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House Hunting Checklist for Buyers and Renters

Whether you're looking to buy or rent an apartment, condo, single-family home or tiny house, be sure to take a few minutes upfront to ask the right questions and check certain items. It could help you save money and frustration down the road.

A woman inspecting the kitchen.

Make your wish list.

Be honest with yourself in what you absolutely need in a home. Divide your list into "can't live without" and "nice to have." If you're moving with a partner, share your deal-breakers and negotiables with each other. For instance, maybe one of you won't live without a dishwasher, and the other insists on a soaking tub in the master bath. Hashing out these items before you start looking will save you time and stress during the process.

Test everything.

Be sure to inspect every aspect of the kitchen and bathrooms during your walk-through. Flush the toilets, turn on the sinks and start the showers. Look for leaks, slow drains and low water pressure that could be problematic.

Poke around the basement, garage or attic. If you can't see the walls, ask for boxes to be moved. Bring a flashlight with you to look for mold, mouse droppings or signs of water damage, such as rotted wood or a white chalky substance on the walls.

Test the windows. Do they open and close easily? Is cold air coming in from the sides where caulking might be deteriorating? This is a good time to inquire about the average utility bill cost. Make sure every window in the house locks and has a functional screen.

Age of Appliances.

If you're buying a home, the sellers will most likely only be required to fix what the inspector discovers is broken. You might need to budget for an upgrade if appliances — including the water heater — are dated.

Even though it's typically the landlord's duty to fix any appliances, as a renter it's still a hassle to deal with broken appliances. Ask if the landlord can have a repair person do a quick inspection on all appliances before your move-in date.

Pet Friendly.

If you're a pet parent who plans on renting, you'll need to know the building's pet policy and cost per animal. You may be restricted to a certain number of furry friends, to a weight limit per pet or to specific types of animals or breeds.

If you're purchasing a home, it's good to know if the previous residents had pets. Odors and stains from pet urine and feces are hard to remove, especially from carpet and other fabrics. This can be a source of stress for both you and your pets. Also, if you have pets, consider if you will need a fenced-in yard. Repairing a fence in poor condition or installing a new one can be a big expense.

Scope out the neighborhood.

If you don't currently live in the area, the best way to get a feel for your potential new community is to visit at different times of day. Walk around to look and listen for red flags. Are there dogs barking? Cars speeding down the street? Loud construction noises?

Research the crime statistics. How common are home burglaries in the community you're considering? SafeWise has a list of five of the best online tools you can use to check neighborhood crime rates.

Envision different seasons.

Try to imagine the typical weather patterns and temperatures throughout each season. If you're renting, be clear on whether the responsibility for lawn care or snow removal is on you or the landlord. If you're looking to buy a home, check out the trees around the property. Old, large trees can have roots that could invade a sewer line. Untrimmed branches could pose a threat to your roof and gutters during a storm.

Whether you're renting or buying, remember to touch base with your local independent insurance agent to make sure your renter's or homeowner's policy is up to date.

Family in the kitchen.

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