Questions to ask a realtor when buying a cabin

The seller and his/her agent should answer all questions first verbal to you (I can be with you) but then in writing.

How many acres is the house on? If it says ).5 acres MORE OR LESS, that is too vague. It may be a lot less and too small a lot to sell in the future. You want to know the exact size plus or minus a number, like 0.5 acres plus or minus 0.01 acres.

Does it have any right of way on it? If so what are they, in detail. There may be a right of way for the power company to put their power and telephone lines along the road. You don’t want to buy any property with a right of way in the middle of the property since it would be where the house is.

Is there well water? Is it a hand-dug well? Or is it drilled well? When was the well drilled? Has the water been tested for bacteria, iron, copper, and organic pollutants? IF not, better ask that it be tested as a condition of sale. You don’t want to be stuck with bad water that has to have an expensive water purification system.

Are there any gasoline station sites close (within 2 miles) of this property? If so, beware of having leaking gasoline from old rusted out gas tanks. I have one gas station about 3/4 miles away from me on Rt 1 that had a gasoline tank leaking and the EPA sent me a letter warning me my water could be contaminated.   Stay far away from any previously or currently use gas stations, dry cleaners, and industrial sites that could have chemical pollutions in the groundwater.

Is there any buried gasoline or oil tank on the property?  These can leak over time and cost millions to clean up according to EPA standards. If it ever had a buried fuel tank, the site’s well and aquifer water may have to be tested for organic pollutants at the seller’s expense. It is costly to do an organic and inorganic elements test. Can run $400-$500. 

Has the property been surveyed? You want to have the agent seller point out the locations of the surveyor metal stakes so you really know the property boundaries. If not surveyed, get the seller to survey it. A survey can cost a lot of money even for a small lot. 

What is the zoning for the property? It should be residential. Since it is a cabin, is it already zoned to make the cabin into a house for permanent residence? If not, I would not buy it as you would have to get a change in the current zoning permit which takes time and money and may or may not be approved.

Has the ground been perc tested? When? What were the results? Is it ok to install a septic tank system there? Will you need a permit to do so? I would say you do need a permit. If the permit is denied, you don’t want the house without the ability to install a septic system. Remember a septic system has to be a certain distance from a drilled well.  IF you don’t have enough room to fit a septic system in 0.5 acres because of where the well is drilled, don’t buy it.
Has the house been inspected and treated for termites and wood-destroying insects like carpenter bees and ants?

 What is the foundation made of and is it meeting current building code requirements? If it is a concrete floor, expect the cabin to have cold floors in winter. Modern homes have a concrete block basement or air space so the wood floors are warmer than concrete that was placed right on the ground.

When was the wood stove and chimney installed? Was it installed correctly by a certified contractor? Are the stove pipe stainless steel or just steel? Steel chimney pipes rust out in time and the existing chimney may already be rusted and prone to developing holes. You can ask the seller to install stainless steel chimney pipes and see if he agrees.

Inspect the wood stove and make sure the firebox is lined with fire bricks. Is it in good shape or does it have problems like a damper that does not work or rusted-out metal panels?

What condition and type of roof? When was the roof installed? How many years until you need a new roof? Asphalt shingles last 20 years for most shingles unless the seller installed more expensive 30-year shingles. The house inspector will also assess the condition of the house including the roof.
Who made the house and when?  If it was made by a home builder beware. Homebuilders don’t build things correctly. For example, are the slop and size of the ceiling beams adequate to hold up the roof if it has 2 feet of snow on it? 
Is the driveway mud and dirt or is it gravel? You may have to have it dug out and stone dust and gravel put in so that you don’t just have a mud hole where your car will get stuck in the winter mud. I would feel having a stone driveway is essential. If the seller doesn’t want to put it in, contact someone and see if they will do the job for you and what they will charge. They will also tell you what stone to buy and where.

For everything that the house is missing like insulation in the ceiling, insulation on the walls, plasterboard walls, you may end up having to install these things yourself so price what the home improvements will cost you.

   A wood stove is not ideal alone. When you are not home in winter you will have frozen water pipes if the house does not have electric or oil heat that runs all the time. You will need to install a home furnace or electric panels.  That may be expensive.  Installing an oil heater is very costly. A heater alone can cost $6,000 and then you need all the baseboard panels installed that circulate the heat. Generally, a contractor installs heating panels on the outside wall. I don’t know how easy this is if the house has log walls and a concrete foundation. Most wood-frame houses bring hot water pipes up from the basement. I am assuming there is no basement.

If there is a basement does it have a dirt or concrete floor? is it a dry basement? Basements with water in them are a big problem. Do not buy if it has water in the basement.

Has was the property zoned? Was it just for use as a hunter’s cabin with occasional use or is it zoned residential for full-time occupancy?
Do the doors and windows work and are they in good condition with working latches and locks? 

Flimsy doors should be replaced as should windows that don’t open up and down easily. Do the windows have screens which are a must to keep insects out of the living area and get fresh air. One window will have to have an air conditioner. Is the house electrified with outlets every  6 feet along the outside wall or is there no wiring? To rewire a whole house including 220 services to run an electric range and clothes drier is VERY expensive.  If it already has electricity, does it have a fuse box or a box with circuit breakers? Are there outside receptacles so you can run an electric lawn mower or vacuum to clean your car?

Does it have water hydrants outside the house? Does it have a septic system now? Septic systems are VERY expensive.  I would not buy it if you have to have the whole house done by a plumber to accommodate water lines to the kitchen, bathroom, the hot water heater if that is what you decide to install. A heater that burns oil lasts a maximum of about 15 years or so. Fossil fuels may be banned by 2030. Oil home heaters will be useless as there will be no more heating oil available. Homes heated with electricity will see skyrocketing prices for electric rates as people demand electricity to run cars as well as heat their homes.  A half-acre is too small to supply the wood you would need to heat the house entirely with wood. If you buy the wood already split and stacked it also will be costly. I believe wood costs around $150-$200 a cord now but expect higher prices if fossil fuels are banned.

Did you drive down the roads in the area around the house in all directions? Look at satellite pictures of the surrounding area. The neighborhood makes or breaks the value of your own home. 

Find out if there are any landfills or chemical waste dumps located 10 miles from the house. I would not buy near any landfill even an old one that is no longer taking trash. they leak toxic chemicals into the groundwater. 
What type of bathroom fixtures are they using now? Will they have to be replaced? If the owner was using a composting toilet, that will be no good for you. 
Was the house built of a designated flood plane? If so, don’t buy it.

 Think about how much you will need to make this house modernized. The more things you need to do the more money that it will cost and you may end up putting too much money into a single room cabin than you can ever recover when you go to sell it. Things that the house probably will need are insulated walls and a ceiling with plasterboard walls otherwise it may be hard to keep warm.  Complete plumbing and electrical system.  

Is the siding wood siding or vinyl? Wood siding needs maintenance with painting or you may want to pay to have vinyl siding put on top of the wood siding. If the logs are the siding, I don’t know what maintenance they need other than an exterior coating of polyurethane to preserve the wood from rotting.

Does the Internet come in the telephone lines? Is there a telephone line in the cabin now?  Using satellite dishes for the Internet can be VERY costly as they charge based on use and don’t give unlimited usage. If you need a satellite dish for TV and the Internet consider how good that service is and what it costs per month? You need a clear shot at the sky with the dish. If the trees block the view of the satellite you may not be able to get good reception or any reception at all.Think about whether you will want to make two rooms inside the cabin, one a Living Room and one a Bedroom? Does the bathroom have a tub and shower, vanity and sink, and a nice clean toilet or do the fixtures all need replacing? Plumbing work is pretty expensive. SO if it needs work price the job first. 

If you get a mortgage and then have to sink $75,000 in the house in repairs, where will you get the money? The bank’s lend only, I believe, for the mortgage less what you put down as a down payment.  Home repair loans are a whole separate deal and I have no idea what interest rates they charge. 

Does it have electricity?

Does it have heat?

Does it have hot water?

Does it have a bathroom?

How is the roof?

Floods easily?

What is the internet situation?

Any restrictions on adding additions? what are the building restrictions?

Whether the road is right of way or belongs to the property

Get title insurance to make sure there are no liens against it?

Get approval to get the building inspected for roof and other?

If there is no bathroom, is there an outhouse?

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