What To Look for When Buying a House: 12 House Hunting Tips

Are you thinking of buying a home?  

First-time homebuyers often get so caught up in the excitement of finding their dream home that they make vital mistakes while house hunting. 

Over the past ten years, we’ve bought five houses, ranging from new builds to fixer-uppers and condos to single-family homes. While we’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, shopping for our last home was a breeze after we learned exactly what to look for. 

Here’s what to look for when buying a house to avoid all the first-time homeowner mistakes. 

The Best House Hunting Tips for First-timers 

Buying a home is stressful for first-timers and veteran homeowners alike. 

However, first-time home buyers face unique challenges, from understanding how to pick a realtor to uncovering the hidden costs of buying a home no one mentions until you sign all the paperwork. 

So much goes into buying real estate that some would-be homeowners freeze, wondering where to start. 

Take a deep breath and relax.  

We’ve got you.  

Where Do I Start with House Hunting?

Starting the journey is the hardest part. Where do you start?

Your quest for the right home begins before you even contact an agent. It starts with your budget. 

Can I Afford a Home?

Before you begin househunting, you must determine if you can afford a home and how much house you can afford. 

Next, you must decide which type of loan to use and seek preapproval from a lender. Preapproval shows realtors and sellers that you’re serious about purchasing and provides a sense of how much financing you can receive. 

Although determining how much house you can afford, determining your loan options, and seeking preapproval are vital first steps to buying a home, they are outside the scope of this article, which instead focuses on what to look for when you’re ready to buy. 

What To Look For When Buying a Home

Are you ready to start your hunt for the perfect home? Here are the most crucial aspects of house hunting you need to look for when purchasing. 

What You Need

The first step to finding your perfect home is identifying what you need. 

Before talking to a realtor, you must determine your “must haves” and “nice to haves.” 

Make two lists, and determine your absolute needs versus what you want. For example, I had two bathrooms, a yard, and a master bedroom big enough for a king-size bed on my “needs” list. My “nice to have” list included an open kitchen, a 2-car garage, and a covered patio. The house I bought had a big bedroom, two bathrooms, and a yard, but a semi-open kitchen and a deck, not a covered patio. 

Your lists must be realistic based on your budget. A three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a yard for less than $400,000 is likely realistic in most areas, but a 5,000-square-foot home in downtown LA for $200,000 is not. 

Knowing what you want before looking will help guide your decisions and prevent you from making an impulse buy based on a shiny accessory you don’t really need. 

Armed with what you want, you’re ready to make the next step in your home-buying journey. 

Find The Right Realtor

A real estate agent isn’t part of your home, but finding the right one to help you on your journey is crucial for success. 

Some realtors are more interested in fat commissions than in helping you find a home that suits your needs, so it’s vital to find one with your best interests at heart. 

Don’t feel obligated to stick with a realtor for any reason, even if they’ve already shown you a few homes. Shop around to find someone you trust and who respects your needs. 


Trust is vital to the realtor/client relationship. You do not have to buy from the first realtor you meet.

If they make you uncomfortable in any way, find someone new. 

When shopping for my first home, I selected one of the highest-rated realtors in my area. My experience with them didn’t match the rating. 

They were incredibly pushy. Every home we visited was the most spectacular piece of real estate they’d ever seen, while every concern I had was minimized or brushed aside. 

I quickly learned that I couldn’t trust them. They’d say and do anything to make a sale. It was the first and last time I went house hunting with them. 

If you don’t feel comfortable with a realtor for any reason, find a new one. 


Trust is crucial, but a realtor must also listen to and respect your needs. 

When shopping for my second home, I encountered a realtor far more interested in her commissions than in my needs. As I was purchasing from 2000 miles away, I needed an ally on the ground. 

I contacted a realtor with rave reviews and discussed my budget. I told her that 200K was the top of my budget (it was a reasonable budget for the time and area). 

Every single listing she sent me was priced between 220k and 24k0. Not one was under 200K. She claimed I would be able to negotiate them down to 200k. 

I contacted another realtor and had the same conversation. He sent me listings between 150K and 200K (plenty were available in the area). 

The second realtor respected my wishes, so I hired him. If the first realtor you talk to doesn’t respect your budget, find someone who will. 

Scouting the Neighborhood

The first three rules of real estate are “location, location, location!”

Neighborhood hunting is almost as vital to your real estate journey as house hunting. 

When looking for a new home, the area it’s in is crucial. You must consider safety, commute, schools, and amenities. 

Neighborhood Safety

When buying a home, consider each potential neighborhood’s safety rating. Sometimes, there’s a reason why that beautiful house is so affordable, and that reason is the high crime in the area. 

Some people will sacrifice safety for affordability, especially when they’re first diving into real estate. It’s a valid choice, but it must be a choice, not a surprise. 

Check out the crime statistics with NeighborhoodScout.com and spend time in the neighborhood at all hours of the day to see if there are any red flags. 

Commute (Walkability, Transportation, Travel Times)

Transportation is a crucial yet often overlooked aspect of shopping for a new home. Consider whether you must be within walking distance of shops and restaurants, how long your commute to work will be, and whether public transportation is available near the home. 

Each buyer has unique transportation needs they must consider before buying a house. 

School Ratings

School ratings are vital to both parents and child-free shoppers. Homes in great school districts often maintain higher property values than homes in poor-performing schools. 

Parents particularly want the best for their children, so if you rely on public schools, you’ll want to consider neighborhoods with better schools. It might be better to purchase a smaller, more expensive home in a neighborhood with great schools than a bigger, cheaper home in a neighborhood with low-quality schools. 


When looking for a home, you should also look around the neighborhood to see what it offers. 

Is the home in an HOA that offers a clubhouse, pool, or other community events? Does the neighborhood have easy access to grocery stores, takeout restaurants, gas stations, and other essential quality-of-life establishments?

Typically, homes closest to city centers with many local amenities cost more than homes further away. A homebuyer must decide how critical nearby amenities are to their quality of life before purchasing. 

Examine the HOA Rules

You’ve found a great house in a great neighborhood, but there’s one more thing about the community to consider before making an offer: the HOA. 

HOAs can make or break a neighborhood. Some offer wonderful amenities like pools and fitness centers, but others became the bane of a homeowner’s existence with ridiculous rules and high fees. 

Many HOAs regulate landscaping, outside structures, and home decor. They won’t allow you to change the look and feel of your new home without approval. Some have strict rules governing grass length, waste receptacle storage, exterior decorations, and other home maintenance decisions that homeowners feel should be up to them. 

Most HOAs charge mandatory fees and can put a lien on your home if you don’t pay up. Before purchasing, read the HOA rule book to ensure you agree with the regulations and that the fees match what you get out of the community. 

Homes in Your Budget

People get so caught up in the exhilaration of buying that they ignore their budgets and end up with way more home than they can realistically afford. 

Don’t even look at homes outside your budget. Don’t let your realtor smooth talk you into “just looking” at a house at your upper limit. 

It’s vital to take emotions out of your buying decision. You will be just as happy living in the 190K house without a hot tub as in the 200K house with one. In fact, you’ll probably be happier because you’ll have more money. 

Avoid the “I have to have this” mentality that can lead to overspending. You don’t need it if it’s not on the list you developed before starting your househunting journey. 

Hidden Costs 

Hidden costs should top your list of things to look for when buying a home. Your budget must include all the costs associated with both buying and homeownership. 

Hidden Costs of Buying

When developing your buying budget, you must consider closing costs. Appraisal fees, title fees, transfer fees, inspection fees, and a wide range of other fees/expenses add up to thousands of dollars due at closing. 

Expect to pay about 5% of the purchase price at closing to account for all these costs. 

Hidden Costs of Homeownership

Most people think of their mortgage payment (mortgage, taxes, interest, and insurance) as the only cost to homeownership, but there’s far more to consider. 

If you fund your purchase with an FHA loan rather than a conventional loan, you’ll have to pay PMI (primary mortgage insurance) with your mortgage payment, which could add hundreds of dollars to your monthly payment. 

When you own a home, you are responsible for all maintenance and repairs. Therefore, keeping room in your budget for repairing a leaky roof, frozen pipe, or backed-up sewer is essential. 

You’re also responsible for all appliances – which may or may not be included in the home. Consider whether you need a new refrigerator, washer, or oven. Look at whether the water heater or HVAC will need replacing in a few years. Ensure you have padding in your budget (or emergency fund) to pay for these items as they arise. 

You must also consider home decor, DIY projects, and HOA fees as part of the cost of homeownership. When you first move in, you’ll likely spend far more than expected on simply furnishing and decorating your home. 

Get an Inspection

In a seller’s market, far too many home buyers get caught up in the Fear-Of-Missing-Out (FOMO), making rash emotional decisions to get the house they want. 

Waiving an inspection is the biggest mistake a first-time home buyer can make. You must know what you’re getting into when buying a home. Don’t expect the sellers to tell the truth on the declaration. Many omit critical deficiencies, hoping buyers will waive inspections (or inspectors will miss them). 

When I bought my second house, my inspector missed that the garage door didn’t work and that the garage leaked when it rained. The seller must have known these facts but didn’t declare them. 

Many buyers discover far more severe problems when they waive inspections – from structural damage to electrical issues, which cost them a fortune to repair once they get into the home. 

Your dream home isn’t your dream home if it needs expensive repairs you can’t afford to make. 

Look for Easy Fixes

You won’t find a perfect home unless you’re doing a custom build. Pre-existing homes will have problems. 

But those problems can be fantastic deals for savvy homebuyers. 

When shopping for a home, look for the easy fixes that make the property “undesirable.” Shoppers will dismiss homes for various cosmetic reasons, from ugly paint to dirty carpets.

Don’t pass on the opportunity to own a great home over cosmetic issues. 

The house I bought in Georgia had the ugliest master bedroom in existence. The walls were painted an unfortunate color of brown associated with bodily functions, and the floor was covered in a matching shag carpet. The dim lighting highlighted the ugliness. 

But the size and structure were perfect for my needs, so I bought it anyway and then paid about $800 to create my ideal master bedroom. 

Don’t let minor fixable details deter you from buying the perfect home. Know the difference between minor things you can fix on your home and damage that could cause lasting problems (the inspection will help!). 

In a buyer’s market, you might be able to get the sellers to reduce the price over minor, fixable problems. 

Bonus Tip: Get the Warranty!

A home warranty can save you thousands of dollars over the course of homeownership. They cover items excluded under most home insurance policies, such as broken appliances and leaky pipes, for a reasonable annual fee. 

A warranty can offer peace of mind that you won’t have to pay thousands of dollars in repairs a few weeks after closing. 

A Home that Meets Your Need

The most important thing to look for when buying a house is a home that meets your needs. 

You may not find a perfect house, but you will find the perfect home for you. 


6 thoughts on “What To Look for When Buying a House: 12 House Hunting Tips”

  1. Good tips! I second your thoughts on sticking to yiur budget! It’s so easy to get talked into a “little” overt your budget, but you are absolutely right, the more expensive house won’t make you happier! Good thoughts!

    • Thank you! And the realtors always try to push you to go “just a little” over. Can’t let them get to you haha

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