When buyers attend an open house or view a listed property with a real estate professional, it’s often what buyers don’t see that may be most important. To get the whole picture regarding the suitability and value of a listing, buyers should make sure to ask their real estate professional key questions.

Before you enter or as you tour a property, ask your real estate professional:

#1. How can I avoid being distracted by decor or a mess?
Staging.jpgYou understand that while the land cannot be moved, the house can be dramatically changed or replaced. That knowledge does not automatically make you great at seeing beyond sellers’ choices and preferences. Real estate professionals have viewed hundreds of homes and have learned not to be distracted by decor or staging. Ask your professional to point out any thing that might distract you from true value or that would go unappreciated. Are there enough electrical outlets and storage in each room? Acoustics matter, especially with open concept.

For example, are main floor bathrooms sound insulated? Staging may use scaled-down furniture to make rooms appear larger or use striking furniture placement to camouflage awkward-to-decorate areas. If you have special furnishings to accommodate, like a large bed or dining table, be prepared to measure spaces yourself to verify fit and feasibility.

#2. Are permits and receipts available for recent renovations?
Ask exactly what work, including energy-efficiency and environmental features, was done and by whom. Are copies of renovation receipts, permits, and warranties available? A seller’s do-it-yourself (DIY) efforts may not be up to code or durable. If problems arise later, insurance companies may not pay your claim if DIY work by the previous owners is involved. While you view the property, ask your professional to point out details that demonstrate solid workmanship and those that reveal sloppy or amateurish work. For instance, laying the floor down first in a kitchen or bathroom renovation is the right approach. This ensures appliances slide out without damaging the floor when repairs are necessary and that a leak is visible on the floor – not hidden under it.

#3. Are there signs of water damage or flooding?
floodingSellers can cover up water stains, but other evidence, including smells, may linger. “When did the basement last leak?” is the right question to have sellers answer. Basements leak at sometime in their lives, so discover the history of the foundation and its walls and you’ll know what to base an offer on. If waterproofing or drainage management was done, are copies of receipts, warranties etc. available? Ask about area flooding and what was done on the property and street to protect the home in the future. If flooding was an issue in the past, flood insurance may be wise, but at what cost?

#4. How old is…?
Ask how old the roof, furnace, air conditioning system, wiring, plumbing, windows, appliances are so you can calculate what costs and repairs to expect in the first few years of ownership. For example, a five-year-old fridge may already be failing. An improperly-installed roof or one installed over a layer or two of shingles may not last the twenty-five years that a roof should.

#5. What future renovations would be practical and cost-effective?
diy.jpgRenovations, which may seem obvious as you walk through a listed property, may have been explored by current owners and found to be too expensive to undertake. That may be why they are moving or at least one main reason. Buyers intent on open concept may be surprised to discover that simply removing a wall can be a very expensive project if the wall is load-bearing and packed full of wiring and pipes. Structural engineers are the ones to ask when you need to know which walls are load-bearing since walls just look like walls to the rest of us.

#6. Is what I see what I will get?
Property lines can only be accurately established through a professional survey. Is there an up-to-date survey available? Fences, hedges, roof gutters, and outbuildings may seem to be on the listed property but may actually be on neighbor’s land. Open lawn may seem an ideal location for a pool or basketball court, but invisible easements and other rights of way may prohibit construction. Ask while you’re viewing. Don’t assume and get a nasty surprise when you move in.

Pictures and video may be helpful as you walk through a property, but “understanding” and “seeing” more than the camera may capture is vital. Buyers who spend more time behind the camera than inspecting and observing for themselves may not learn as much about the value and suitability of the property as they could.

When viewing a property, remember, you are not there to document the visit or to take over someone else’s home. The purpose in viewing is to see beyond the obvious for value and potential from your point of view. What you see and discover with a professional’s help will determine where value lies for you as the offer is created and negotiations begin.