While you shouldn't think of renting as simply throwing your money away, there might come a time when buying your own home makes more sense than continuing to rent. It's a big step: Buying a home will likely be your single largest purchase, and your home will probably be your largest asset. One way to determine whether it's the best house for you is to ask the previous owner pertinent questions about the property.
Finances are one of the big issues when it comes time to purchase a home. Things you need to know to make an informed buying decision include how long the previous owner has owned the home and how much he paid for it. This will tell you whether the home has increased or decreased in market value over that period of time. You need to know how long the house has been on the market. This can help you determine how motivated the previous owner is to sell the home. You might also inquire about how the previous owner arrived at the current asking price. There might be factors beyond the obvious that cause the home's price to be higher or lower than what it should be going for on the current market.
A home requires a certain amount of upkeep. You want to know that the previous owner performed regular, routine maintenance. Otherwise you could be buying someone else's headache. Ask how frequently the house has been painted, when the last time the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system was serviced and how old the appliances are. Ask whether there are any recurring maintenance issues.
Surface issues like outdated carpet or a bad paint job in the living room can typically be fixed quickly and relatively inexpensively. Structural problems are a different matter. If the foundation is bad, the plumbing is defective, the electrical system still uses knob and tube wiring or the roof hasn't been replaced in 25 years, you could be looking at a money pit. "I don't know" is not an appropriate answer to any question about the house's structural issues. If the previous owner can't answer your questions, make sure you get a quality home inspection.
The nicest home you've ever seen might not be such a bargain if it sits right under a major airline flight path. Crotchety neighbors, barking dogs and high crime rates can also affect how you feel about a home, once you move in. Ask the previous owner about any nuisances in the neighborhood. If you have young children you might inquire about the local school system. Anything about the neighborhood that impacts your quality of life is fair game to ask.
- Prudential California Realty: Ten Questions To Ask a Seller When Buying a Home
- Realty Times: What to Ask the Current Owner Before You Buy
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: 100 Questions & Answers About Buying A New Home
- For Sale By Owner: Questions Buyers Ask
- FindLaw: Questions to Ask When Buying a Home
Mike Parker is a full-time writer, publisher and independent businessman. His background includes a career as an investments broker with such NYSE member firms as Edward Jones & Company, AG Edwards & Sons and Dean Witter. He helped launch DiscoverCard as one of the company's first merchant sales reps.