Buying a house is kind of like trying to answer the question “What do you want for your birthday?” You’ve seen things here and there that you’d like to have, but when asked, your mind draws a blank.

I’m sure there’s a psychological reason for this, but it can be kind of inconvenient—especially when it comes to trying to remember all the questions you’re supposed to ask and/or answer when looking for a house and all the things you have to do before moving out of a rental.

What to Consider Before Looking at Houses

Like any big investment, buying a house is a process that requires a lot of thought before arriving at a decision. This process, properly executed, starts before you even look at the first house.

1. What kind of house do you want, and where?

Do you want a townhouse? A condo? A stand-alone home in a neighborhood? Do you want to live in the city or in the suburbs? (Okay, so technically, that’s like five questions)

2. How much should I spend / What is the budget?

Look at your expenses (or start tracking them if you haven’t already), and set a preliminary budget. Based on your income and expenses, create a budget for what you can spend on the house. Then scale it back by a few thousand dollars so that you aren’t stretching your dollar too far. Extra expenses will come into play later, so the more wiggle room you can give yourself, the better.

3. How long do you think you’ll stay there?

If you plan on staying in the home long enough to start a family (pets included), this opens up another series of questions:

A) What school districts does the house fall into?

B) Is the yard big enough for fur babies and/or children?

Questions to Ask When Visiting Potential Homes

When you’re visiting potential homes, make notes about what you do and don’t like. If you hire a real estate agent, he or she will work off your feedback, but keep an open mind. You won’t necessarily find everything you want in one or any of the houses you look at.

white mansion with swimming pool

4. What home features can you live without?

Who wouldn’t love to have five bathrooms, a jetted tub, and a color-changing showers? If you’re just looking for a starter home, though, foregoing that 100-square foot closet can make a big difference in how much money you spend on a house.

On a more realistic scale, if you’re on a budget and the only difference between two homes you’re interested in is a garbage disposal in the kitchen and an extra half bathroom—but they’re $5,000 apart in price—you can find a way to live without the garbage disposal and half bath.

three Australian shepherds in a yard

5. How much space do you need to have?

Similarly, don’t deprive yourself of the things you need. Don’t try to squeeze yourself, a significant other, and your three precious dogs in a $500,000 one-bedroom flat in the city.

Pictures are deceiving—professional photos of homes are often shot using a wide lens, giving each room a more spacious feel, and empty rooms look bigger than rooms filled with furniture. The most definitive way to know how much space you need is to take measurements of what you own and ask for measurements of the homes you’re interested in.

Apartments generally allow two people per room plus one. I would advise allotting for more room than that in a house, since having more space is one of the major perks of being a homeowner.

6. What appliances do you need to bring with you?

Different sellers will choose to leave or take some appliances. Usually, the refrigerator, dishwasher, and stove and oven will stay. Washers and dryers are more prone to moving with their previous owners.

Side note: Take note of where the laundry room is in the house and in relation to the bedrooms. If the laundry room is on a separate floor than the bedrooms, you’ll have a choice to make. Will you be OK with toting the laundry up or downstairs every time you run a load of clothes?

7. Which appliances need to be replaced?

Even though some of the appliances will stay, they may be outdated. If this is the case, you may be able to use the cost of replacing the outdated appliances as a reason for offering below the seller’s asking price.

8. Is there a homeowners’ association?

You should probably evaluate this question now, and again later in the process. I wouldn’t make an entire decision about a house based on how the HOA works, but it definitely plays a role in how the neighborhood is kept up and how you can (or can’t) update your home.

For example, some neighborhoods won’t allow the installation of solar panels, or any color door besides black, or moving trucks in the streets. If you’re planning on entertaining a lot of guests frequently, you might have to find ways around the HOA’s strict parking regulations.

What to Go Over When You Get the House Under Contract

This is the part in the process where you negotiate. The seller has accepted your offer and you have made a list of things you’d like the seller to take care of as well as a list of what will realistically be taken care of by the seller. The two lists are not usually the same.

9. What aspects, if any, need to be fixed according to the home inspection?

Now that the house is under contract, you’ll need to negotiate the terms. This includes who is responsible for making repairs and appliance upgrades.

10. How will you divide closing costs?

Closing costs can fall on either or both parties, but they typically fall on the buyer. This can be negotiated in the contract.

Last-Minute Considerations When You Sign Closing Documents

With any luck, there aren’t any more questions, but worst-case scenario you should be prepared with the documents you’ve gotten from the bank as well as proof of your homeowner’s insurance.

The only remaining questions you might have should be for the bank as to why your mortgage did not go through or how to handle the seller backing out (hopefully neither of these events happen).

If either scenario could happen, it’s best to schedule a closing considerably before the end of the month to avoid increased closing costs at the beginning of the next month. After you’ve closed, you can enlist the help of a local moving best pick company.

realtor handing couple house keys

What, Where, and How?

The motivating factor behind all of these questions is what you want to achieve with your house. When starting to look for a house, answer these four questions:

  • What do you need?
  • What do you want?
  • Where are houses that have your wants/needs located?
  • How do you get to a closing on a house that meets the most of your wants and needs?

Of course, these four questions result in a lot of other questions. Our list will help you keep asking questions after you think you have an answer for everything. Happy house hunting!