Home tours are a key part of the home buying process — it’s your first impression of the place you may one day call your home. You’ll want to make the most out of touring homes on the market, so you can find that perfect fit.
To help you, we spoke with Jeff Sibbach, a realtor with the Realty One Group based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Katie Walsh, a realtor with the Walsh Team at Keller Williams Realty East Valley based in Tempe, Arizona, for insider tips on what to look for.
Their biggest takeaway: don’t skimp on tours.
“Does it pull your heartstrings a little?” asks Sibbach. “If you’re buying it to live in it, I think it’s important to connect with the house.”
Plan your home tours
First, focus on your must-haves. For instance, if you know you want to live in a two-story home, don’t see any single-level ranches. If you know you want a pool, only tour homes that have pools. If a sunroom is important, check out that room first to save time.
“Do some research on the house, knowing what its pros and cons are so you can look into them in person,” says Sibbach.
Sibbach recommends checking out a prospective home by reviewing photos and researching the home’s value when compared to similar properties that have sold in the past three months or so. If the house is priced lower or higher than most, consider the reasons why.
“If you don’t know why it’s selling for less, that’s not good,” says Sibbach. A lower-priced home can still be worth your time. Just note that you might be buying a home in need of work, or with an issue (or issues) that caps its resale value should you decide to sell.
If you have kids, leave them home, at least for the first visit, Walsh says. They can distract you. And stick to homes you might realistically purchase. You don’t want to experience the agony of falling in love with something you’ll realistically never own.
“Don’t see a home that you can’t afford,” says Walsh. “If a home needs work and you’re maxed out here, you need to see move-in ready only.”
Bring your phone and a tape measure, to take photos in addition to measurements to see how a home might accommodate your furniture and major appliances.
Check your emotional response
When you first enter a home on a tour, take note of your emotional response. How does the house make you feel? If you feel at ease, it’s probably worth it to spend more time there. If you feel uncomfortable, move on to the next home.
But be cautious of purchasing a home based on feel alone. Home staging or décor that matches your style can create an emotional connection to a house that ultimately isn’t right for you.
Walsh says some home stagers will use small furniture that makes the rooms appear larger. Some homes are staged to hide major flaws.
“You need to see past the staging,” says Walsh. “You end up leaving, and the furniture is what sold that house for you.”
Walsh advises paying attention to the characteristics of the home that don’t change: the baseboards, flooring, and room size. Bring your furniture measurements to ensure your decor will fit. If it doesn’t, are you willing to invest in new furniture for the sake of the house? That could be a deal-breaker.
“Where’s my television going to go? That’s a big deal,” says Walsh. “I have buyers go, ‘We have no idea where we’re going to put our TV.'”
Set time limits
A home tour could last anywhere from less than five minutes to 90 minutes, depending on how you feel about the house.
Walsh suggests no more than 30 minutes. That’s typically how much time you’re given if the home is occupied. If you’re having doubts, it’s not worth staying. The right house will feel right.
“Usually a buyer knows within seven steps whether they’re interested or not,” says Sibbach. “It’s like dating — you know right away.”
Sibbach advises touring inside the house first, then walking around the exterior, and finally, return inside to get a full scope of the entire property. He says you’ll want to ensure that everything is well-maintained.
Walsh recommended touring no more than ten homes in a single day, at most. More than that, and you run the risk of forgetting about the homes you see — it’s too much information to absorb. If you’re looking in different areas, try to visit no more than one neighborhood a day, so as not to overwhelm yourself.
Sibbach also advises dropping by at night, since that’s when you’ll likely be home the most. You can check out noise or traffic concerns, and a home’s exterior lighting, in ways you can’t during the day.
As for how often to visit, the answer seems to be: Not too often.
“One visit can be enough. I’d like to say two, but that’s not always possible,” says Sibbach.
If you’re in a price point that’s moving very quickly, he advises spending more time in the house during that initial visit.
If you keep returning to the home, it may alert other potential buyers that you’re about to make an offer and make the home more desirable.
“You don’t want to create your own competition,” says Sibbach.
Pay close attention to the kitchen
In general, original owners tend to take good care of their houses, Walsh says.
She recommends always checking the closets. Neat and organized storage is a good sign the rest of the home is cared for well.
“Pride in ownership is more important than the color of the walls and the cabinets,” she says.
New appliances are another positive sign.
“If there are original appliances, that’s an indication that they’re not willing to buy a new stove — they’re probably not putting a lot of money into their AC unit, electrical,” says Walsh.
You’ll want to pay close attention to the kitchen and bathrooms since those rooms tend to be the most expensive to renovate, says Walsh.
If you’re touring a historical home, ask about the plumbing and electrical systems. Ideally, the seller, or someone before the current seller, has updated the systems or maintained them well to avoid costly fixes down the road. For example, there are a few types of electrical boxes from the 1970s and 1980s that were recalled and that inspectors are required to call out.
“Even though original is cool and hip right now, if you’re buying an older home, you want plumbing and electrical to be updated over the years,” says Walsh.
Have a close look at the exterior
In general, you’ll likely want to see a well-kept yard and exterior, with no peeling paint. If the home has a pool, is there a gate with locks? If not, that could violate local law. Look for large trees near housing fixtures whose roots could cause damage. For example, if a driveway’s concrete is already cracked, that could worsen in the future. Dead trees could fall on a house.
Foundation cracks and roofs are another expensive repair that you’ll want to pay close attention to, says Walsh. Water could seep into under a home, turning to mold, and creating other damage. Foundation issues can be pricey fixes, too.
An older roof is another red flag since roofs will eventually need replacing. You can tell a shingled roof’s age by the space between the shingles. The more space between the shingles, generally, the older the roof, says Walsh. Tiled roofs are tough to determine the age of, she says.
An older roof may not be a deal-breaker if the home price is right, but you’ll likely want to factor that into your home-care budget or discuss with an inspector, and possibly use to negotiate with the seller.
Ultimately, all the smart measurements and keen-eyed reviews of the home, inside and out, come down to personal assessment. Does the home meet your needs and your price-point? Does it just feel right?
“If it’s not impactful in some way,” says Sibbach, “I think you can find a better one.”
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