The Organized Life

Questions to Ask at an Open House

After Amy Palmer and her now-husband tied the knot last year, it didn’t take long for her to start house hunting to eventually escape his cramped bachelor pad. Now the newlyweds are becoming pros at what questions to ask at an open house, since it is a seller’s market in their Florida neighborhood.

“He’s really into playing guitars, and he really needs a man cave,” she said. “We’re ready for more space.”

They didn’t initially plan to be searching for long, but as the months added up, it gave them the opportunity to ask realtors a lot of questions. After all, they’re not going to settle on a house that isn’t a good investment.

“I always ask about the roof and hurricane damage, depending on the neighborhood,” she said. Palmer even asks the police department for an incident log to learn if the street is unsafe.

But there’s some questions potential homebuyers, like Palmer, may not know to ask. Thankfully, one of our real estate experts provided a few insider tips to help house hunters find the right deal. Keep reading to find out what they are and why the answers could help you choose your dream home! You can also get a lot of valuable information from your own realtor, if you are working with one.

Can I Have a Copy of the Seller’s Disclosure Statement?

You want to know everything you can about a home before buying, so you should ask the seller’s real estate agent to provide you a disclosure statement that can include a list of what needs to be fixed and what’s been updated.

“Examples of what the disclosure can include are: who the owner is, how long he or she has owned the home, major systems of the house, any work that’s been done that required permits, when the last time the furnace was serviced, and what has been done to rectify any issues,” said Kevin Vitali, a Tewksbury, Mass. real estate agent who has hosted hundreds of open houses during his 16-year career.

“A lot of states do have it, although disclosures to vary from state-to-state,” he added.

Head over to your state’s Department of Real Estate website and learn what is required of sellers in your area to include on disclosure statements before your next open house.

“I would totally ask for it, if it’s available in my area,” said Palmer. “I would’ve put in an offer on the house this weekend, if I knew why the floors were slanted.”

What Do the Utilities Cost the Homeowner, On Average?

Even if you live in a same-size house as the one you’re touring, utilities can vary depending on the area and when the house was built.

“In New England, we can (show) brand-new construction or a house built in 1880,” said Vitali. “Some houses are not insulated properly, and buyers should take this into consideration. Two houses maybe the same size, but the cost to run the house may not be the same.”

“Lots of times, I ask sellers to put together a list of utilities available. It can help people understand the overall costs, and I try to get a monthly average for the past year,” he added.

Palmer never thought to ask for utility costs, but plans to now. She said there’s different utility companies in her area, and she knows one electric company is more expensive than her current provider.

“It’s a fantastic idea,” she said. “Same goes for insurance. Our current condo’s HOA fee pays the board for the outside of the property. We only have 800sqft that we have to insure – so it’s going to double or triple after buying a house.”

Is There a Deadline for Home Offers?

If you fall in love with a home during an open house, it’s important to know that offers may have to be submitted sooner than you think.

There’s a lot of competition for an affordable, single-family home in Palmer’s neighborhood, even fixer-uppers. She’s already lost one house because an offer was accepted just days after she viewed it.

“I wanted to think about it for a week when someone swooped it up a few days earlier,” she said.

To help avoid similar situations, you should ask if there is a deadline for offers during an open house, said Vitali. And even if there isn’t a predetermined timeline, keep in mind that houses can sell quickly or suddenly, especially in a competitive market.

“Open houses that happen over the weekend may have offers due on Tuesday,” he said. “If it’s a seller’s market, agents will try to create competition.”

While these are just a few questions soon-to-be homeowners want to ask, don’t forget to ask a lot more.

“You have to think of every possibility,” said Palmer.