The weather isn’t the only thing that heats up in Minnesota every spring. A perennial uptick in the market for real estate and home buying is to be expected around this time of year. But it is especially true this year. Buyers are coming out in droves to search for new homes. The massive demand juxtaposed on a limited inventory has created high competition in the market. In a recent newspaper article from the Star Tribune, one realtor claimed that three of the last four homes she’s listed have sold within six hours! This means buyers must act quickly when they see something they want. What it also means is that the rapidity of these situations puts buyers at risk of over-looking important aspects of the home.
We’re here to help with this Home Buyer’s Checklist. Of course, being who we are, we’ll emphasize and detail how to look at the home’s mechanicals and its potential for energy efficiency.
Here is what to look for:
HVAC System – Ever notice how some home listings show pictures and brag about the HVAC system while others do not? That’s because the value of a home is directly correlated with the quality of its HVAC system. Here are three things to look for during every new home visit:
Equipment History – If the system looks old and rickety, it probably is. Look for an indication of its age and for a history of work performed. If the unit has a rap sheet of major repairs it may be a sign of more to come. Opposite but similar — if there is no record of regular preventative maintenance that too could be a problem.
Test the Living Space – What temperature does the thermostat say? Do rooms all over the house feel the same temperature or is the master bedroom a sauna while its cold in the family room? If the temperature varies from room to room you might be up against some ductwork issues. Take into account how the prime living spaces feel. The downstairs storage room may not matter, but you could end up spending a fortune on energy bills if the kitchen and bedrooms are out of whack.
Unit Sizing – Take note of the furnace’s BTUs and the A/C unit’s Tons of output. These figures in conjunction with the home’s square footage are what you need to calculate whether an HVAC system is sized appropriately. There are various resources online to determine the BTUs and Tons needed to heat or cool the size home you are looking for, but a general rule of thumb is 50-60 BTUs per square foot required to heat a house in a cold climate like Minnesota.
Insulation – Take a look at the attic, if possible. Does it appear well-insulated? A poorly-insulated attic will have insulation that has noticeably deteriorated, is not evenly distributed, or is practically non-existent. Behind the HVAC system, this is the most important aspect to an energy-efficient home. The insulation in the attic can also be an indication as to the quality and quantity of insulation in the walls.
Orientation of the House – Believe it or not, the direction the house faces has a significant effect on energy prices. It also determines whether or not you’ll enjoy brilliant sunlight or be frustratingly left in the dark. Given the Minnesota climate, a south-facing home is generally viewed as a bonus. It will get more sunlight in the winter months which help it feel warm and bright. Of course, the positioning of windows and shade trees matter, too. It’s not uncommon to see a few deciduous trees planted between the suns line to the home’s main windows. Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the winter, allowing sunlight in. Conversely, these same trees act as shade for the home in the summer.
Glazing (Windows and Openings) – The condition of the windows is a good litmus test for the rest of the home for several reasons. Try opening and closing each window. If it is a struggle to move them up and down it likely means they were either installed poorly, or worse, the house has shifted structurally. Furthermore, if you notice condensation between the windows it means they are faulty. If the wood is soft and rotten it will need to be replaced. If the paint or glazing is chipping it is a bad sign that the rest of the house hasn’t been taken care of, either.
Plumbing – The best approach is to get your hands on everything. Flush every toilet. Turn on every faucet and shower head. Check the pressure and even taste the water. Look for signs of leaks or water damage in every area you can. Knowing how everything is working first hand will help you make an informed decision. The age and positioning of the water heater is also a big deal as it will be expensive if you need to move or replace it.
Electrical – Start at the circuit breaker. Is it well-kept and well-labeled or does it look like an outdated mess? This is a good indicator of the state of the electrical system as a whole. Then take note of the whereabouts of outlets and the presence of GFCI protection in kitchens and bathrooms. Questionable electrical elements are a dangerous fire hazard and replacing or rewiring the system can be very expensive.
Roof & Chimney – Most are already aware that replacing a roof is one of the most expensive projects for a homeowner. Look for granule loss and for any curling to the shingles’ shape. Try to also get a view of the chimney, if possible. Does it appear to be structurally sound or is it starting to corrode? Chimney repair is also costly.
Personal Needs and Preferences – Of course, this is about finding the right home for you. Are the rooms big enough for your needs? Does it have enough storage for you? Is the neighborhood a fit? These are all important questions. Having a list of wants and desires is necessary, but it’s important to remember that it’s unlikely you’ll find a house that you can check every box. What might be even more helpful is a list of deal-breakers or non-negotiables. What can’t you make work?
Get an Inspection – This checklist is meant to help you move and act quickly in a competitive market. It does not replace the value of a professionally performed inspection. If you are serious about a property and write an offer it is customary to always make it contingent on inspection.
‘A steal’ is hard to come by in this market. If it is seemingly too good to be true but doesn’t stack up well against this checklist, then the home may end up costing you much more in the long-run. This checklist should equip you with the ability to determine quickly whether a house has ‘good bones’ and will meet your needs. Of course, Owens is here for you every step of the way. HVAC repair or replacement can often get negotiated into the terms of the sale. Call us anytime and let us meet your needs!