Your overall impressions
Sometimes you’ll get a strong impression while touring a house. Don’t ignore those gut feelings. Instead, write down what stands out to you while you’re there—what you like or dislike. When you think about the home, what’s the first word that comes to mind?
How strong is the “Love Factor?”
If a house checks all the boxes but you still don’t love it, it’s probably not the right fit for you. You’ll likely live in your next home for several years, so it’s important you love it. Whenever you leave a walk-through, ask yourself, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much did I love this house?”
Our downloadable house hunting checklist
We think this is the best checklist for when you’re looking at a house to buy. But remember—it works best if you use it while touring a home.
Download this house hunting checklist as a PDF and either print it or fill it out directly from your smartphone or tablet.
Ready-to-use house hunting checklist
Other important questions to ask when buying a house
There are things about a home you can’t discover through research or personal observation. Here are several additional questions to ask the seller or your real estate agent.
Why is the owner moving?
Sometimes homeowners move because they have a better job opportunity or their family has outgrown their current space. But if it’s because the property has problems, the taxes and HOA fees are too high, or the neighborhood is awful, you may not want to make an offer.
What is included in the sale?
Lights, fans, and other fixtures are typically included in a home’s sale, as are appliances like refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers. But it’s still a good idea to make sure. Sometimes the seller is willing to leave behind some furniture they don’t want anymore. You won’t know if you don’t ask!
Is the owner selling “as is?”
Selling a home “as is” means the owner isn’t willing to make any repairs or improvements before closing. This can be risky if there are some major issues with the home that the seller doesn’t disclose—or if they made unpermitted renovations.
How much do the monthly utilities typically cost?
Utilities are a big part of your monthly housing budget. So make sure you can afford them before making an offer.
Has this house had any prior insurance claims?
Unfortunately, past claims on a house can affect your ability to get home insurance for it. To insurance companies, a home that’s had issues in the past will likely have just as many issues in the future.
This question also gives you an opportunity to ask the sellers about any issues they’ve had with the house in the past.
Has the owner had any problems with neighbors?
Don’t feel bad about this question—the goal isn’t to get all the juicy gossip. You’re simply trying to find out if anything is going on in the neighborhood that would be an issue for you. If the next-door neighbors are constantly hosting loud parties late at night or if there are shady deals going on a few houses down, that could affect your decision.
When are all offers due?
You don’t want to fall in love with a house only to find out you’ve missed the deadline to bid on it! Set yourself up for success by writing down all the bidding due dates for the houses you like.
House hunting can be a fun yet exhausting process that involves a lot of difficult decisions. Using a house hunting checklist PDF makes it easier to keep track of all the details and compare homes later on. When you move into your next home, you’ll be glad you took the time to make the best choice!
What should I look for when house hunting?
It’s important you look at each component of the home (including its systems, appliances, and rooms) and ask yourself if it meets your needs and tastes. A run-down home could be more expensive than you think. You should also pay attention to how you feel about the house. Do you love it? Hate it? Do you feel safe?
What do I want in a home checklist?
A great home checklist should cover your overall impressions of the house as well as the important details—systems, exterior features, interior features, and community. You should be able to take your checklist with you during walk-throughs so you can mark your answers in real time.
What should you not do when house hunting?
Don’t set your heart on a home or offer a bid without walking through the house first and ranking the items on our house hunting checklist. It’s also a good idea to do this with someone else. Bring your real estate agent and your partner, child, or friend so they can offer a fresh perspective. Lastly, be open-minded—sometimes you don’t know what you’ll love until you see it.
What are five good features of a house?
The top five features to look for when house hunting are:
1. Great location
2. Structural safety
3. Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
4. Quality maintenance
5. Layout that meets your needs
About the author: Jenny Rose Spaudo is a freelance writer, content marketer, and copywriter specializing in real estate, PropTech, and investing. She’s also a proud Central Florida homeowner. Visit her website at jennyrosespaudo.com and connect with her on LinkedIn.