What to Look for When Buying a House

The right price, location and features are among the things to look for when buying a house.

Linda BellNovember 4, 2020
On a similar note...
On a similar note...

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Buying a home is the biggest purchase many people will ever make. Out of the millions of homes up for sale each year, how do you choose the right one?

Your lifestyle and future plans will play a big role in what you look for when buying a house. Here are some general guidelines to help you make the right choice.

A manageable price

Before falling in love with any house, figure out how much you can afford. Not only should you take into account the price of the home, but also the monthly mortgage payment and other costs of homeownership, including taxes, maintenance and repairs.

First-time home buyers are more likely to overpay on a house compared with other buyers, analysis from the Federal Housing Finance Agency found in 2017. Enlisting a real estate agent can help you research the local market and find homes that are within your budget.

The right location

Location is often a top priority for home buyers because it impacts aspects of daily life, including the commute to work and options for shopping and dining out.

Here are some important questions to ask about a potential home’s location:

  • Is the area safe? Crime mapping services can indicate when and where crimes were committed near your desired home, as well as the type of crime.

  • Is the home in a good school district? Even if you don’t have children, the quality of nearby schools is something to look for when buying a house. Homes in neighborhoods with better schools hold a stronger resale value.

  • What's the neighborhood like? Visit the neighborhood at different times of the day to get a feel for activity in the area. Are the properties well maintained? Is there excessive noise? Walk around and talk to some of the locals about what it’s like living there. Asking your agent to investigate how long the house has been on the market or why the owner is selling can also help you uncover important things about the neighborhood.

  • How convenient is the location? Is the home close to grocery stores, restaurants or other services you'll regularly need? Drive around to see what amenities are nearby.

Type and features that fit your life

There are various types of homes to choose from. Detached single-family homes are the most commonly purchased type, but depending on the location, a condominium or townhouse might be a more affordable option.

Zeroing in on the right type of house is just the start. You’ll want to look for the right style, age and size, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. To aid your search, create a "buying a house checklist" with the features and amenities you can’t live without.

Americans are staying in their homes longer, and buying a house that’s too small is a common regret. If you're planning a major life change in a few years, don’t make the mistake of buying a house that can’t grow with you, advises Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors.

Signs that repairs are needed

No house is perfect, even new construction homes. Some problems may be cosmetic, while others may be unsafe. Make note of what needs repair inside and outside of the home. Nothing should be too small or too big to check.

Are all the light switches and plumbing fixtures working properly? Are the appliances in good condition? How old is the roof? Fixing or installing a new roof can be very expensive, and might not be something you want to take on as a new homeowner. The same goes for repairing or replacing heating and cooling systems.

Are there cracks in the foundation that could indicate a more severe structural issue? Is there excessive moisture damage?

Write down or take pictures of any issues you see with the house. If you decide to purchase the home, make sure to get a thorough home inspection.

“A home inspection would be one critical element for the buyer,” Yun says. Professional inspections will catch things that an ordinary person might overlook, he notes.

We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet’s official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.