Look past surfaces to see the underlying truth
When people start looking at potential homes they may have only a vague idea what to look for, what to ask, and what they actually want. Nothing wrong with this—even if you’re on this edge of ignorance, the best way to get an idea of what’s out there in your budget is to actually visit homes. But before going on multiple home tours and finding out later you should have asked these questions, we are here to help get you pointed in the right direction.
With the help of a keen agent, guiding your home tour process, you will be able to ask the right questions.
Home Tours Check #1: Before the Tour
Find out whatever you can before you decide to visit. Look up the property address online and see what comes up. On real estate sites, you can see the number of bedrooms, features, the last time the house sold and for how much, as well as how long it has been on the market. Check out any price estimates, however, if you are working with a great agent, you should rely on their local knowledge and expertise to properly estimate the property value.
As they know, the best-priced and highest-quality listings do not linger on the market. A house that is on the market over a few months can signal an advantage to the buyer. It can also have issues or need repairs.
Home Tours Check #2: Knock on Wood
As you enter a home, you will get an overall impression of the place first. Many people fall in love with a look, when you want to see the bones underneath.
“Look past the finishes,” said Mike Opyd, an agent with AmeriCorps Real Estate. “You can redo countertops, backsplash, cabinets, but you can’t change the layout of a unit. You can’t reposition that unit in the building to get more natural light.”
As for the finishes, they should not only be pretty but also well done. Watching for quality is key. There is a demand for new construction, so some developers fast-track their projects and cut corners.
“Look at the kitchen cabinetry—a genuine dovetail joint on the wood. I also look to see that the moldings and trim are plumb and square,” said Jenna Chandler, Wahl Realty, who knows older construction and rehabs. “Also check out the quality of wood—are the doors solid wood, or hollow, for example?”
In older houses, you want to know the house’s history, particularly its repair and rehab history.
Home Tours Check #3: Get the Skinny
Things to ask a listing agent in person: Why is the seller…well…you know…selling? How long have they lived there? Have they had any offers? (FYI Always get your own inspection done once you decide to make an offer.)
The seller must disclose any known issues with the house, structural issues, and code violations. Ask about lead paint, termites or any other critter remediation. What repair or rehab work has been recently done to the house, and what problems need to be addressed? You might ask when the roof was last done and the state of any brickwork. The roof, structure, and water systems can be very pricey to fix.
In condos, Mike Opyd said, “The main thing is to make sure they’re looking in good, solid buildings, buildings with solid reserve accounts, no special assessments, no lawsuits going on, and ideally with over 50 percent owners living in the building.”
Home Tours Check #4: Liveability
The space you live in should work for you, so make sure that you look beyond any set and setting and see the space beneath. Look for awkwardly divided rooms.
Samuel Ciochon, of Coldwell Banker, said not to rule out 1-bedrooms. “You can actually get a better space sometimes in a 1-bedroom, than in a ‘forced’ 2-bedroom.”
Check out the number of closets, their sizes/locations. Lots of older houses have closet deficits—people used to have way less stuff if we’re judging by all the post-fire brick cottage style houses with two closets (total) there are around. Sometimes they have pantries!
If you’re looking to renovate, all the agents we talked to stressed asking about rules and regulations, which can vary in condos. For instance, in older buildings, depending on the capacity of the systems in building, you may not be able to add in-unit laundry. Also for condo seekers, buildings can have pet restrictions, rental restrictions, and owner-occupancy rules.
Home Tours Check #5: Check Out the Neighborhood
How’s the neighborhood? Do the neighbors own their houses? If there are tenants, how long have they been there? What’s the renew rate for tenants? Find out the closest CTA and Metra lines, along with nearby groceries, schools, hospitals.
Ask if the neighborhood is walkable and safe at night, and look up Chicago real-time crime stats by an address on the Chicago Tribune’s Crime in Chicagoland. This is a big city, areas are not going to be complete without incident, but these resources will help you decide if a location and neighborhood are right for you.
Home Tours Check #6: Costs?
Ask about other costs—parking, HOA fees, amenities, average cost of utilities, taxes and insurance. The listing agent should have a ballpark estimate. This will help you to know not just the price of the home when you buy, but the so-called operating costs. How much it costs to keep a household running on a monthly basis is key to planning your budget.
There are lots of other questions, but many of them will depend on you. Whether you want to do the gamer’s room garage build-out you’ve been dreaming of, or wondering how many chickens you can have without disturbing the neighbors, the point of the home tour is to figure out what is important to you. And, don’t worry if you start confusing the places you see—the right one will stand out.