Moving into a home you've just bought is exciting—and sometimes exasperating. That's because, although you might love your new place, you don't know it all that well—which means that sooner or later, you're bound to end up in a situation where you're floundering cluelessly with the circuit breaker, or petting a neighbor's seemingly adorable Pomeranian who nearly nips off a finger. Home, sweet home, right?
Yet you'd be surprised by how many of these unfortunate surprises home buyers can circumvent merely by asking the person who sold them the home some pointed questions before moving in. Sure, you'll also be soaking up intel from the seller's disclosure agreement, the home inspector who gave a thumbs-up to the place, and eventually even the neighbors. But truth be told, there's nothing better than hearing about a home straight from someone who's been living there for umpteen years. So go ahead and ask!
Just keep in mind that some sellers might feel tight-lipped if they think your questions might jeopardize the sale. As such, many of these questions are best asked near the end of the process—like during your walk-through or at closing.
1. Are there any special quirks about the house?
A thorough inspector will point out any oddities that are unsafe or devalue the house, but only someone who’s lived there will have a handle on all the unique characteristics worth mentioning—light switches in unexpected places, doors and windows that stick up or down, poltergeists, you name it. This question is most effectively asked during the final walk-through.
"A buyer might ask, ‘I’m wondering if you can tell me anything I might need to anticipate moving forward?’” says Bill Golden, a Realtor® with Re/Max Metro Atlanta Cityside in Atlanta, who's spent more than 30 years nurturing buyer-seller relationships. Be subtle but persistent.
2. Have you had any past problems with the house that you've fixed?
True, sellers are often required to disclose most existing problems or issues related to the home. But what about past problems that have since been repaired?
“Here in Georgia, anything significant that has happened—whether it was repaired or replaced—needs to be disclosed in the seller’s statement," says Golden. However, it varies by state and sellers aren't always required to fess up.
As a buyer, Golden suggests saying, "I’ve read the disclosure statement. Is there anything else that has happened or that you’ve done that would be helpful to know?” Use the disclosure as a jumping-off point to learn about what’s not listed.
3. Where are the water shut-off valve, sump pump, circuit box, and more?
“Hopefully, the home inspector will locate all of these things and point them out to the new buyer as part of educating them about their new house,” says Golden. “But not all inspectors do that, so these are important safety questions.”
Ask the seller to show you not only the location of these valves, switches, and pumps, but also how they work. If you’re moving into an older home, chances are that many of the utility features will be unique in their operations, so rather than fumble around blindly, it's a no-brainer to lean on the seller.
4. How is the neighborhood?
This is a great question to help establish rapport between buyer and seller, and is also best asked near the end of the buying process. Keep it light: You might simply ask the seller, "Tell me about the neighborhood."
"I’ve found that the good, the bad, and the ugly will often tumble out if approached conversationally,” says Golden. While you're at it, if you’re new to the area, consider asking the seller for recommendations for everything from grocery stores to their favorite restaurants.
5. Is there anything you want to leave behind?
This one doesn't so much help you get to know your home, but it might result in a few nice bonuses. Got your eye on that deer head mounted on the den wall? Or those gorgeous ferns by the window? It's worth a shot to see if the seller is willing to part with large items he or she might not want to bother moving.
“Most things that are being left, such as appliances, are dealt with in the original contract,” Golden says. “But, as it gets closer to closing, sellers are often wanting to unload some other things, too. You might get lucky and wind up with something great."