How to Make the Most of an Initial Home Walk-Through
Published | Written by Caitlin Spence
All those hours of searching online for the perfect home hopefully leads to this moment: spotting a place that makes you say, “This could be the one.” It’s one of the highlights of the home buying process. Go ahead, pore over all the photos. Picture how you’ll arrange your furniture. But you should also call your Realtor and schedule a walk-through.
What is a walk-through?
In the home buying process, the walk-through comes after you’ve been pre-approved for a mortgage — you want to know what you can afford — and before you make any offers. This is your first opportunity as a homebuyer to get a feel for the property. “Can I live here?” should be your guiding question.
You’ll spend years — possibly decades — of your life in the home you choose, so make sure it’s the one that fits you best. Use your senses during the walk-through: Does the home smell funny? Do the floors slope? What does the neighborhood sound like? And do a gut check. Does anything feel off about the place? Your Realtor, who will be with you during the walk-through, is your professional second pair of eyes. They’ll help keep track of the advantages or potential problems of each home you see.
As you’re imagining your life within those walls, notice whether those walls are cracked or stained. Keep in mind, though, that no home is flawless, especially if you’re not the first owner. Make a list of your wants and needs, and remain flexible with things that aren’t hazardous to your health or your wallet.
If all this sounds like a lot, use this guide and lean on your Realtor. You’ll be prepared to make the most of your walk-through.
Before the walk-through
The asking price: Too high, too low or just right? Your Realtor will look at how the home compares with others in the area. You may also have a sense of this if you’ve been looking for a while. A low or well-priced home may mean more competition and you’ll want to schedule that walk-through asap.
Is there an offer review date? An offer review date serves as a deadline for interested buyers to submit offers to the seller. Some listings will set an offer review date, and others will simply review offers upon receipt. Opting for an offer review date may indicate that the listing agent anticipates competing offers. In any case, you’ll want to make sure you have time to complete your walk-through and any due diligence before that date.
How long has the property been on the market? Has it had any offers? A home that’s been on the market for a long time may not be in the most desirable place to live. It’s also possible the seller might not be in a hurry to leave, which could make it hard to negotiate the price. On the other hand, you might have room to negotiate the price if a home isn’t getting much attention. Find out whether pending sales have fallen through — these can be red flags.
During the walk-through
It might be love at first sight. Family meals in the dining room, movie nights in the living room — your future could unfold as you pass through each doorway. But don’t forget to stay savvy and use your Realtor’s expertise to your advantage. They’ll act as the liaison between you and the seller or the seller’s agent.
It’s also good to keep this in mind: If the seller or the seller’s agent is present during your walk-through, watch what you say. Avoid being critical or showing too much enthusiasm. Take notes as you examine the house, and keep these questions in mind:
What needs fixing? Take note of things like warped floorboards, cracks in the foundation or rusty water fixtures. Doors that don’t close all the way and cracks in the ceiling can reveal issues with the foundation.
How old is the roof? Installing a new roof is expensive. If the roof is more than 20 years old, it may need replacing soon. If it’s brand new, you could get an insurance credit.
How much sunlight does the house get? Take a look at the house’s sun exposure. Plenty of direct sunlight can save on heating costs in winter, but shade trees can help during the summer. Does the master bedroom face south? Expect a toasty room when the sun’s out.
How’s the drainage? This is important to know in Seattle. Keep an eye out for warning signs such as standing water on the property or a wet basement floor. Your Realtor will have access to the Seller Disclosure Form which covers many potential issues including whether the basement has ever flooded or leaked to their knowledge.
What systems are in place, and are they functional? Check out the furnace, water heater, and electrical panel. You don’t need to be an expert, your home inspection will take a closer look, but you’ll want to see systems that appear to be well cared-for.
Now it’s time to debrief with your Realtor. Discuss what you noted as you toured the property and, if the home passes muster, explore the following questions together.
What’s the neighborhood like? If proximity to schools or shopping districts is important to you, ask your Realtor what’s nearby. Driving or walking through the neighborhood at different times of day can also give you a clearer picture of the area.
Why are the owners moving? When do they have to move? Your Realtor can contact the listing agent to understand what terms may be important to the seller. For example, they might be in a hurry to start a new job in another state, or they might need money from a sale to pay for their new home. The more you know, the more you can tailor your offer without compromising on what matters most to you.
Are renovations possible? If you’re considering renovations in the future, you may want to know if walls can be knocked down or rooms added. Your Realtor can connect you with a contractor who can ascertain what is feasible.
How much are taxes, and will you have to pay HOA fees? You should know how much the owners pay, and whether the costs fit into your budget. Plus, can you abide by the HOA rules?
After you’ve discussed the pros and cons, compare them to other homes you've seen. Which place will best suit your needs? What can you live with, and what can’t you live without? Knowing as much as you can before and during the walk-through process — and knowing what to ask your Realtor when you don’t have the answer — will get you one step closer to owning the right home.
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