Here’s why you want to have a house hunting checklist as you embark on buying a home. A checklist can keep your thoughts organized as you look at houses. It can keep you on track if you tend to get distracted by shiny things, such as the wicked cool Zillow Gone Wild Instagram feed. And it can help keep your purchase on budget.
So, what should you have in a house hunting checklist? Below, I’ve listed 13 suggested points to include on your checklist.
This list includes what I believe most buyers think of as “must haves.” There are also always “nice to haves” you can add to the list, if you’d like.
Then, after the list I’ve expanded on each thought so you have fresh tips and information for your own home buying checklist. So, make sure you scroll all the way down so you don’t miss out on any of this helpful information.
What to put on a house hunting checklist
Here are 13 items to include on a basic house hunting checklist
- Targeted town or school district
- House budget
- Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
- Size of yard, if any
- Garage or no garage
- Flooring preferences
- Age of home
- Commute distance
- Kitchen appliances
- Home mechanicals
- Roof age
Why each item on house hunting checklist makes sense
Now that I’ve outlined each of the items on a basic house hunting checklist, let me explain why I’ve included them. That is, below I’ve broken down each of the 13 items on the house hunting list above and described why you might want to put one or all of them on your home hunting must-have list. Then I’ve included tips on what to look for within each category.
Please note: These items are listed here randomly. I have not included them in order of importance. Because what is important to me might not be important to you.
1. Targeted town or school district
When my husband and I were looking to buy our first home, we knew we wanted to target a town with a small school district. The school district where we grew up had too many students in a graduating class. By the time you got to senior year, there was a chance you still hadn’t met everyone in your class.
In addition, my husband’s graduate school research focused on teacher-student interactions. He discovered that smaller school districts with smaller schools often led to more involved teachers and better student-teacher interactions.
Why a town or school district might be on your house hunting checklist
Another reason that people target certain towns or school districts is financial. That is, taxes might be more affordable in one town or district versus another. In addition, the quality of the school district (or lack thereof) could affect the price of the homes for sale there.
2. House budget
Price of home will probably play a big part in how you narrow or widen your home search. It’s important that you go into your home search knowing how much you can afford to spend on a home.
It’s a good idea to get yourself prequalified for a mortgage these days before you start house hunting. In today’s hot real estate market, some sellers won’t even allow you to look at their home unless you’re prequalified. It’s one of the topics I talk about in my post about how to win a bidding war.
3. Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
You know the size of your family. Or the size of the family you’re hoping to have one day. So it’s important to look for a home with enough bedrooms and bathrooms to accommodate everyone.
If you already have children, here’s what I can tell you: you definitely want a bedroom for each child (if you can afford that) and two full baths in a home if you have teenagers. Why full baths? Because a full bath has a sink or sinks, a toilet and a shower or tub. This allows multiple people to get ready in the morning without a line forming in the hall.
Better yet, have at least one half bath–toilet and sink–as spillover for a bigger family. Trust me–I know. When my daughters were teenagers, a bathroom was prime real estate.
Another thing to keep in mind: most newly built homes have four bedrooms. If you buy or build a home with three or fewer bedrooms, it may affect your resale value down the road.
Also, look for these child safety measures in any home, such as window guards in bedrooms.
4. Size of yard, if any
Do you like to garden and landscape? Or is the idea of having to mow a lawn up their with Medieval torture?
Do you have a dog but not a lot of time to walk the dog? Then you probably want a home with a yard–especially if it already comes with a fence.
A home with a yard is also a good idea if your children are young. This gives them the space to play outside.
5. Garage or no garage
If you’re buying a home that was built in the past few decades, then chances are it has a garage. This is true with a detached home as well as many townhomes.
We’ve owned homes with and without garages. Here’s what I can tell you: parking your cars outdoors all the time can be rough on them. They tend to age quicker than cars you can keep in a garage.
In addition, a garage provides overflow space if you are buying a home to downsize. For example, if you’re hunting for a home without a basement, then you probably want a garage. Or vice versa.
6. Flooring preferences
Nearly every home we’ve owned has had hardwood floors. As someone with allergies, hardwood floors are easier to live with than carpet. I don’t know about you but I get kind of grossed out thinking about living on someone else’s carpet. You have no idea what transpired on that carpet.
Maybe you feel the same about carpet. Maybe not.
That being said if a seller has recently replaced all the carpet, then that could be a selling point. Or, if you’re looking at home with carpet, you can find out if there are hardwood floors underneath. That way you could always take up the carpet after closing and have the hardwood floors you desire.
Here’s something about floors I’ve learned in buying and selling eight homes. You do not want ceramic tile on a kitchen floor. Sure, it looks nice, but everything you drop on ceramic tile breaks. In my homes that had hardwood floors, if I accidentally dropped something breakable, it didn’t always break when it hit the wood floors. But on ceramic tile? Instant shattering!
7. Age of home
Do you want a newer home or do you want an older home? Both come with pluses and minuses.
For starters a newer home is likely to have more modern amenities that you may expect. This could be an en suite bathroom in the main bedroom, larger kitchen with an island, and central air and heat. However, you may find an older home that’s been completely rehabbed to include modern touches.
On the other hand, an older home may have details that newer homes tend to overlook. This might be an inlaid pattern in the hardwood floor or moulding details on the walls and ceilings.
8. Commute distance
If you’re buying a home for a new job, then you’ll definitely want to know what the commute is going to be like. I know that some of my favorite real estate apps (Redfin.com and Realtor.com) both include a way to check a commute when looking at homes online.
Speaking of Realtors, did you know that Credit Karma can match you with a real estate professional for free? Credit Karma has partnered with HomeLight to help users get matched with recommended agents in their area!
9. Kitchen appliances
Similarly, you should think about the age of kitchen appliances if you’re buying an older home. One of our homes was built in 1969–we bought it in 2007. Some of the appliances hadn’t been replaced since the 1980s. Not surprisingly, within a year of moving in, we needed to replace the refrigerator, the stove and then the washer–which I realize isn’t in the kitchen but you get the point about the age of appliances.
10. Home mechanicals
Of course, checking the status of a home’s mechanicals is going to be on your house inspection checklist–or your inspector’s list. But you may want to pre-screen a home based on how old or new the main mechanicals are, and what state they’re in. Some questions to ask include:
- When was the HVAC system last cleaned or replaced?
- How old is the water heater?
- Is the wiring in the home up to date?
- Where is the oil tank located?
The quality of a home’s windows can make or break your heating and cooling bills. And let me tell you–buying replacement windows is not cheap. So, if your budget doesn’t allow for replacing windows, then you definitely do not want to look at homes without newer windows.
12. Roof age
Anyone selling a home has to fill out something called a sellers’ disclosure form. This is where they inform potential buyers about the age of many of the items I’ve mentioned above and if there have been any major repairs done to the home. The sellers’ disclosure also includes the age of a roof.
If you ask my husband, there are certain things I become obsessed with when owning or buying a home. One is taking out the trash and recycling. Two is the age of a roof.
Why a newer roof should be on your house hunting checklist
When we are looking at homes, the first thing I’ll look for in pictures are signs that a roof is past its prime. I think one experience made me this way.
Back to the home I mentioned above that we bought in 2007. After owning it a few years we decided to put a two-story addition on the home, which was a traditional two-story colonial. This meant matching the new roof with the old roof. Well, when the contractor was working on the old section of the roof, he fell through. Like he ended up in the attic.
Having purchased this home after owning a built-new home–which obviously came with a brand-new roof–the age of the new house’s roof wasn’t even on our radar. It should have been. And, as I said, now I’m obsessed with roofs when looking at houses.
What kind of neighborhood do you want to live in, if a neighborhood at all? When our daughters were young, we built a house in a new neighborhood with a playground, community pool and lots of sidewalks. We also looked at houses that were walking distance to school, which might appeal to you.
Another thing to consider when considering neighborhoods: what are the streets like? For example, are there busy streets in the neighborhood that might have telltale signs of speeders–no good for little kids. Some of those telltale signs are those plastic traffic cutouts with a flag or signs that say “Drive like your children live here.” To me that says this is a busy street, one you probably wouldn’t want to set a basketball hoop up on.
Perhaps you would rather live on a quiet cul de sac away from traffic. Or a side street that has easy access to a highway. So, you’re away from the noise but close enough for an easy commute to work.
Creating your own house hunting checklist
As I mentioned this is just a basic house hunting checklist. This is what made sense for me when we were buying some of the eight homes we’ve bought and sold over the years. I believe these are the bare bones basics that you should consider when looking for a home to buy.
However, what makes sense for me may not make sense for you. So, use my checklist as a starting point for your own home search.
Then, add features of a home or items you must have to your checklist. Either way, don’t start your house hunt without having some sort of checklist to keep you organized.
Also, make sure you’ve decided which type of homes you’re willing to consider.
Finally, you’ll notice that I didn’t add “work with a Realtor” to your house hunting checklist. That’s because I firmly believe in working with a professional when you’re selling or buying a home.
In fact, by having created a checklist, you can hand that off to your Realtor. This will help them narrow down homes to show you when it is time to eventually start seeing homes in person.