4 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Home

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The answers could determine if the property is right for you.

If you're thinking about buying a home, it's important to make a sound investment. You want a property you like living in, that holds its value, and that isn't going to cost you a lot more than you expect over time.

To help you find a property that fits the bill, ask these four questions before you make an offer on any home.

1. What's the school district?

If you have children, it's obvious why you would care about the school district. You want your kids to receive a high-quality education, and the district matters a lot in that.

But even if you aren't a parent of young children and don't plan to become one, you should still care about the school district. That's because any parent who is buying a home will inevitably be concerned about the issue. If you buy a home in a less-popular district and eventually sell it, you may be limiting your pool of potential buyers.

A good school district can help your home hold its value, and can maximize the possibility that the value will increase over time.

2. How old are the major systems?

Certain components of the home -- including the roof, electrical system, plumbing system, and HVAC system -- can be difficult and expensive to upgrade or replace. So find out how old these systems are before you make an offer.

Unless you get a great price on a fixer-upper and you're comfortable doing a lot of work, consider buying a house that has newer major components so you don't end up with surprise repair expenses, or the upheaval of a major remodel.

3. Have the current homeowners kept up on repairs?

Pay attention to whether the current homeowners have kept up with maintenance and repairs. If they've let things fall by the wayside -- even relatively minor issues such as overgrown landscaping or leaky faucets -- there's a good chance they didn't take care of the property overall. This could mean major problems develop sooner than you'd expect after moving in.

4. How much are property taxes?

Finally, find out how much property taxes cost. In some parts of the country, the property tax bill could be close to the same cost as your mortgage -- or even more. You must pay property taxes every year you live in the house, or you risk losing the property to a tax sale.

Be prepared for how much taxes are now, and how likely it is that the tax bill will go up in the future (based on past patterns). This helps you know whether you can truly afford the home.

Ask these key questions, and you can go into your purchase prepared. Hopefully you'll end up with a home within your budget that holds its value over the long term.

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