Real estate is one of life's biggest personal investments, and making a list and checking it twice can help to ensure that you understand the process and get the best deal for your money. Consider hiring a real estate professional to help you, especially if it's your first time purchasing a home. A knowledgeable person can help you ask the right questions, weigh your options and select the financing that is best for your situation.
There are a lot of things you need to know about the land use plans and zoning around real estate you’re considering. For example, if there’s undeveloped land behind a house you like, ask your local zoning commission about the development planned for the area. You might think you’re buying a secluded lot in a residential community, only to learn the area is zoned “industrial commercial” and will one day be home to a major manufacturing plant. If you have children now or plan on having children later, identify the school district in which each home under consideration lies.
Ask questions about the home builder, whether you're looking at the purchase of an existing home or a new one. Contact your local Better Business Bureau and ask questions about the builder’s reputation to ensure there are no complaints about construction defects. Have a home inspection conducted and ask questions about existing problems with the structure and major systems, like heating, cooling and plumbing. A home inspector can also answer questions about the type of upkeep and investment you should be prepared to make.
You'll want to know your prospective home’s current appraised value, as well as the value of other homes in the vicinity. Hire an appraiser and ask for “comps” -- comparable prices of other homes in the area. Ask questions about value trends for the neighborhood to determine if home values are increasing or declining. This will help you understand the investment potential of the property.
If you're looking at a resale home, ask questions about what appliances and features stay with the property. Typically, window coverings remain with the property, but appliances, outdoor grills, hot tubs and even gazebos may not be part of the asking price. Clarify what is and is not included with the home.
If the property you’re considering is part of a homeowner’s association, ask questions about maintenance fees and community rules and regulations. You can also estimate utility fees by asking the homeowner or home builder about average bill sizes. Public utilities also provide averages for the address at which a home is located.
Talk with a qualified mortgage lender and ask questions about the pros and cons of different loan products. A mortgage lender should be able to evaluate your current financial picture and help you make educated decisions about how much money you can invest in real estate. Ask questions about the short-term and long-term ramifications of different loans, including the differences between interest rates. Find out how much money you need for your down payment and closing costs, and what your total monthly payment is expected to be.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.