Buying a House

Topics in this category pertain to planning. Discussions include how to prepare yourself, your family and your community for catastrophes and what you plan to do when they hit you.

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Doryman
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Buying a House

Post by Doryman » Sun Mar 01, 2015 8:29 pm

Hey, ZS.

I'm likely going to be buying a house within the next year, and I was wondering if you guys had any general advice on the subject; both from a common-sense consumer pov, and from a preparedness one.

It's going to be in a small city on the East Coast of Canada which is subject to frequent storms.

It's going to be detached (no row house for me).

It's going to contain me, 1 x wife, 1 x cat.

So, what common "trouble areas" should I be looking at? What are some priorities when picking a location, house style? What are some necessary purchases/upgrades/hacks you guys would recommend?

Throw it all at me. EVERY bit of advice will be appreciated.

Thanks, guys!
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Re: Buying a House

Post by Halfapint » Sun Mar 01, 2015 8:48 pm

First thing to check is the roof, get up there walk along and see if it is sturdy. You want to make sure the plywood underneath isn't rotting, also want to look and see how the shingles or whatever the roof material is look. If you can get into the attic to see if there's any water damage that would be even better.

The second thing to check is the foundation. get down below the crawl space and see if the foundation is cracked, also want to see if the ground under the house is wet. If you notice cracks in the foundation I'd have it checked out by an inspector (preferably paid for by the owner). Foundation issues and water under the house would be a no go for me.

Those are the two biggest things, getting a house with a bad roof or a bad foundation will make your life hell. Everything else can be fixed pretty easy. Other things you should look at would be the pipes, I prefer copper, but PVC is ok as well. Avoid steel, some places had steel pipes and that's just asking for problems. Check the breakerbox make sure its up to code. Look for water damage, it's pretty easy to spot even if its been painted over.

From a preparedness stand point I'd look at getting a brick house, it offers a lot more protection from the elements and will hold up better over time. Make sure it's got lots of storage, providing you want to be able to have lots of food/water/TP stocked on hand.

I'm sure someone with more experience will come along and give you some better advice. I haven't owned a home but I've been with my parents when they bought all their rental houses, and was there during the inspections. I've looked at buying a couple houses, but most of them were cheap and in need of more work then I wanted to put into them right off the bat (roof being the biggest).
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Re: Buying a House

Post by boskone » Sun Mar 01, 2015 9:40 pm

In brief (typing on a tablet):

See if the wiring's copper. Aluminum's cheaper, less efficient and probably a fire hazard.

Check windows and doors for good seal, air leak. Also, vinyl or wood frames for windows instead of aluminum.

Check under sinks for evidence of leaks, or mismatched materials (iron and pvc, or worse iron and copper).

In Canada, you might want to look for south facing windows; free heating when the sun is up.

Soil type, especially if you intend to run a garden.

Ambient wind direction; if wind skims over your house, it'll make it colder.

Fireplace location. I hate the things, but look into how a good one, as opposed to one that just looks nice, is built. Best if outside draft and glass doors.

Water condition. Hard water wears appliances out; might be able to compensate with filtering or a water softener.

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Re: Buying a House

Post by Bubba Enfield » Sun Mar 01, 2015 10:32 pm

Look at the property with a view to potential flooding. I think this would be a big concern down east. A friend once built on a "perfect" lot, just to find that it often gets floody in spring. A quick look at a topographical map shows his yard was basically a "dry" spot in a creek. Don't know how else to describe it, but a crooked blue line ends at one edge of his yard and picks up again on the other side. Heavy spring rain would always connect the two lines.

A good cold cellar is a big bonus.
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Re: Buying a House

Post by duodecima » Sun Mar 01, 2015 11:09 pm

Looong post, because this is a big fat hairy deal here!

The money stuff - start getting your paperwork in order a little. I'm assuming Canada is very like the US on this - check your credit score (you can't check the actual score, but you can get a proxy that's close enough). Check your credit report for errors. Start saving the downpayment if you haven't already. In the US they will want copies of your most recent checking and savings statements with your loan application. See if you can get pre-qualified or pre-approved - it's an excellent way of indicating that your offer is a very serious one and not going to fall thru on financing, in a multiple offer situation, or in an on-the-fence situation it may make the difference. See what other paperwork is needed - I have always needed something from my employer confirming my employment and income.

Figure out what your actual, hard upper limit is. DO NOT exceed that. I prefer to look at that limit as a monthly number because taxes and insurance may vary widely from property to property and need to be accounted for in the affordability of the property. (For example, almost half my monthly payment is property taxes because of where I live. If I'd calculated a total home price I could afford based on homes a couple miles away, I might have had an unpleasant surprise during the process.) Banks will let you spend an absolutely ridiculous amount of your income on a home. DON'T base what you can afford off of that (altho do not exceed it for sure!) Figure out, based on your budget, how much you can comfortably spend on housing. (Can you maintain that on one income, if you and your wife both work? If yes that's a huge layer of comfort and security.)

Do NOT forget to budget for the expenses of owning a house. Require documentation of the last 12 months of utility bills for that property. (My drafty old barn of a house has ridiculous energy costs. I knew that coming in, tho.) We are saving to improve that, but there's only so many projects you can do at once. I have never once failed to spend at least as much money on this place for maintenance and needed improvements (replacing old windows, replacing falling down detached garage, etc) as my ridiculous taxes every year.

Home inspection is a MUST. I prefer to pay the inspector myself. Money talks, that guy is working for ME. It's worth the couple hundred bucks, since I'm not any kind of tradesman and don't know what I'm looking at. Energy audit's not much more if that's important to you (or going to define potentially needed upgrades.)

Depending on the age of the house, you're not just looking for copper wiring, you're looking for active knob&tube if you can find it. You may not be able to get any insurance at all if there's active knob and tube. Also, older houses, bless them, do NOT generally have grounded plugs, or outlets where you'd want them for modern life. Totally solvable, but yet another expense and hassle.

Real estate agents tell me that people get turned off or impressed by things like the decor of a place. Don't be that guy - the cute kiddie fish shower curtain and matching soap dish will be leaving with the owners (unless you want to write it into the offer that it stays. Which you can - I wrote the stools for the kitchen island into the offer on our second house because I didn't want to deal with finding stools again.) If the color scheme is obnoxious and the paint is too loud, you can ask for a redecorating allowance, or negotiate the price down based on need to replace carpet. And do totally ignore all of the massively creepy 300 dolls - we looked at that place. They were creepy, but that's not why we decided it wasn't for us. There were no other offers, tho, because the dolls were so damn creepy, we'd've been in a good position to get a good price on the house.

Look at the bones of the house - does the room layout and traffic pattern work with the way you live? I nixed a lot of houses that either had the kids rooms on the other end of the house than the master, or had the kids downstairs and the master upstairs. (My children will need to work harder than that to sneak out of my house, thank you very much). Look for unfinished basement space if you can!!! We had one house without it, we sorely missed a place to have a workshop that could get messy, or where we could paint furniture in the winter. Don't be too picky - my kitchen right now is NOT laid out like a modern kitchen, we're always bumping into each other, but most of the rest of the house is perfect for the way we live.

Location, location, location - the one thing you cannot possibly renovate. Think about commute time because damn it adds up and eats whole chunks of your life. Husband and I bought our second house 10 miles out of town on 20 acres, exactly what we'd always dreamed of. Turned out, the 25 min drive to town was killing us once our kids started school and such, we'd've been much better off closer in to town (or even in town, it turns out). Now, I can walk to work which gives us a lot of options about how many vehicles we need. Think about neighbors, and lines of site during winter and summer. Go chat up the neighbors - you may find out all sorts of things about the property or house, and definitely the neighborhood. My new house, being in a small city, one of the things we did was park on the street in front and sit with the windows open for about 30-40 minutes on one of the biggest party nights of the year. All was tranquil, but we were just checking. If there's a neighborhood association, go talk to them as well. We sat on the steps for about a half hour waiting for the inspector and the agent once, right around 5:30, met half the neighborhood walking their dogs, very enlightening.

Check city/county ordinances - about parking, about lawns & shrubs, about pellet guns, compost piles, pets, fences, flag posts, when you're allowed to put out your trash, anything. The neighbors can maybe tip you off to these as well. Also check for the lack of ordinances - what, exactly, could your neighbor build right next door that you couldn't say boo about?

Think about the future - is the house laid out so one-level living is possible? If you grow old here, or become unexpectedly disabled, this could be key. (Mine isn't, drat it.) Even if you're pretty sure it won't matter, it does impact resale. Of the 3 houses I've bought, I thought I'd live in 2 of them forever. Clearly that didn't work out. Good resale isn't a reason to buy something you hate, but it's worth consideration.

Soil type - that's a thought I never had, but I'm a smaller gardner- but if it's a small lot you can amend bad soil without too much trouble, if the rest of the house is very well suited.

Fake edit - what Bubba said!!! I'd forgotten about the house we didn't buy because of that. Real estate agent assured me that swale in back didn't drain into the basement. I said I'd be happy when an inspector/engineer told me that. Turns out, not only did it drain there, it HAD done so and flooded the basement (which explained some things about the basement too...) If in doubt get an independent professional to put it in writing...
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Re: Buying a House

Post by Evan the Diplomat » Sun Mar 01, 2015 11:28 pm

All good advice so far. Hire a real good home inspector. If you have found a house you like, tell him to be a hard ass on the house.

Here are some buying tips.. Find out the rental comps for a similar house in the area you are buying. If your monthly mortgage is more than rents, rent, because if you have to move because of work, you want to at least be cash neutral. Don't sell the house if you have to move, otherwise you will never build a real estate empire.

No house is perfect. Never show a realtor that you like the house, it is too old, too big, too small, too much yard to mow, not enough room for your horse to graze. You don't like it, but out of all the shacks you've seen, you might consider making offer on this one, if the owners are flexible on terms.

How far are you from the sea? If close, check for salt damage in the masonry, window frames. Make sure it has a full basement with a separate exit. Why pay for a house and only get a slab or crawl space. I know about houses in Florida, Texas and California, but basements usually bring more advantage than troubles.
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Re: Buying a House

Post by procyon » Mon Mar 02, 2015 1:38 am

Wow. Lots of good advice so far.

Not sure what you are looking for. If you are a farmer or plan to raise some form of livestock - I could drop a big old list on here.
But I will refrain until I know.


Other thoughts.

On the prevailing wind - do you have a windbreak/snowbreak in that direction to stop the wind and keep your house/drive from being drifted in.
(I am assuming where you are planning to move will get snow. But not all coastal areas are snowy.)

Do you have a large tree close to the house? One that will need branches trimmed back every few years to keep them from tearing up your roof.
Or a tree that could come down on your home if it gets covered with to much ice.
Or one that will be dropping stuff in your yard you don't want to deal with (walnuts/hickory nuts to hit with the mower, mulberry trees so the birds will flock in and poop all over everything, etc).

How close is your home to a property line if you ever plan to add on?

Fences. Even if you aren't a farmer, if your property buts up against a farmline - you may be responsible for maintaining fences along some part of your property.

This goes with Location from Duo.
Distance to the nearest hospital. And police/sheriff. And Fire Dept.

If the water is still on to the location, try the hot & cold water. See if the lines are full of deposits and you are just going to get a trickle.
And see if there are shut offs other than the main. It can be a pain to deal with a small leak if you have to shut off all the water.
And how big is the water heater? With just two of you it might not have to be large, but add a couple kids and that will change.

And if you plan on adding kids to your family - how busy are the streets.


Good luck. :D
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Re: Buying a House

Post by Atomic Punk » Mon Mar 02, 2015 1:45 am

My wife and I just finished buying a house last month. As others have said, get everything inspected. Seebif you can get gov records of the property and any permits or reports on the property. Its free public access on the right sites in the US. Expect lots of paperwork fees. Get a wood stove.

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Re: Buying a House

Post by Black Sheep » Mon Mar 02, 2015 2:32 am

Look at the roof from outside. Are the lines all straight?
The simpler the "shape" of the roof the less potential leaks there are.
Walk around in the house, don't be distracted, look up. Is the ceiling sagging? Are there stains made by dripping water?
Is the floor solid?
If it has wallpaper and it's really old, does it wrinkle around the corners, showing the place is settling or sinking?
Is it insulated?
I agree, think about flooding.
Has it been moved onto the site or built there?
If moved, look underneath and make sure it was put back together with solid woodwork.
Check the shower pressure, all the lights, the heating, the ventilation fans and whatever to make sure they work. Look in all the cupboards and closets.

That's all I've got, sorry if it's a bit third worldy.

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Re: Buying a House

Post by wagdhead » Mon Mar 02, 2015 10:30 am

Lots of good advice so far.

The home inspection is a critical factor, BUT most home inspectors can't be experts in everything. Here is something I have done on older and even my custom built home.
Interview you home inspector and find out what their background is, which will lead you to their area of expertise. My go to guy is a retired framing and roofing contractor, so that area of expertise if covered. I asked him if he could find guys that were experts in electrical, plumbing and hvac, and have them inspect the houses as well. It ended up costing me an extra $1,000 on my inspection, but they found things that the regular home inspector admitted he would have missed, and on one house they found $4,000 in problems that the seller either fixed or I had comped.

Another future plan that you might want to look into is if you have a crawl space, have it conditioned. Your local power company might give you credits for having it done as well. The quick and dirty on this is that your crawl space is sealed and then conditioned. This creates a crawl space that is a constant temp 65F in my case and it cut my energy bill by 18%. Between the power company credits and the energy savings, the approx. $5000 cost for doing this was paid for in 2 years. My crawlspace is large 3-4' high with a large footprint, so your costs might be lower. The added benefit is I now have a huge climate controlled storage area for my preps and other stuff.
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Re: Buying a House

Post by litegod » Mon Mar 02, 2015 9:51 pm

everybody has great advice. It is a very good start.

I am in Canada as well, out on the prairies.

When we looked at our house we did a few things " normal people" do not do. I checked local exit routes from the city, at the time we were on the extreme edge of the population and within 3-5 minutes driving time we would have been well outside the city with a few alternate routes out, even one or two that went through pastures, utility corridors, old roads etc.

Another thing I liked about our house was the fact it was above most of the other houses in the city, we can look out and pretty well see roofs for miles. This means of course if we flood then everybody else is boned.

I checked for local rail lines going through the area, they were all far enough away and downwind there would be no issues if there were a spill. Same goes for underground gas lines and high voltage lines , either above or below ground. We checked for any other type of hazard( chemical plants, factories, transport facilities) upwind from us to get from getting evacuated or contaminated in the event of spills.

Our neighbors were all established and there were very few rental properties in the neighborhood, our house had a back lane on the side and back , and street in the front so we only have direct contact with one neighbor and they are on the blind side. We made sure that the garage was detached so that if something started on fire in the garage like a vehicle or fuel, battery ,etc. it would not take the entire house with it, same goes for carbon monoxide. Also if there were a house fire then at least we would have vehicles to use. The tiny bit of inconvenience is worth the safety as far as I am concerned.

Our house faces south with decent sized windows so we get lots of solar heating in the winter and the bedrooms in the back are exposed to some wonderful sunsets. The yard is big enough to hold a fire pit legally and safely so we can enjoy the short summers we get here.

We have a sealed wood stove in the lower level to keep the house warm in the event of a power outage or severe winter storm, there are lots of forested areas nearby if we needed fuel in an extended outage, I have a fairly large pile of wood already. There is a few small natural ponds nearby if we were needing water.


one big thing we did before we bought the house, we came at two different times of the week, a Saturday and a Wednesday night and walked around the neighborhood. It was early fall so there was still lots of kids and people out playing and walking. The people mostly had decent looking yards and houses, everything was taken care of. It just seemed like an area we could live in.

good luck.

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Re: Buying a House

Post by Maast » Tue Mar 03, 2015 4:52 am

Its been stated before but I'll say it again; pay close attention to the drainage of the property - water is the #1 destroyer of homes. At the top of a long gentle slope is ideal.

Solar orientation and exposure; if you ever want to put up solar panels you're going to want at least one roof segment facing true south (or within 10 degrees of true south) that's not blocked by surrounding trees.

Home inspection, get a very thorough one. Mine saved me having to repair a potential house-fall-down problem in the crawlspace.

Closets, you can never have too many.

Also, general storage; where are you going to put all your garage stuff and lawn care stuff, it takes up a surprising amount of room, room that will otherwise crowd out space for your preps.
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Re: Buying a House

Post by Doryman » Tue Mar 03, 2015 5:36 am

Just popping into thank you guys and let you know your advice isn't falling on deaf ears. I'm scribbling (well, typing) down all these suggestions, and getting myself into a home-buyer headspace with the advice.

Thank you sincerely, and keep 'em coming!
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Re: Buying a House

Post by Neptune Glory » Tue Mar 03, 2015 6:08 am

duodecima wrote:Home inspection is a MUST. I prefer to pay the inspector myself. Money talks, that guy is working for ME. It's worth the couple hundred bucks, since I'm not any kind of tradesman and don't know what I'm looking at. Energy audit's not much more if that's important to you (or going to define potentially needed upgrades.)
+1 to this. Once that inspection is done, you'll know if there are things that must be fixed before you sign anything (dealbreakers) and if there are things that you can live with but use as a negotiation chip to lower the purchase cost.

Good luck! My wife and I purchased our first house a couple of years ago, so far so good!
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Re: Buying a House

Post by JT42 » Tue Mar 03, 2015 1:18 pm

Doryman wrote:...
It's going to contain me, 1 x wife, 1 x cat.
...
What are some ... upgrades ... you guys would recommend?
Fewer wives, more cats.

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Re: Buying a House

Post by Evan the Diplomat » Tue Mar 03, 2015 6:04 pm

Modern double or triple pane windows. Storm door. We are large family so we installed tankless gas water heaters in two of our properties.

Older houses lack overhead light fixtures. Some have wall switches controling outlets where you plug in lamps. Upgrade to recessed LED lights to save energy and add modernity.
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Re: Buying a House

Post by RickOShea » Tue Mar 03, 2015 6:24 pm

Having underground power, at least from the transformer to the meter box is nice. If it does have an overhead service, are there any trees close enough to fall on it?

Around here anyway, the power companies aren't responsible for the meter base/power panel or the weatherhead. So if a storm causes a tree or big limb to fall on the overhead service wires and it rips the meter box or weatherhead riser off the side of the house, we don't hook the power back up until the owner gets an electrician to make repairs.
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Re: Buying a House

Post by Armor76 » Tue Mar 03, 2015 11:43 pm

Skimmed the other posts, sorry if this is a repeat.

Neighbors. If you find a house you think you like, go over and knock on some neighbors doors. Tell them you're looking at buying the house and ask them what they think about the neighborhood and the house.... they may volunteer useful info about the house, it's previous occupants and how they cared for it. They can tell you about the neighborhood, if there are any trouble makers on the block. They'll tell you about schools, local community issues,even how often the plow comes by in the winter or if the power goes out often.

Some people may shut the door in your face, but that tells you something about them as well. You should size up your potential neighbors while you talk to them and decide if you think you'd like living next to them. If the guy answers the door piss drunk at 2 pm and keeps swearing at his wife in the background..... you may want to consider that kind of thing.

I'm so glad we did this. It helped us make the final decision between 2 great houses that were less than 6 blocks apart. We chose the one that ISN'T next door to a crazy lady and her crazy mother. :shock: :lol:
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Re: Buying a House

Post by JeeperCreeper » Wed Mar 04, 2015 12:50 am

I know many have mentioned Home Inspectors, and I think that is the most important. Around here, the banks will normally send their person out to do it if you are getting a mortgage, and from my family's experience, they are TOUGH because they are protecting the buyers (and therefore their) investment. So tough is good.

I know in my area, mold is a huge deal... so that is always the first thing that gets checked out.

And I'm glad neighbors were mentioned above. A bad set of neighbors can ruin a house. With that, if it's in a neighborhood, check and see if the neighborhood is rentals or owned homes. The houses on either side of mine are nicer rental properties, but that doesn't mean that drug dealers didn't move in and deal from their back porch. So just because it is pricey, doesn't mean trash stays away.

Oh, and I agree with Halfapint, I like brick and stone. Not only are they pleasing to the eye, they are tougher (also tougher on the wallet with property tax too, depending on area, check that out)
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Re: Buying a House

Post by CrossCut » Wed Mar 04, 2015 7:26 am

Lots of great advice here. Second (and third) the recommendations for south-facing windows, basement/crawlspace, fireplace/woodburner, and masonry construction if possible. Just from the preparedness standpoint, it might be good to consider how the home would function if no public utilities (water, gas, sewer) were available. Having a well, propane/fuel oil for heat, and a septic makes your home a lot more self-sufficient in a disaster, and it's a lot cheaper to buy a home that has them already then to add them later.

And not sure if it's the same in Canada, but we just had an appraisal done last year on our home to refinance it. It's passive solar designed and ICF construction, neither of which made any difference to the appraised price. The appraiser actually put "none" for "Energy efficient items", and "Construction" is listed as "other" :lol: . I didn't care since it didn't matter to getting the new mortgage, but keep your eyes open while house-hunting and maybe you can find a good prepper-built/prepper-approved home cheap. Good luck.

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Re: Buying a House

Post by TheZone » Wed Mar 04, 2015 11:57 am

Before closing: 1) Get a bonded structural engineer to survey the entire house.

2) Get a bonded mechanic survey of the house.

3) If not required by law, get a survey of your plat. I can't count the number of times I've seen people discover that their garage, driveway, etc., was on the wrong side of the property line.
My Zombie novel. The Zone.

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Mikeyboy
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Re: Buying a House

Post by Mikeyboy » Wed Mar 04, 2015 12:17 pm

Doryman wrote:Hey, ZS.

I'm likely going to be buying a house within the next year, and I was wondering if you guys had any general advice on the subject; both from a common-sense consumer pov, and from a preparedness one.

It's going to be in a small city on the East Coast of Canada which is subject to frequent storms.

It's going to be detached (no row house for me).

It's going to contain me, 1 x wife, 1 x cat.

So, what common "trouble areas" should I be looking at? What are some priorities when picking a location, house style? What are some necessary purchases/upgrades/hacks you guys would recommend?

Throw it all at me. EVERY bit of advice will be appreciated.

Thanks, guys!

Doryman I don't know where you are in your life but 15 years ago I was a younger married man buying a house. I may be repeating what others have said, but here are some things I learned and wish I done different.

1) Again not knowing how old you are or what stage you are in life...but if your young and married, assume you may have at least 2 kids. Don't settle for a small 2 bedroom house assuming that you may only have one kid. The expense of buying a small house and building an addition can be more that just buying a bigger house.

2) Roof, foundation, heater/AC, electrical panel, septic (if not sewer), needs to be in good condition and checked before buy. Don't take their word for it, and don't settle for damaged or old stuff for any of these because they are big ticket items to repair or replace.

3) I don't know how it is in Canada, but if they have independent home inspectors there...get one. Its worth it and don't buy a house without one.

4) As others said...location, location, location. If you are not from the area where you are buying into, talk to the locals. Find out the good neighborhoods, and the bad. Also check the internet. Look into the local schools, are they good, or bad. Even if you are older and don't have kids...having really bad pubic school in your area may mean lower taxes for you but more crime and BS to deal with in your neighborhood. Don't be ashamed to cruise around the neighborhood and stalk your prospective house. Maybe you will realize there is a train track not too far from the house, or that the house is across from a party house having keggers every weekend, maybe you will see a junkie walking down the street, or a group of kids throwing rocks and being stupid near your future house. Its a big investment, don't be afraid to do research.

5) Think Security, is this prospective house easy to break into, and can you make it secure.

6) If you can, haggle a bit for a better price. Don't settle for paying retail.

7) Don't be afraid to go a little bit over your budget if you find the perfect house.

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tonydedo25
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Re: Buying a House

Post by tonydedo25 » Wed Mar 04, 2015 2:30 pm

The biggest issue I would be concerned about is flooding.

It's something people don't think about if they're not right on the short, but rivers, streams, even backed up sewers and poor drainage can easily cause a lot of water damage to a home. Even mild water damage is expensive to repair and, if not addresses properly, can cause long standing "hidden" issues like mold and rot.

I'm not sure how things work in Canada, but in the United States flood damage is not covered by standard homeowner's insurance, and separate flood insurance is very expensive.

I would study the water tables and look very carefully to see if the house is in or near a flood plain, look very carefully for water damage during the inspection, and buy flood insurance anyway (and be prepared for the cost).

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Doryman
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Re: Buying a House

Post by Doryman » Sun Apr 05, 2015 8:17 am

I realize I've been MIA since I started this thread, but I wanted to bump it to thank everyone who offered advice. I'll take all your suggestions under consideration when I go house hunting.

Thanks, guys!
That rifle on the wall of the labourer's cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there."

-George Orwell

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