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The Complete House Shopping Guide

Read Time: 7 Minutes November 16, 2021

House shopping is unlike any shopping experience you’ve ever had before. It’s certainly a far cry from the days when as a kid you could walk into a shoe store, try on a few pairs of sneakers, and before long leave with your old sneaks in the shoebox. Moreover, not only is buying a home is one of the most important decisions that you will ever make, but the house hunting process can be all at once exhausting and exhilarating.

Happy family with dog looking over list on iPad

There are numerous disparate factors that can impact your ultimate buying decision including the current housing market, your budget, if you want a fixer-upper, how far you’re willing to commute, or just plain being in the right place at the right time.

Be sure to ask your real estate agent a few questions to include in your checklist. When are offers due? How many are currently on the table? Why are the owners selling? Does the property have issues that aren’t immediately apparent? Will the seller be making any repairs or providing buyers with credit to make repairs on anything that needs to be fixed?

You should also seek answers to questions regarding the local community. How do the schools rank? Is the house on a noisy street with a lot of traffic? Is there a local library? Are there nature trails nearby? How about a good homemade ice cream shop?!

With the above in mind, let’s take a closer look at some important items on your house hunting checklist and shopping guide to help you make a more informed purchase decision.

Figure Out Your Budget

Knowing your budget should be the cornerstone of your house hunting checklist. It will help you avoid a potential situation where you are inadvertently creating a financial hardship – even if things look good on paper and a lender will loan you the money.

Finding the right home can take some time. Start by getting a preapproval from your mortgage lender and setting a budget. If you’re house-hunting in a competitive market or have a particular home in mind, a pre-approval can put you at a competitive advantage. When you have a pre-approval letter, a seller will know you’re working with a lender who has confirmed that you’re a serious buyer and can afford their home.

When budgeting for homeownership be sure to factor in your other monthly expenses beyond your estimated mortgage payment. These include insurance, utility bills, repair and maintenance costs, property taxes, unexpected expenses, and credit card payments to name a few.

An effective method of calculating your homebuying budget is called the “28% Rule.” The premise is that your mortgage should not be more than 28% of your gross income each month, and no more than 36% of your income should be debt. 

Performing these calculations now will help ensure that your dream purchase is one that you will never regret. Use our mortgage calculators to help define your budget.

With those important items now on your list let’s take a closer look at some “nuts and bolts” to include as well.


Exterior Checklist


Degradation such as bubbling, cracking, and peeling are red flags that are indicative of weather exposure or even a defect in paint application. While breakdown of paint is to be expected outdoors in areas exposed to sun and rain, it can also point to potential structural issues. Discoloration may also just mean it’s time for repainting, however, be sure to address any problem areas and include them on your checklist.


If there’s a Homeowner’s Association (HOA) be sure to learn about their rules and regulations. Is there an obligation to join and pay monthly HOA fees? Ascertain what changes you're allowed to make to the exterior of the home including what paint colors you can paint the exterior. Ask if can add a fence, pool, or even a pond with a peaceful waterfall.

HOA’s are meant to keep the community looking sharp, as well as help maintain property values. However, depending upon how unique you envision your future property, you may want to think things through prior to buying a house within an HOA.


When it comes to lawns, yellow or dirt spots can be a sign of bigger issues. Even the most well-maintained lawns can have a few rough spots, however, they can sometimes be caused by fungal diseases. Getting a bad lawn healthy and green can take time and money. Consider consulting with a professional landscaper if you have any concerns about the grass on a property prior to making an offer.

Interior Checklist

Wall Condition

Inspect the walls to make sure any visible cracks aren’t too wide or covered up with paint. Check the windowsills for areas that may be soft, uneven, or saturated. Using a leveler can help uncover problem areas that may not be obvious. If any cracks are more than about ¼ inch wide and you are still interested in the property get a structural engineer to do an inspection. Repairing structural damage could ultimately cost an exorbitant sum of money so do your due diligence to help avoid a potential future money pit.


Discoloration on the floorboards is a sign of water damage. It could also point to problems with the walls, roof, and foundation. If the house that you’re touring has carpeting, you can check out potential moisture damage in the basement by inspecting the underside of floorboards for stains.


Musty smells can be a sign of mold and mildew which could ultimately cause health issues. Unpleasant odors can also be a sign of a broken sewer line, which would be a huge red flag. Know that sometimes candles, and air fresheners are used to disguise odors. 

Checking out a house is not like a museum tour! Therefore, don’t be shy about testing out outlets, showers, and toilets to make sure things are running smoothly. Open bathroom and sink cabinets to look around water pipes or drains for mold and mildew. Follow your nose to help avoid big future problems for your health and wallet.


Pull back the curtains to check for lopsided frames and try to see if the windows slide easily. If they don’t, it could be a sign of foundation issues or improper installation. Even new windows could have been installed incorrectly or not be properly insulated.

Home Search Options

House shopping will likely involve some prioritizing. Keep your options open and make a list of must-haves as well as areas that you are willing to compromise. For example, will having three bedrooms be doable when you really wanted four bedrooms if you find the otherwise perfect house? Can you hold off on having a pool in the backyard for the time being?

As you tour potential options, remain open to improvisations such as adding a bedroom in a refinished basement or turning an office into a bedroom. Invariably, you will have some dealbreakers, however, with a little imagination you may find that a place that you would have originally crossed off your list on paper turns out to be the one.

Of course, before you can make an offer on the right house you have to find it.

Luckily, online search tools come in handy whether you’re working with a professional real estate agent or not. You can narrow your search for properties to find available homes that match your home buying wish list.

Make Sure to See the House In-Person

We have discussed specific things to look for when touring properties. Remember to include notes on repairs or upgrades that you can ask the seller to complete or factor in as part of a potential deal if you decide to make an offer.

We live in an increasingly virtual world and these days some new home purchases are made entirely online. Although you will do virtual tours of many different houses, remember that just like when buying the proverbial new pair of sneakers, you should walk the actual carpet of a new home before deciding on the perfect fit.

So be sure to go see your possible dream home in person because as the saying goes, you’ll know it when you see it!

Learn more in our other educational series.

We’ve assembled a treasure trove of jargon-free information to demystify home-financing and arm you with valuable insights and actionable options.

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