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The Home Buyer’s Checklist: What to Look for When Buying a House

Thursday, July 9, 2015 - 5:06pm

Buying a new home can be really exciting, but also a bit overwhelming. There’s a lot to consider. In fact, there’s so much to consider that it’s easy to forget to inspect little things and overlook some problems that are staring right at you.

Having a checklist of items to review can help you ensure that you give every part of that new house your considering the eagle eye. What’s on that checklist depends in part on the age of the home you’re considering.

Are You Looking for a Brand New House?

You may be tempted to think that only older homes have problems. Old age is a problem for anything, including homes, but new homes pose particular challenges.

In an old home, tenants have had the opportunity to address existing problems. In a new home, those problems are all yours. So you have to start by knowing that the builder is experienced and has done a first-class job on your home.

Here are some of the things you should look for when buying a brand new home.

Structure: Is the frame of the house aesthetically correct? Does the frame lean even slightly? Have a look from both outside and inside the home. Do all of the corners appear to meet at perpendicular angles? Try jumping up and down. Is the flooring solid? Anything that appears or feels out of place deserves further attention.

Water: Where will rain water go? Homes need to be designed with rain gutters and drainage that carries water away from the house. If the house has a basement, you have to ensure water won’t pool and find its way into the basement. If you know it’s been raining recently, see where the ground is damp. If there are any standing pools of water, think about how the home will handle a heavy downpour (or snow melt).

Roofing: The roof is one of the most important parts of the house and it has to have structural integrity. You absolutely don’t want to be in the position of finding leaks in the roof or having shingles or tiles dislodge in the next storm. You don’t want to see any cracked or curling tiles. You definitely don’t want to see any holes. Roofs often last at least two decades and you’ll need to budget for roof maintenance over time.

Heating: There are many types of heating (and cooling) systems for homes. Some rely on geothermal systems, while others rely on natural gas or other energy sources. If there’s a furnace, where is it? Is there any problem with its location? Does heat reach every room, or do some rooms stay cold even with the heat on? Should you need to replace a furnace, you’re looking at $3,000 to $5,000 or more. Find out if the furnace is expected to last 10 years or more than 20 years.

Insulation: The amount of insulation you need depends on the weather in your region. If your winters are cold, you need 12 inches of fiberglass insulation (known as R-38). If your area doesn’t get particularly cold, then 6 inches (R-19) will suffice. New insulation can run about $1,000.

Fireplaces: If there’s a fireplace, check to see if it has a screen or a glass door or doors. Either is sufficient for safety, but you should know that glass doors are more energy efficient. Check to see the chimney has a spark arrestor at the top.

Whether or not the home you’re considering for a purchase is brand new or decades old, you need to proceed systematically through the home and consider each of the various areas for problems. Some problems are common, some are unusual, but every problem needs a solution.

The Kitchen

Having covered some of the problem areas already, let’s focus on the rest of the house and start with the kitchen. You spend a lot of time in the kitchen and it’s one of the most dynamic areas of any home.

When considering a checklist for the kitchen the first item on the list should be an assessment of whether or not you like it. Is it functional? Does it work for you? Some people need an island; others are happy with ample counter space. If the design is to your liking then you can move on to the potential problem areas.

When you examine the kitchen carefully, if you see a need for remodeling then you should keep in mind that kitchen remodeling is the most expensive part of a house to remodel. Know that an average kitchen remodel costs between $18,000 and $50,000. You also have to factor in the time and mess than goes with a kitchen remodel.

Have a look at the floor. If the flooring is wood, it probably looks great. But there’ll be times when you will have spills in a kitchen and water can quickly damage a wood floor. Eventually it will need to be replaced, which entails an additional cost and inconvenience.

If the kitchen floor is tile, that’s great for durability, but remember that tile can crack or chip, and also the grout between tiles can chip or break apart. Tile is also slippery when wet — depending on the lighting in the kitchen, it may be difficult to see a spill before you step in it.

The main hardware in the kitchen includes the appliances: the stove, refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, and sink. The most expensive of these is the refrigerator, so start there. Make a decision about the quality of the refrigerator and how long it’s likely to last. Your choices for replacing it may be limited if you want it to match the other appliances.

Also, have a look at the stove and see if it uses natural gas or electric burners. Many people like natural gas and believe that electric burners don’t cook as evenly. Other people don’t care. Just be honest with yourself about which type of person you are and determine if you think the stove will fit your needs.

If the appliances are old, you’ll need to understand if they are under warranty and how long you should expect them to be serviceable before it will be time to invest in new appliances.

Counters and cabinets complete the kitchen. It will be nice for your budget if you like the cabinetry because even inexpensive cabinets run more than around $4,000. Counters come in two styles: laminate or solid surface. Solids are more durable, while laminates can chip and stain over years of use.

The Bathrooms

Checking on the pipes in the bathrooms is one of the many plumbing things to look for in a new home. You have to ensure that there are no leaks in any pipes that connect to the bathroom.

You or a plumbing expert can peek in the access panel behind a bath tub and check for signs of leakage. If a bathtub is on the second floor, check the ceiling underneath the tub for signs of water damage. Remember that pipes can channel water over a considerable distance from the main source, so a sign of water damage might not be directly under the tub.

Bathroom remodels can extend beyond $10,000 and cause everyone to use the second bathroom, if there is another bathroom. So you have to proceed with a lot of caution if you think you’re going to buy a home and then gut and replace the bathrooms.

Air Conditioning

Some people can live comfortably without air conditioning, but in most locations, having a functioning air conditioner is really a necessity. Central air conditioning is more efficient and more cost effective than units mounted in windows or wall units. But central air conditioning is more expensive to repair or replace.

When you inspect a home that you’re considering, test the air conditioning and see how effective it is. A central air conditioning system that needs to be replaced will add several thousand dollars to your total price.

For wall or window units, double check for signs of water damage nearby. Particularly in humid environments, you have the chance for developing mold, and that’s a whole new set of problems you don’t want.


Your windows are your literal windows to the world, but if they are inefficient single-pane windows they will cost you money. The newer double-paned windows are more energy efficient and also add value to the home. They’re not cheap though. Double-paned windows run about $600 for a typical unit and more for larger sizes.

Be sure that you open and close every window. The movement should be smooth, with no sticking points. Any work that needs to be done to get the windows working properly needs to be budgeted as part of your overall expenses.


The first thing you see when you pull up to your potential new home is the house itself, but you’re going to spend a lot of time in its driveway too. The driveway should be evenly paved and you should take note of any obvious cracks.

Sometimes driveways are constructed in separate slabs of concrete. In that case, one or more of the slabs may have sunk lower than the others. That’s another possible problem, which sometimes results when water gets under the slab and soaks the foundation below.

If you do identify problems, see if you can determine how stable the driveway is – that is, is its state changing rapidly or did cracks or displacements occur some time ago and haven’t changed in years. The more stable the better.

The same principles apply to any sidewalk that would be used to access your property.


When you watch a home inspector do his or her job, you’ll note that every light switch gets turned on and off. Every door gets opened and closed. Every faucet is turned on. Hot water has to come out hot, eventually. Shower heads shouldn’t leak. Bathtubs should hold bath water and not have much of it seep down the drain.

Think like that home inspector. Investigate every fixture and note any issues that you find. You’ll likely want to hire a professional home inspector as well, as four eyes are better than two. Your state might also require you to have a home inspection. If you investigate thoroughly, you can call your inspector’s attention to specific items and ensure that you’re satisfied with the answers and the diagnoses.

Also remember that when you go to an open house or other house showing, it’s likely that all the lights will be turned on. Brighter homes sell better than homes that remind you of a dark cave. But before you buy a home, you should go back and see what the ambient light is like at different times of the day. If the design didn’t properly account for ambient light, you may find that you’ll need to turn the lights on in the middle of the day, every day.

In the Northern Hemisphere, south-facing homes maximize the amount of available natural light. Remember that sunlight equates to at least two things: heat and ultraviolet exposure. Heat can be nice, but too much heat will have you reaching for the air conditioner. Ultraviolet exposure can fade your furniture and artwork. So give some thought to where the sun is going to be shining in your home and what effects it will have.


You’re probably bringing your own furniture into your new home, but if there are any pieces of furniture that will stay with the home, be sure you inspect them and establish whether or not they are of suitable quality and are flame resistant.


If you fancy yourself pretty handy with a hammer and nails, you might believe you could construct a nice home to live in all by yourself. After all, that’s what they did in the “good old days,” right? Well, maybe you could build the frame and get the roof secured, but what are you going to do about the plumbing?

When it comes to plumbing, many home buyers really have no idea of what to look for beyond an obvious leak, or how to inspect plumbing before buying a new home. This is where seasoned professional home inspectors and plumbing specialists come in. They know what to look for when inspecting plumbing in a new home. Here are some of things on their checklist:

  • Water shut-off valve

If there’s ever a need to turn off the water to the house, you need to know the shut-off valve is going to function properly. Like just about everything in a home except your old photos, it can be replaced. But the time to know that you need to replace it is well before the time you need to use it.

  • Lead pipes

You’re quite unlikely to encounter lead pipes in newer homes; however, in older homes you might and it could be a problem. Lead pipes function well, but lead is toxic. If you have children in the home, you should avoid lead piping. So you’ll need to determine the cost to pull it all out and replace it.

  • Hot water heater

Hot water heaters often look pretty presentable, but you can look for signs of corrosion, damage, a poor installation, or an indication of mineral deposits. If you need to replace the hot water heater, prices runbetween $850 and $1000.

  • Pipe size

Your pipes have to be the right size in order to get proper water pressure. Near the main source, pipes should be between ¾ of an inch to one inch. Other pipes should be at least ½ an inch. You don’t want pipes smaller than that because it restricts water flow.

  • Subtle water damage

As you walk through the home, pay special attention to places where water damage might be expected. For example, look under every sink and see if the floor of the cabinet appears stained or warped. It might be that a plumbing leak dripped water on that spot for a long time. Also have a look at the ceiling and beams for signs of water stains.

It’s not always the case that a stain will occur right at the source of the leak. For example, you may have a structural opening in a balcony on your home that lets water travel several feet into your garage. You can spot the damage in the garage, but tracing back how it came about can be difficult as you’ll need to test various possible sources of trouble systematically.

  • Sewage problems

Sewage problems are perhaps the worst of the plumbing problems you can encounter. The potential cost to fix things up can be even worse than the smell. You can start your inspection with the toilets and give them a flush. Make sure the cycle completes without incident. If the home has a septic tank, find out the cost of servicing and the last time that the tank was in fact serviced. Check for signs of seepage around the tank, odors, pooling water, anything looks like a problem.


When we think of a home’s neighborhood and issues that might arise, it’s natural to think about how close the house is to neighboring homes, and perhaps consider the crime rate in the area. Some websites may be able to provide historical data on burglaries and other nefarious activities in the recent past.

If you have children, it’s important to take account of the schools that the kids will go to and ensure that they meet your standards. Think about if there are other kids in the area that your children could play with. Any raucous neighbors? There’s little worse than setting up home with the intention of spending five or more years next to neighbors you don’t get along with.


We’ve considered many physical aspects of the home you may be considering, but there’s another critically important element to consider: the price. Everyone has a price that he or she can afford. Beyond that, a house is unaffordable no matter how much you like it. Here are some things to consider regarding financing.

  • Down payment

If you’re a first-time buyer, that 20% down payment is probably presenting a big hurdle. There are some unconventional ways to go about gathering up the needed funds. Tax laws change from time to time, but one thing to keep in mind is that you’re currently allowed to withdraw up to $10,000 from an IRA without penalty to finance a first home. Check with a tax attorney if you consider this.

  • Mortgage rates

The interest rate on your loan can be affected by more than the current money policy of the Federal Reserve. A good credit score can help ensure you get the best possible rate. If your score isn’t that good, take actions to increase it well in advance of when you want to make that loan application.

  • Property tax

Property tax rates and other taxes vary by location. For example, in Syracuse, NY, you can expect to pay just below 3.9% of the assessed value of the home in taxes, including a county tax, a city tax, a school tax, and county water tax. That means a median-priced $106,000 home will create a tax bill of an estimated $4,134 per year. You have to factor that into the price of the home you can buy.

  • Insurance costs

You’ll need a homeowner’s policy to protect your house and what’s inside. Rates vary as a function of many factors, including the age of the home, the number of bedrooms, bundling different types of insurance, and the age of the owner(s). Get a quote for a policy before you buy the home so your total costs are known ahead of time.

Home Buying Checklist

The National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents remarked that virtually every house has a defect. There are lots of things that can go wrong in a house and eventually something does. Here’s a 15-point checklist that covers everything we’ve identified:

  1. Structure
  2. Water
  3. Roofing
  4. Heating
  5. Insulation
  6. Fire places
  7. Kitchen
  8. Bathrooms
  9. Air conditioning
  10. Windows
  11. Driveway/Sidewalk
  12. Fixtures and Furniture
  13. Plumbing
  14. Neighborhood
  15. Price

Many if not most of these items are best checked by a professional, or in concert with a professional. In particular, having a pro inspect plumbing in a new home – having someone who knows the things to look for when buying a new home – can really help ensure your home purchase is much less stressful.

Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Greater Syracuse

If you have plumbing questions about a potential new home or you need a home plumbing inspection in the greater Syracuse, NY area, contact Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Greater Syracuse. You’ll always get a licensed plumber who is certified by the Onondaga County for plumbing leak detection or any plumbing-related project.

Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Greater Syracuse is a locally owned business. We’re your go-to team when you need help with plumbing repairs, water heater installations, cleaning clogged drains, pipe and toilet repairs, and even video camera pipe inspections. You can call us at (315) 472-1203 any time, any day, and you can also request an appointment online. We’ll also handle all your plumbing emergencies with awesome service that will exceed your expectations.

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