Seven Insider House-Hunting Tips

We know — you’re dedicated. You’ve compared square footage, wiggled your way through the crawl space, explored the town and even researched the neighbors online. But there’s a good chance you’re overlooking some little-known checks that reveal if a house really makes the grade. 

“You’ll probably have several homes to choose from that are the right size and in the right location, but you want to differentiate between good, better and best,” says Cliff Stahl, National Vice President of Sales for Meritage Homes. “Easy physical tests can disclose many things about how a house was made.” Meritage Homes calls it the Smart-Buy Challenge.

Read on for simple tests you can do yourself, along with a handy checklist for your next home tour.

  • More SavingsCheck

    Step 1

    Check the temperature.

    If it changes when you’re wandering around the house — especially from the first to second floor — the house isn’t well insulated, Stahl says. You might be too hot to sleep upstairs during the summer and too cold to watch TV downstairs in the winter. Plus, you could spend about 50% more on heating and cooling. If the temperature is the same in all directions and between floors, it will be more comfortable year-round. “A better-insulated home will also be more durable because it brings in less humidity that can degrade the structure of the house,” Stahl says.
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    Seven Insider House Hunter Tips
  • Better HealthTouch

    Step 2

    Touch the windows.

    Put your hand against the sunniest one in the house. A cool window indicates that it’s higher quality, so it won’t let in heat or furniture-fading UV rays. “There are two main elements to a window: the U-factor, which measures heat transfer, and reflectance, which determines the amount of UV rays a window lets in,” Stahl explains. “A cool window is superior in both of these elements. If the window feels hot, it’s the opposite.
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    Seven Insider House Hunter Tips
  • Seven Insider House-Hunting TipsListen

    Step 3

    Listen for outside noise.

    If it’s quiet outside, blast music on your phone, leave it outside and then close the door. Evaluate how much noise you can hear. This isn’t just a noise test; it also reveals how air moves in and out of the house. Noise, after all, is transported through the air. 

    “If the sound doesn’t change much, run out of the house,” Stahl says. “Air can leak in and out easily, bringing with it pollen, dust, humidity, bugs.” But if it feels like you’re in a sound studio, the home has quality framing, insulation and windows — and is a healthier home in general. Especially for those who have allergies.
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    Seven Insider House Hunter Tips
  • More SavingsLook

    Step 4

    Look for water-saving appliances.

    Keep an eye out for labels on appliances confirming they’re certified by WaterSense, a program established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If you don’t see them, ask the builder or real estate agent about this certification, in case the labels were removed during installation. 

    WaterSense-labeled products use at least 20% less water, save energy and perform as well as or better than other models, the EPA says. In addition, WaterSense-certified homes can save a family of four up to $600 on their utility bill each year — that’s saving about 50,000 gallons of water a year.
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    Seven Insider House Hunter Tips
  • Better HealthFind

    Step 5

    Find the air conditioning unit.

    Notice the size, because there’s a direct correlation: the bigger the air conditioner, the worse the interior insulation. “Homes with compact AC units don’t have to work as hard,” Stahl says. “A small box says, ‘This is all I need on the hottest day of the year to keep the house cool.’ If there are big — or multiple — boxes, the house was poorly built, so big AC units were needed to compensate.”
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    Seven Insider House-Hunting Tips
  • Real ComfortStudy

    Step 6

    Study the HVAC return.

    If allergies are a concern for you or your family, take a look at the home’s air filtration equipment by locating the HVAC return. The larger it is, the more likely it is that the filter and fan inside can better remove dust and allergens to help improve your home’s air quality. 

    Don’t stop there, though — there might be more filtration equipment in place. Unlike some other homes, Meritage homes have a fresh air management filtration system, which is separate from the furnace filter, and they’re sealed to keep pollen and pollutants out while allowing fresh air in.

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    Seven Insider House Hunter Tips
  • Seven Insider House-Hunting TipsAsk

    Step 7

    Ask unconventional questions.

    The first is, “What did you do beyond the building code to make this home healthy?” You want to hear that the builder used materials that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Next, ask for an estimated energy bill so you can see the financial impact. You can also inquire about the builder’s awards and certifications. 

    “Find out if they’re recognized by third-party building science organizations,” Stahl says, such as the National Association of Home Builders. “And they should exceed ENERGY STAR®’s National Version 3 standards. A good builder will brag about it, and a not-so-good one will hope you don’t ask.”

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    Seven Insider House Hunter Tips

Turn your home tour into a true test.

Download the Smart-Buy Challenge checklist before your next home tour, and use it to see how the home really measures up.
Download Checklist
Seven Insider House Hunter Tips

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