When you begin scouring local listings, the cost, or asking price, of the home appears to be right there at the top. All the other details about the property are there too, but they usually get close attention only after that dollar amount at the top falls within your target budget.
As soon as the shopping starts to narrow the field, the financial implications of those other details begin to reveal themselves. In fact, the true bottom line cost of your new home will be greatly affected by them.
Many buyers work with the details exactly as presented—but as a purchase grows more likely, they should consider them simply as starting points. Back when home prices were racing steadily upward, it may have been okay to assume that price appreciation would make up for any exaggerations or oversights about the property (whether inadvertent or not), but today’s more cautious buyers appreciate how the disclosures impact the real cost of a property. They know how expensive it can be to correct inaccuracies later on.
When comparing properties, it’s time well spent to confirm as much of the information as practical. It will give you confidence that you aren’t missing potential expenses or devaluing factors when figuring the cost of a home versus its true value. Some relevant factors:
- Even when there are laws requiring sellers to disclose obvious repairs, those that are less obvious can come as a surprise after the keys are handed over. Some may not even be known to the seller; for example, mold in walls caused from earlier flooding may not be visible, or termites that are just starting to colonize the structure might not be obvious. That’s why consulting with a home inspector is so important. The best ones know the places to look for the telltale signs it takes an expert to uncover.
- If the property you are considering belongs to a homeowner’s association or is subject to any kind of maintenance fees, be sure to factor in those costs. Ask for copies of receipts for the last few payments—then find out what plans have been announced that might mean future increases.
- Property taxes will obviously figure in your home cost calculations, but it’s good to know the basis upon which the property is taxed. Unrecorded improvements could raise that figure, so take a look at the recent bills. If you have questions, check in with the assessor’s office should settle them.
- Don’t just have a chat about the cost of utilities—you should request copies of the utility bills for at least the last full year. Water and power (and sometimes sewer and other utility expenses) can be more substantial than you’d expect, significantly increasing the cost of your home’s annual operation.
These factors all play parts in determining the true cost of a home—its current purchase price and a sound projection of the cost of living in it. Accurate estimates of both are what you need to guide your decision about whether to make an offer—and what that offer should be.