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What to Look for When Buying a House. The Homeowner Checklist that Will Save You Some Headaches.


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What to look for when buying a house. A checklist that will save you some headaches

Whether you're a first-time buyer or a seasoned one, buying a house is a stressful time. It could be your forever home or an interim housing solution - there will still be a lot of items to check off your list. And we are not only referring to your wants or needs. We are talking about those things you need to watch out for.

Even if you are buying a fixer-upper or a "project" house, you should look out for certain things. Here is a list of what to look for when buying a house that we hope will save you some headaches.

The Red Flags

This first category on our "what to look for when buying a house list" has the most items. This section will list the costly things that you will more than likely have to fix in the next 3-5 years.

  1. Roof Problems
    As you walk up to the house take a look at the roof. Is it in good condition? Does it seem to be a newer installation with quality material? An old or problematic roof can be quite costly to replace or repair. Also look for visible wet or damp patches on the brick or siding. These are signs of a leaky roof in need of repair. As you inspect the inside, check the ceiling corners to make sure there's no sign of water damage.
  2. Siding Issues
    Depending on the size of the house and exterior materials, these issues can be very costly.
    • What to look for when buying a house with brick or stone exterior? Make sure there's no sign of deterioration, erosion, cracks, moss, or mold. Also check the quality of brick installation to foresee future issues.
    • For cedar or wood siding, look for signs of maintenance neglect. This type of siding requires regular staining and sealing every few years. This process protects the siding from moisture penetration. Neglected cedar siding becomes susceptible to insects, an issue not found for brick, stone, vinyl, or fiber cement siding. A house that has bare cedar siding, with cracks or rot patches is in desperate need of stain and sealer. Ask the owner to fix or for an allowance and make sure to get pricing as it can become expensive.
    • Signs of issues with vinyl siding can start with discoloration and poor installation. But also check to see if the moisture barrier is in good condition. Any warping and cracking of vinyl will need extensive repair or complete replacement.
    • With fiber cement siding, make sure there are no cracks and no moisture seeping through. The wood particles in fiber cement will absorb the moisture and cause damage.
    • Homes with stucco exterior can have major issues or no issues at all. What to look for when buying a house with stucco? Three things: stains, cracks, and mold. Either of these are signs of poor installation and neglect.
  3. Mold and Mildew Presence
    When it comes to mold and mildew, what you have to remember is that they are eating away at your house, but not only. They are also eating away at your health. If you smell mold or feel dampness, chances are the house has mold and mildew.
  4. Window Issues
    Window issues could become more expensive than you think. If the house has wood-framed windows, they need proper and regular maintenance. Watch out for decaying frames or leaky windows by pressing your finger on the frames and looking at the wall under the window. What you want is a firm frame and no water signs on the wall. Condensation between the panes of a window means the window seal is failing. Make sure you also check the operation of the windows. They should open and close effortlessly.
  5. Neglected Deck or Porch
    Wooden decks and porches need regular staining and sealing. If they are not, water will penetrate the wood and cause rotting damage and expose it to insect damage as well. If your deck doesn't drain as it should, your posts will start to rot at the bottom. Also go under the deck and porch if possible and look for any insect or rodent damage.
  6. Finished basements, room additions, or room transformations done without building permits
    Some municipalities require a building permit for these types of house alterations. You can check these requirements in person with your local building or on their website. You can also research Municipality building alteration requirements on repositories like America's Building Records. If this type of work need a building permit, then make sure the previous owners pulled one. You can do this by calling your local building department or searching for a construction information card on the national GIS of building plans. If you can't find the info you need, you can fill out an address inquiry form here or you can submit a FOIA request at the city.
  7. Plumbing Issues and Leaks
    When you inspect the house, make sure you turn all the faucets on and you look at the piping under sinks too. You should also flush all toilets and test the sink and connections in the laundry room. Check for water stains, leakage signs, or mold.

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The Warnings

  1. Scarce Insulation
    A house that's not well insulated is not energy efficient. It can be costly to heat up or cool it down, so pay attention to the amount of insulation installed.
  2. AC and Heater Units
    Check the age and appropriateness of the AC and heater units. Even though you may have to change these at some point, it is good practice to give them a good check.
  3. HVAC for peripheral rooms
    Related to the one above, this issue may be difficult to detect in mild weather. If the furnace or air conditioning unit is on, you can check the flow of air from room to room to detect low volume. A problem with peripheral rooms means they won't cool or heat up as much as the rest of the house. You may have to retrofit or find alternative solutions for these rooms.
  4. House positioning on land
    You may like a side yard, but it is not ideal for re-sell value. Also a house that sits too far back or too close to the road could be problematic when trying to sell.
  5. Fence quality if applicable
    A fence in bad condition can mean costly fixing or replacing. If you have a fence check for broken or sagging areas or deteriorating material.

The Stop, Turn Around and Look Somewhere Else

The last category on our "what to look for when buying a house list" has the items that may make you walk away from the house.

  1. Foundation Issues
    You shouldn't run away from all or any foundation problems. But, their presence could mean there is structural damage to the house. For instance, if you see a thin, narrow crack, it probably means that the house is settling. If you see a crack that is wide and leads to a series of other cracks or masonry damage, then your alarm should go off. This more than likely means structural damage.
  2. Termite Damage
    Termite infestation is quite difficult to identify. We usually detect it after they've done significant damage. However, there are a few signs that are telling of termite presence. Hollow wood or sagging floors; hard to open doors and windows. Sightings of termite mud tubes, piles of droppings or wings. Termite sounds like tapping. Crumbling wood and small holes in drywall. If not caught early on, termite infestation can cause significant property damage.
  3. Asbestos Presence
    If you are looking to buy an older home, it is wise to rule out asbestos. A visual survey of the house is not enough to detect an asbestos presence. But you can take these cues and perform an asbestos test:
    • The house was built before or during 1980s
    • White or gray asbestos insulation around the pipes and fittings
    • Vinyl tiles and bitumen roofing material for a house this age could contain asbestos
    • If you detect asbestos containing materials, you should call for a professional test before moving forward

In Closing

Buying a house is no easy feat and can become overwhelming. And there is no such thing as a perfect house. But knowing what to look for will help you spot the issues. The majority of problems found in a house are fixable, but it's good to have a comprehensive list and know if they will impact your budget. We hope our list of what to look for when buying a house will become a useful tool in your house buying experience.


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