I have bought and sold several homes over the years and I never fail to forget to ask some essential questions during the walk-through with the former owners. After each purchase, I promise to write these things down so that next time…
1. How things work: Sounds silly, but during that very busy and fast-paced walk-through inspection, you are thinking about a million different things like “Am I making a huge mistake here?” and that sort of thing and you simply forget to ask the basics like how things work. Our house has a well and the pump is in the garage. We had no manual, no instructions, and no idea how old the system was or how it worked. Eventually, we figured things out, but a little explanation from the previous owners would have been a good idea. Our neighbors have a similar problem with their gas fireplace. They saw that it worked during the home inspection and walk-through, but they can’t get the thing to start now and no one else seems to know either. Where is the water shut-off? Our water heater leaked all over the garage, but I didn’t know how or where to turn the water off. When I figured out where to do it, I realized the handles were broken. (The home inspector should have caught that! Try it out during your home inspection!)
2. Where the keys and other such items are: Going back to the gas fireplace, do you know where the key is that you need to turn the gas on? Do you have the garage door opener (we don’t!)? Our attic has a locked door. Do you have a key to all entry doors, inside and out? Do you have that little key-like tool that opens locked interior doors? Essential for those with little kids!
3. Where the manuals are: Very important! If your house comes with large appliances and other equipment such as a gas fireplace, a well, various alarms, and the like, it is extremely useful to have the original manuals on file! We have been having problems with certain fire alarms and have no manuals to find out what different lights and blinking patterns mean. We’ll have an electrician install new alarms to be on the safe side.
4. Where the busstop is, if there are any flooding issues, and other neighborhood questions: These are actually questions to ask before you buy! Avoid being the house with the busstop even though it’s very convenient for your kids! Inevitably, things get left behind, papers fall out of backpacks, candy wrappers get lost, and there’s a bit of noise early in the morning. Every morning at the busstop I am sort of glad that my house isn’t the busstop house! The previous owners “forgot” to mention that our neighborhood has some minor flooding issues, especially during coastal nor’easters and hurricanes. Next time, I’ll ask that question directly to be sure! You may want to know more about the homeowners association too. Is it very strict?
5. What companies have done major work on the house: It’s good to know who has had the contracts on various systems in your house. Who monitors the security system? Who does termite inspections? Who has worked on the heating/air, electrical, plumbing, roof, sprinkler system, and so on? One day, a solicitor knocks on our door, advertising upgrades to siding and trim. I say I’m really unhappy with my current vinyl wrap on the trim because the wood underneath is rotting in places. She says, “Oh, that’s too bad. We did your siding and trim. We might have been able to do something for you.” That, after the money and manhours we’ve spent on repairs! Get all the names and numbers for everything you can think of!
6. What the paint colors are: If the house is mostly one color, you really need to ask what the exact color/finish and brand of paint is! Otherwise, unless the walls are white, you won’t be able to do a repair, fill in a nail hole, or much of anything without the paint being mismatched when you cover the repair! If you don’t have the paint colors on hand, you’ll have to be prepared to repaint an entire wall or room when you need to make repairs. Same for the exterior! Make sure and get all paint information and even ask for the leftover paint if it’s still around!
Add to this list as the ideas come to you! There is NO stupid question! So what if the walk-through takes a while longer than expected? This is your last chance to get essential information you need, so ask away!