January 27, 2015

House Hunting Checklist: My Must-Dos When Checking Out a House

I’m Jessica and I’m a money expert, speaker, Accredited Financial Counsellor Canada®, host of the More Money Podcast, and am currently writing my first book with HarperCollins Canada (2025).
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It’s been about 3 weeks since my HB and I’s first round of house hunting and already I’ve learned a lot.

Even though I did my homework beforehand (I read books, and blog posts and watched more Holmes on Homes and Income Property than I’d like to admit), it wasn’t until we actually started going to showings that I realized we seriously needed some sort of house hunting checklist to bring with us so we didn’t forget to look anything.

I just didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed when looking at places that I would forget to do common sense things like checking the closets or looking under the rugs.

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For example, remember that white house we looked at that we really liked? We were so taken by how cute and well-maintained it was that we totally forgot to note that the kitchen didn’t have a dishwasher and the parking spot that was promised on the listing was nowhere to be seen.

Since then we’ve made a house hunting checklist that we bring to every showing and it’s really helped keep us focused and ultimately to make it easier to decide whether we want to put in an offer or move on. It’s been especially handy in Toronto’s current real estate market since we only get two chances to see a place before putting in a bid: the day of the initial showing and the day of the home inspection.

So, without further ado, here as some of my now must-dos when checking out a potential new home. It’s pretty simple and clear-cut, but it’s honestly been a huge help to us.

Check Out the Neighbourhood

It’s hard to tell if a neighbourhood is good or bad solely based on Google Map’s Streetview. Taking the time to drive around the area, talk to friends who are familiar with it, and even look it up on the news are smart ways to eliminate no-go zones or give an up-and-coming neighbourhood a chance.

My HB and I currently live in the west end of Toronto, but most of the places we’re looking at are in the east end. I know it sounds crazy since we’ve been in Toronto for almost two years but we’ve never really been to the east end. We just had no real reason to venture out there, so it’s completely new territory for us.

Thankfully we know a few people familiar with the east end and we’ve got a car so we can do a quick drive-by before or after a showing. And since most of our showings are at night, seeing the place again during daylight is imperative.

Survey Outside of the House

Although I’m always more concerned about the inside of a house instead of the outside (I have no plans to become a gardener and the less lawn I have to mow the better), I know that it’s the outside that will quickly tell you whether a house is in good shape or not.

Especially since we’re hoping to find a place with a basement, I know structural issues, foundations, and water damage are big concerns. Obviously, this is what a home inspector is for, but it’s important to note things down like visibly cracked shingles or a tree that looks like it’s one big wind away from crashing down so you can bring it to their attention.

Be Nosy and Check Everything Inside

At the first house we saw, I felt so uncomfortable going through someone’s things. It didn’t help that the owner was just sitting in his car waiting for us to be done, but I just felt so weird violating someone else’s space. Well, I got over that feeling pretty quick.

Yes, looking through someone’s house is strange, but you’re buying a frickin’ house that’s gonna cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars! Get over it and check everything! What do I mean by everything?

  • The fridge (is it clean/old?)
  • The closets (how many are there, are they big enough, and is there one in the entryway?)
  • The kitchen (are the appliances old/well-maintained and does it include a fridge, oven, stove, dishwasher, and sink?)
  • The rugs and wall decorations (are the homeowners covering something up?)
  • The laundry (is there a laundry room and how old are the washer and dryer?)
  • The sinks (do they all work, is the kitchen sink a single or a double sink, and is the water coming out clean in all of them?)
  • The doors (are any of them hard to open/close and is there a separate entrance in the back?)
  • The drawers and cupboards (do they open easily, are they in good condition, and is there enough storage?)
  • The floors (do they creak, are they level, and how loud are footsteps from a lower level?)
  • The walls (how thin/soundproof are they and are there any signs of bubbling or cracking?)
  • The rooms (do they include closets and are they big enough?)
  • The windows (is there a draft coming out of any of them?)
  • The electrical sockets (do the sockets near the sinks include GFIs and are all electrical sockets grounded?)
  • The electrical outlets (are they in convenient places like the bathroom vanity and throughout the kitchen?)
  • The ceilings (any visible water damage or cracking?)

Trust Your Gut

I know it sounds cliché, but the gut test is the best test in pretty much any high-stakes kind of situation. Even if the house you look at checks every box on your house hunting checklist if your guts say “No”, you better listen to it. The white house we saw on our first day of house hunting ticked quite a few boxes for us.

We weighed the pros and cons, but at the end of it my gut just didn’t tell me “This is your house.” I’m not a big believer in looking for your dream house, I’ve always been in this game to find a house as an investment first and foremost, but I still have to live in it and it still needs to feel right.

That being said, I can’t wait to fill you in on our latest house-hunting experience. It includes a home inspector and an offer! Stayed tuned for that, and thanks for reading!

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  1. Taylor Lee says:

    Ooh, very excited to hear about the offer!

  2. Congrats on making your first offer! That’s huge. I can’t wait to hear how it turns out.

    Great list! And, such a good idea to bring one along with you on showings. I imagine it’s easy to get overwhelmed and forget something crucial. When G and I were looking at rentals online from Vancouver for our move to Toronto, I once showed him a listing and totally didn’t realize that the kitchen didn’t seem to have a fridge! (It later turned out to be a half fridge – think student dorm size – tucked away somewhere). That was a deal breaker.

  3. Next time we buy a house I know what I will be doing differently since this was my first home purchase in Canada since moving here. I agree with checking out the neighbourhood and talking to neighbours as well. Don’t be shy it’s a big investment.
    I also love to be nosy and next time will be looking at more around the house and taking time. Sometimes agents try to rush you through the house so you miss stuff but not any more. I’ll take an hour or two if I need to and if I miss out on the deal, oh well! I don’t want to buy a dump that requires me to pour thousands into it yet i paid top dollar.
    If the homeowner doesn’t take care of the home you can bet there are lots of issues around. At least that’s been my experience.

    • True, if it looks like a dump sometimes that means that it’s not taken care of in other places you may not initially see. Then again, some renovated places are also hiding a bunch of problems behind a wall or some patch work.

  4. Kathy says:

    I’m sorta addicted to those house hunting shows on HGTV as well, even though I usually end up screaming at the people who are searching that they are looking at the wrong things. They never turn on a faucet or flush a toilet to check water pressure. They don’t look at the furnace. They don’t look to see if there are water marks in the basement foundation to indicate past and therefore potential basement flooding. They don’t worry about the age of the roof. And they are totally unrealistic about what they get for the amount of money they want to spend. It sounds like you are more grounded in your search and hopefully have found a great place.

    • Haha maybe I’ve just watched enough HGTV to not make the same mistakes all those people on House Hunters make. The amount of times people complain about a kitchen not having granite countertops can seriously turn into a dangerous drinking game. Who cares about granite? What about the foundation and is there enough insulation in the antic???

  5. Rob says:

    Many moons back, when we were your age and preparing to buy our first house, I visited my local bookstore and found some books on house buying. One of the books had a great appendix on setting up a comprehensive house hunting check list. Things that it covered were not just directed toward the house itself but also considerations for the surrounding nighbourhood. The check list covered 3 full pages of single lined items, each of which we would check off a rating score (good, bad, n/a). It was very comprehensive and really came in handy. We used copies of it to check things as we visited various potential properties. Things like checking attics for good insulation, checking the electrical panel box, checking how well toilets flushed and taps poured water (when checking water pressure), checking for foundation cracks, checking for outside property drainage, checking roof conditions, any signs of past water damage, the location of parks, schools, shopping locations, public transit, the existence of kids around (ie., a growing young neighbourhood vs a retiree older neighbourhood). All kinds of things. Whether appliances were included in the offer or not was not a concern for us as we had decided to buy new appliances that were more to our taste and trouble free. Of course, in addition to all these things, it’s wise to ask about the taxes, utility fees, etc. that the current owner has been paying over the last few years in order to get a feel for what one would expect after buying the property. All in all, there is a lot to check for when house hunting. The more prepared the better.

  6. Christine Weadick says:

    We got our current house on a power of sale deal. Means the previous owners lost the house for non-payment of the mortgage. It also means they just didn’t give a crap, some of the things we found were nuts. We knew we would have to re-wire but every single outlet was broken or cracked in some way…every last one.
    One chuckle we did have…after the people lost this house they were looking for a rental unit and talked to some one I knew. Seems one of the kids was quite the artist and the Mom was bragging about a life size drawing the kid did of a hockey goalie on his bedroom wall…in the basement. The friend asked me if I saw it and I said no. I came home and had a look around the basement….I didn’t find the drawing but I did find a big hole in the drywall down there, just a little bigger than a regulation goal net. Yup…They cut it out and took it with them when they moved out.
    We also had a gentleman ask us how we liked the wood stove in the house….what wood stove???? They took that too. The usual rule is if it is physically attached to the building it is supposed to stay with the house unless you make some kind of deal otherwise, usually in the offer/counter-offer.
    The list sounds like a very good idea as does talking to the neighbors to see what you are moving next to… Good luck!!

    • Omg! That sounds sort of like when my parents bought their current house. The things the previous owners took with them were odd. Like the peep hole in the front door. Who takes that with them? There was a big hole in the door they had to patch up!

  7. dojo says:

    We never had to do this yet, but it’s indeed very important to be careful when it comes to buying a house. I did read horror stories with new owners who were shocked to find all kinds of flaws and issues that would cost them more money to repair (on top of mortgage, property taxes etc.). You can never be too careful.

    BEST OF LUCK by the way, keep us updated 😉

  8. Congrats on making an offer! Looking forward to hearing the details :).

    In addition to checking out the neighborhood, something we did while house hunting was test drive our commute to work during evening rush hour from potential houses. This absolutely solidified our decision not to move to one particular area that we’d been considering. I’m so thankful we did that because it turned out that, with traffic, the drive ballooned from 10 minutes to 45!

    • That’s a really good thing to do. Before even considering checking out a place, I look on Google Maps to see what my commute to work would be like. If it’s longer than an hour or there are too many transfers (IE. I have to take a bus then a subway to work) we don’t bother.

  9. Felix Money @ MyMoneyfesto.com says:

    Definitely pay for a professional house inspection before buying a home. They will know what to look for. Could save you a lot of headache later.

    • Totally agreed. It just sucks that in the current Toronto housing market, because it’s so aggressive, you have to do a home inspection before even putting in an offer. It can get expensive if you lose out on a bunch of bidding wars.

  10. Rob says:

    Jess, before retiring I used to work in the midtown area of Toronto. We live in the northeast side of TO and, reading my Kindle, I would take a combined express bus / subway ride down Yonge St. – took 40 mins. max. Not really a bad commute since I would go into work early and leave at around 4pm, thereby avoiding a lot of the rush hour traffic. Sure beat hour long car commutes and was not all that expensive using a monthly TTC pass.

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