What to look for when touring a home

a real estate agent giving a client a house tour

A guide for both first-time and experienced homebuyers 

In this article

You’ve made a list of what you need in a new home, scoured the internet for the perfect places, and inspected each listing picture. Now it’s time for the real thing. But what should you look for once you’re on a tour?

Touring a home can be overwhelming for both first-time and experienced homebuyers, especially if you tour multiple homes. There’s a lot to keep track of, and each house will have its own charms and quirks. You might find yourself struggling to remember which is which. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through what to look for when touring a home and take a look at what’s most important—and what’s not. 

This guide will show you:

  • How to be detailed in your walkthrough 
  • What you you should always bring to a home tour
  • Which things you won’t have to pay much attention to
  • The things that you really do need to pay attention to
  • How to scope out the neighborhood to make sure it’s the one for you

Really get in there

It’s easy to get ahead of yourself when looking at listing pictures. Keep in mind that many listing pictures are filtered, and they’re obviously trying to show the home in the best light. But this is a big investment, and you want to make sure that you know exactly what you’re getting. With that in mind, don’t be shy when you tour the home—but don’t be rude and overstep, either.

  • Open and close cupboards: You don’t need to rifle through spices or medications, but opening and closing cupboard and medicine cabinet doors will help you take stock of any repairs that may need to be made. A few creaks here and there are ok, but make sure that things are in good working order.
  • Check for damage: Certain things like small holes in the sheetrock or a loose door handle are easy to fix and shouldn’t necessarily deter you from buying the home. But you should be on the lookout for things like mold, water stains on the ceiling and walls, bubbling or flaking paint, and warped floors. These could all be indications of water damage or other issues. If there are large cracks in the walls, ceilings or floors, it could mean there is structural damage or foundation issues that could cost an average of around $5,000 and upwards of $10,000.
  • Bring a tape measure: This is the one item that you should always have on a home tour. If you have existing furniture that you’ll be moving into the home—or even if you’re buying new things—take measurements to make sure your things will fit. And remember that everything will need to come into the home, so check to make sure the doorways are wide enough to fit your favorite chair or dining room table.

Don’t get hung up on cosmetics

Sometimes it’s hard to picture a home looking any other way than it currently does, but when you’re touring a home there are certain things that you can ignore. If you’re having trouble looking past the cosmetic stuff, settle in and watch a few hours of HGTV to get the juices flowing and see what’s possible. Here are some things you don’t need to worry about on a home tour.

  • Paint color and small holes: Painting the walls may seem like a daunting task, but with a little spackle and a fresh coat of paint, you can do a quick update and refresh the space. 
  • Fixtures and hardware: Things like faucets, door pulls, and light fixtures are relatively affordable and easy to replace. And they can make a huge difference in putting your personal stamp on the home and moving it closer to your style.
  • Flooring or carpeting: Replacing the flooring or carpeting can be a big job, but it can make a world of difference when you’re redesigning a space.
  • Decor: If you feel like you walked into a ‘70s time capsule or your grandma’s living room, don’t panic! Try to envision the space without the furniture or wall decor and mentally put yours in it.
  • Generally in need of an update: If the home is generally outdated, this can definitely deter buyers who want to avoid any updating. However, if you’re willing to take on a little bit of work, this can mean a good deal for you.
  • Fencing: Fencing doesn’t need to be the thing to make or break your home purchase. You can always add one or update an existing one later.
  • Exterior and landscaping: New siding or a coat of paint can go a long way. Just like with the interior, exterior features like shutters and trim can be updated relatively affordably. Landscaping is another area that you can personalize later if you don’t like what’s there when you tour the home.
a person holding a brass faucet tube
Minor damage like holes in drywall aren’t a big deal, but broken appliances and leaking faucets may indicate larger problems in a home

What you shouldn’t ignore

While there are lots of things that can be changed once you move in, there are a few things to look for that need to be taken seriously and could be a deal-breaker.

  • Odors: Some odors can be removed or will fade with time, but take into consideration how long and how much effort it will take to remove odors like cat urine or cigarette smoke. And some odors, like must and mildew, can indicate larger problems like mold or a water leak.
  • The size and shape of the yard: In a neighborhood, you get what you get when it comes to the size and shape of the yard. Make sure there’s enough space for you and your family to grow, and that you have a layout that will work for you.
  • The size and shape of interior rooms: While a lot can be done with renovation, it’s important to make sure that the rooms are the right size and shape for your needs. Certain walls can be removed, but others will be load bearing and necessary to the structure of the home. If you’re touring a home in an HOA or condo association, there may be restrictions on the types of renovations you can do as well.
  • Parking: The parking situation isn’t usually easy to change no matter the property. Check to see if there is a driveway, garage, street parking, or a parking structure and assess whether or not the parking will meet your needs. If there’s street parking, check out the street signs so you know if there are times when your car will need to be moved.
  • Storage: People come with a lot of stuff, so make sure there’s enough room for all of your belongings whether it’s closets, a basement, out-buildings, or another setup.
  • Appliances and systems: If the appliances are going to come with the home, make sure to ask about their condition—how old are they? Are they in need of repair? Flush toilets, turn on faucets, check for signs of leaks like dripping pipes or water stains, and flip on the lights. Ask about the HVAC system, sprinklers, water heater, etc.

Check out the neighborhood

This won’t happen inside the home, obviously, but it’s important to check out the neighborhood. After touring the home, take a walk around the block, notice the upkeep of other homes, and pay attention to traffic, especially if you have kids or don’t want lots of people driving by your home.

You should also drive around the area to see what the surrounding areas are like, find out what amenities and services there are, and check out the schools and proximity to work.

Some other things to pay attention to:

  • How are the neighbors interacting?
  • Is it easy to walk around the neighborhood?
  • How much traffic goes by the home? What is the speed limit and how fast do people actually drive?
  • What amenities are there—stores, restaurants, coffee shops, parks, gyms, etc?
  • What is the commute like to work? Try to drive it at the times you would normally drive to see what the traffic is like, or check out the traffic on the news.
  • Is the neighborhood part of an HOA, and if so, what are the fees? You can also ask to look at the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) to see what is allowed and what isn’t.

Is it time to make an offer?

As you tour more and more homes, you’ll start to get a feel for what you’re looking for, but it can also be easy to forget which house had the amazing deck or that one squeaky spot in the floor. Luckily, we have a handy ready-to-use house hunting checklist that will help you keep track of absolutely everything. 

Once you’ve toured the home and completed a checklist to make sure it has everything you need, it’s time to decide whether or not to make an offer. As a first time—or experienced— home buyer, this can be a nerve wracking decision. But if you’ve toured the home the right way and looked for the right things, the decision is much easier.

FAQ

What are you looking for in a home tour checklist?

A home tour checklist should be as comprehensive as possible. When you look at multiple homes, it’s easy to get confused and mix up or forget some of the details. A detailed checklist will help you keep everything straight and guide you through what to look for when touring a home.

What questions to ask when you view a house?

There are a lot of things that you’ll be able to see on your own, but for some things, it’s best to ask the agent. For instance:

  • Why are the owners selling? A seller’s agent may not answer this question depending on the wishes of the seller.
  • What is the state of the HVAC system? When was it installed?
  • How old is the roof and has it undergone any major repairs?
  • Are there any unpermitted additions or renovations?

What are must-haves for a new home?

The answer to this depends on your needs. Some people won’t even look at a home that doesn’t have everything they’re looking for, while others make do or tackle renovations. Making sure that the home will work for you and your needs, now or in the future, is the best strategy when touring homes.

What three things would you want in a home?

The most important things to look for when touring a home are the things that can’t be changed.

  1. Location: The home’s location can’t be changed. So make sure that the home is in the right location in a neighborhood that you love.
  2. The floor plan and size of the rooms: While renovation can go a long way, much of a home’s footprint is difficult and costly to change. When you’re looking at a home, keep in mind that the size and shape of the rooms will likely stay the same.
  3. Windows: The number, size, and shape of your home’s windows can be changed but it will be time-consuming and expensive. The best strategy is to find a home with windows that fit your needs.

What should you not say when touring or buying a house?

You want to tour a home with a critical eye—but not a critical mouth, especially if the seller or the seller’s agent is around. If you bad-mouth the home’s decor or call a feature an eyesore, it could get back to the seller and cause them to look at your offer less favorably. 

Just like you don’t want to criticize the home too much, you also don’t want to gush and show your hand too early. Wandering around the house and exclaiming how much you love every detail can put you at a disadvantage if there is any negotiating since it’s clear that you’re attached.

About the author: Stephanie Mickelson is a freelance writer based in Northwest Wisconsin who specializes in real estate, building materials, and design. When she’s not writing, she can be found juggling kids and coffee.

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