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Home Buying Tips

What (and what not) to look for on a house tour

Reading Time — 12 minutes

June 25, 2019

By Heidi Knight

Reading Time — 12 minutes

June 25, 2019

Given that buying a home is a big financial decision, it’s best not to go into it blindly. That’s why touring is one of the most important parts of the homebuying process. So how do you ensure you’re making the most of these visits?

The first step is knowing what to look for. There’s a lot to take in when visiting a home for the first time. So, having a strategy that helps you properly determine whether a home is a good fit for you or not is a good call. If you’re already touring properties, it’s safe to assume that you’re satisfied with the location, price and bed/bath count of the home.

So, what are the other factors that you should (or shouldn’t) take into consideration when making a decision on a home? Personal preferences aside, there are some factors you shouldn’t pay too much attention to and some you most definitely should when touring a home. Keep reading to find out more.


  • 5 Things you DON’T need to consider

  • 5 Things you DO need to consider

  • 5 Questions you should be asking

Things you don’t need to consider

1. Furniture and decor

Upon entering a home, the decor is usually the first thing you notice. Sometimes, what you see will vary greatly from your own personal style to put it politely. If you’re a fan of the mid-century modern aesthetic, an overly floral sofa living room or hunter’s lodge inspired entertainment room might be not only jarring but also off-putting.

Try not to focus too much on those elements. There are not permanent parts of the home and shouldn’t determine whether or not you decide to make an offer on the property. Remember: you’re buying the home, not the belongings inside. So once you’ve closed escrow, is out with the old and in with the you.

2. Wall and floor treatments

While lamps, rugs, sofas and artwork all leave the property when the seller does; paint colors, wallpaper and carpeting will remain. Don’t panic. Though these things might not be particularly pleasing to the eye, they also aren’t permanent. Painting the interior of a home is actually one of the easiest and most affordable upgrades you can make.

Removing or replacing tattered wallpaper or stained carpets might require a bit more elbow grease (or even professional assistance), but both are still a fairly simple and low-cost projects that can really transform your new home.

So don’t let that bright red accent wall in your soon-to-be nursery deter you. After all, adding a new paint color will give you the opportunity to really make the home your own, and who knows, you might even find some long forgotten hardwood floors hiding under not-so-gently used carpeting.

3. Small fixtures and hardware

Seemingly ancient or visibly worn fixtures like cabinet doors, ceiling fans and even small appliances like microwaves can be an eyesore, but it’s important to remember these elements are simply cosmetic. They do not significantly impact the overall safety or habitability of the home.

Replacing these gives you another opportunity to inject some of your own personal style into your new home. Additionally, sellers are typically aware that these features are outdated and will often take that into consideration when pricing their homes. So, those ultra groovy can actually mean that you pay less

4. Bathroom or kitchen design

Buyers often dream of buying a home that’s already equipped with a sleek top of the line gourmet kitchen or master bath that feels like a 5-star spa experience. So, it can definitely be a bit disappointing to discover that the kitchen or master bath of the home you really like leaves much to be desired.

Before making a snap decision, take a minute to think about it. If you like everything else about a home, are you willing to pass on it simply because the kitchen doesn’t have a stylish subway tile backsplash or the master bath lacks a waterfall shower head?

Instead, check that you’re satisfied with the square footage and overall layout of these areas and consider taking them as-is. Remember, you can always upgrade these rooms once you’re settled in. Not only will you have a bathroom or kitchen that you love, designed to your specifications, but you can also increase your home’s resale value by baking the cost of these upgrades into the listing price should you decide to sell in the future.

5. No fence around the yard

If you’re a buyer with pets or small children, having a fenced-in yard might rank pretty high on your list of must-haves. Before you toss a listing without an enclosed yard; however, check out whether or not the backyard has the potential to be fenced at a later date.

While it’s not something you may want to DIY, installing a fence is a relatively inexpensive upgrade to your landscaping. In many areas, you don’t even need a permit to put up a fence; however, it’s still a good idea to check with your HOA or city regarding permit requirements as well as height and setback restrictions.

Things you do need to consider:

1. Odors

Sometimes, you need to rely on your other senses when touring a home. Your nose can actually help you uncover certain issues a home may have. Mold and mildew are two problems that can you can actually detect by smell. The smell of mold is similar to that of wet socks while mildew tends to give off a less intense “musty” odor. Depending on the severity of the issue, letting it continue could be hazardous to your health and resolving it could be hazardous to your wallet.

Cigarette and pet smells might seem trivial; however, these odors can cling to the walls and ceiling of a home, especially if the sources were present in the home for an extended period of time. In these cases, the odors might not dissipate without considerable time and effort (or even professional assistance). Fragrances are often used to mask these odors so the excessive use of candles, diffusers and sprays could be less about setting the mood and more about hiding a smelly problem with the home.

2. Wall and floor condition

In addition to being less than aesthetically pleasing, defects like warped floors, cracks in the walls and watermarks can also be indicative of bigger issues. Hairline cracks no wider than ⅛ of an inch and run vertically are usually pretty harmless.

These typically occur when a home’s foundation first settles and are most often found around door and window frames. Wider cracks or those that run horizontal or diagonally could be a cause for concern. They could indicate more serious foundational issues or even water damage and can appear anywhere on a wall.

A warped or “bouncy” floor can be a red flag for a myriad of problems from rotting wood (that could have been caused by flooding) to termites to low-quality construction. So be cautious of any sections of flooring that adds a little too much spring to your step.

Water damage can cause a can wreak havoc on a home. Signs of water damage in a home include stains or “bubbling” on walls and ceilings, buckling of baseboards and flooring and pungent smells. Unfortunately, the signs aren’t always apparent until the problem has progressed significantly. Additionally, finding the source of the damage (usually a leak or flooding) can be difficult and repairing the damage can be very expensive if left unresolved.

3. Integrated fixtures & systems

Issues with integrated fixtures and systems are a greater concern than those that are mostly cosmetic. Rather than focusing on wonky ceiling fans and loose cabinet hinges, be on the lookout for signs of issues with the electrical wiring and cooling and heating elements. Exposed or eroded wires, HVAC systems that lack proper ventilation and leaky water heaters are the issues that can not only cost a lot of money to resolve but they can also be major safety hazards.

Warm, vibrating wall outlets and/or flickering lights can be indications of issues with the electrical wiring. If you turn on a faucet and see orange/brown tinted water, that could be a sign that the water pipes are rusty and need to be replaced. A central AC unit that makes a squealing or grinding sound might need to be serviced or replaced altogether. A faint gas smell in a room other than the kitchen can be indicative of a hot water heater with a compromised gas valve.

4. Unpermitted additions

Occasionally, you might show up to a home that was listed as a 2 bedroom/1 bathroom only to find that – surprise – there’s an extra bathroom. Before you get too excited about the extra space, you’ll want to make sure that the addition is permitted. Why? Unpermitted construction can be a pain to deal with in more ways than one.

In addition to being potential a safety concern if not constructed properly, it can also be a financial concern when buying a home. If you purchase a home with unpermitted work, you could be saddled with fines from the city as well as the costs associated with getting the work permitted or taken down completely.

While home additions aren’t always obvious to spot, but some telltale signs are converted garages, rooms that have lower roof lines from the outside or freestanding accessory dwelling units (guest houses). Generally speaking, even if a remodeling project isn’t adding square footage to a home, a permit is still required if the remodel includes adding or removing walls, making changes to plumbing and/or electrical or even adding a window.

5. Lawn condition

Yellow and brown spots on a home’s lawn aren’t rare. They are usually the result of a hot, dry climate, deferred maintenance or a neighbor’s dog’s relieving himself in your yard. Sometimes, however, these spots are caused by fungal diseases. While not necessarily hazardous, the longer a fungal problem in the yard goes untreated, the more care, attention and money will be required to fix the issue. Neglecting the issue can also leave a lawn vulnerable to various pest infestations.

Dry discolored grass isn’t the only symptom of potential issues with a home. Wet or soggy spots in a yard that are accompanied by a foul odor could indicate a damaged or broken sewer line. Given how unsanitary of an issue it is, repairing it would be imperative and very costly.

Checklist of questions to ask during a home tour

Some important decision-making factors cannot be satisfied by simply looking at a property. Luckily for you, a tour or open house is the perfect opportunity for you to get critical information about a home straight from the source. The key is to know what questions to ask.

Here’s a helpful checklist of questions you’ll want to get answered while viewing a home:

1. When are offers due?

Chances are you’ll be touring multiple homes over the same period of time. It’s a good idea to ask about offer due dates. A great way to miss out on a home you love is to miss the offer submission deadline, and that can happen if you find yourself caught up in In some cases, sellers might not be accepting offers before a certain day as well. This is also good to know as submitting an offer too soon can come off a bit pushy and hurt the chances of your offer being accepted.

2. How many offers have been made?

This is pretty straightforward. You should always ask the real estate agent if any offers have already been made. If the seller has received a good number of offers already, it could indicate that the property might sell quickly. Having this information is helpful to ensure that Be aware, however, that not every seller will permit their listing agent to disclose this information as it can scare off prospective buyers.

3. Why are the sellers moving?

The sellers could be moving for a number of reasons. Finding out why is important. The last thing you want to do is move into a house the owners sold because of bad neighbors, rising crime or failing schools.

4. Have the sellers made any changes to the home’s original design?

Remember what we said about unpermitted work? This is a great way to find out if the home has any unpermitted work that isn’t easily detectable just by looking. This is especially important to know if the seller is selling the home “as is”. If a home is for sale “as is”, it’s pretty much understood that the sellers aren’t willing to make any repairs or credit for repairs (like bringing construction up to code).

5. Are there any issues with the property?

Listing agents must be transparent about any and all known issues with the home. While this information can be accessed via disclosure documents provided by the seller, it doesn’t hurt to ask while you’re there. This gives you the opportunity to check out the issues in person.

Final thoughts

Unless you’re designing it yourself, the chances of finding a home that matches each and every one of your personal preferences are slim. Maintaining a healthy amount of perspective regarding trivial must haves vs the major ones while viewing a home will go a long way towards making sound decisions about this important financial investment.

This article is not a substitute for advice from a licensed real estate agent regarding your particular situation. This article is meant for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as financial, tax, legal, or insurance advice. Opendoor always encourages you to reach out to an advisor regarding your own situation.

→ Pros and cons of buying a condo or townhome

→ How to write an offer letter for a house

→ More guides and blog posts about home buying

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Further reading

How to determine how much home you can afford
How to write an offer letter for a house
Who pays real estate agent commission fees