The Mystery Housebuyer

What to look for when you look at a potential new home

You’re heading into a for-sale house or condo to tour. You’re mentally armed with all of the questions you want to ask the listing agent about the seller, timing, other offers pending, etc. You’ve boned up on all of your own information that you might need to offer up in response to agent questions about your financing, your top needs, etc. The tour goes well, you race home to talk to your family or significant other or random neighbor. And very soon you realize something: You have no idea if the living room has enough outlets to handle your beloved big-screen television. Nor do you remember if the stove had four burners or five. Wait, was it gas or electric?

You can put this in the category of First World Problems, but it is a problem nonetheless, and it is exacerbated by the speed with which many people feel they must evaluate and bid on a property in today’s hot market. In that process, they sometimes forget to note the little things that will actually make the home pleasant to live in.

Here are some good reminders of what to make sure you file away in your memory during your initial property visit.

Outlets. You might not be obsessive enough to count and record the number of electrical outlets in every room, but you might want to do that for the living room, major bedrooms, perhaps the office and the garage, if any. And after having lived in an apartment with absolutely no outlet in the bathroom, I am always careful to note the existence of a handy outlet there for hair dryers, electric razors, and hair clippers.

Carpets. How many times have you tried to describe a place to someone, only to find you can’t remember the details? Often what will have stuck in your mind is that there were carpets throughout most of the house. So sure, the bedrooms have carpet, but do you remember if the hallway is carpeted? And just what color were the carpets? Assuming you would like to keep those carpets, you might want to start thinking if they will match your furniture. Assuming you don’t want to keep the carpets, you should be sure to inquire about the flooring underneath; some older homes have perfectly wonderful original hardwood floors that were covered up some years back by wood floor-hating property owners, but those hardwood floors might be just what you wanted.

Real wood? Speaking of wood floors, the first time I saw the home we would eventually buy, I was aware enough of the medium-dark wood-grained flooring in the living and dining rooms, but my attention was really focused on other things. On subsequent visits, I realized my mistake: The floor was actually Pergo, a laminate flooring that looks like wood but isn’t. It wasn’t a deal-breaker for us; we’ll eventually replace it with hardwood. But it still would have been good information to take in during my initial visit.

Measurements. Some open houses will have available sheets with all of the home specs, including room sizes and dimensions. Many, however, do not provide that information. Try to remember to bring along a tape measure. You probably don’t want to measure every room, but you might want to figure out if certain pieces of furniture will fit where you desire them to be.

Rods. Make note of whether there are curtain rods in rooms in which you would like to hang curtains. Were there curtain rods you would actually want to keep? Be sure to ask the agent or the seller if the existing rod and hardware will remain; owners sometimes take them with them when they move. If there were no curtain rods, was there enough wood or strong wall space near the tops of the windows that would support the hardware for curtain rods?

Directions. Did the living room face north or east? Will the sun be beating on the office most of the afternoon? Make note of which directions the rooms face and how that might affect your use and comfort in those rooms.

Stairs. Do the stairs squeak loudly while you’re walking on them? How is your traction on the steps? Could you or a family member in socks slip on the uncarpeted stairs? Is there plenty of headroom in the stairway, or will six-foot-five Uncle Barry have to stoop to climb them?

Consumer technology makes it easy to revisit a property virtually once you’re back at home. Just about every smartphone has a pretty decent camera and even video capability. Take photos of every room; make a video of yourself or your house hunting partner walking through the space. Or you could use the voice-recorder capabilities of your phone to make verbal notes to yourself about all of the above features. Then, once at home, you can evaluate the property better, with fewer question marks about the home.

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