Whether you’re a first-time home buyer, or starting to look around for a new one, it always helps to know what to look for when buying a house. There are numerous red flags that can pop up while checking out a home, sometimes it’s the state of the foundation, other times it’s the quality of the appliances. To help you spot them, we’ve put together a few tips and a quick checklist to use when buying a home.
Before You Go House Hunting
Find a Real Estate Agent With High Ratings
Use real estate forums and directories, such as Zillow, to find agents with good reputations in your area. You may also consider hiring an Exclusive Buyer’s Agent, a real estate agent who specializes in working with home buyers, rather than sellers.
Look at the Local School Districts
If you plan to start a family, it’s good to know the quality of the local schools beforehand. There are numerous sites that track school performance, providing a relatively accurate picture of their overall quality:
Your Quick Home Inspection Checklist
During the initial home tour, you should mark down specific areas of the house that you want your inspector to examine more closely. Use the checklist below to guide you as you take a look through the house.
o Are there shingles missing?
o Is there flashing and trim installed?
o Are there any signs of leaks?
o When will the roof need to be replaced?
o Are there visible cracks on the outside walls?
o Are there any trees near the foundation?
o Does the drainage slope away from the house?
o Are there any soggy areas you can identify?
o Are the walkways and driveway in good condition?
Appliances: (If included)
o Do the appliances appear to be well-maintained?
o What are the ages of the:
o Are there any leaks under the sinks (bathrooms and kitchen)?
o Has there previously been a fire in the home?
o Do the walls show vertical or horizontal cracks?
o Are there any stains on the floors, walls or ceilings?
Ventilation and Sub-Systems:
o Does the house smell? Can you identify the source?
o Do the heating and AC systems appear to be working?
o Does the water heater produce enough hot water?
o Is there a working exhaust fan in the kitchen?
o Do all the switches work?
o Is each outlet properly grounded?
o Do the ceiling fans work?
o Has the electrical panel been recalled?
o Are there any unusual noises?
o Do the faucets and other fixtures have enough pressure?
o Check all of the following elements for signs of damage or wear:
Know what to look for when buying a home:
Download checklist in PDF form here
After the Tour
Hire a Home Inspector
After you’ve toured the house, you’ll need to hire an inspector to give the house a more thorough inspection. Most real estate agents will recommend one to you, but you could also go out there and find one yourself.
Start by looking up inspectors near you using the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) directory, or your preferred local services platform, such as Angie’s list. You will want to find someone with three to five years of full-time experience, and who can also provide proof of licensing (requirements may vary by state) and insurance (both general liability and errors and omission coverage). These are the inspectors who will know what to look for when you’re buying a house.
Read Through the Inspection Report
The inspection should take no more than three or four hours, after which you will have a full report to pour over (an example of which can be found here). Any potential problems will be noted on the report – usually with pictures included. Bear in mind that any home is going to have issues. The key is to identify the costliest problems before signing, and using that information to either renegotiate the selling price or walk away.
The most common problems identified on a home inspection checklist include:
- Faulty Wiring: Wires without wire nuts, open junction boxes.
- Faulty Plumbing: Low water pressure, water stains on ceilings.
- Poor Drainage: Soggy areas in the yard, leaks in basement.
- Bad Gutters: Clogged gutters, basement dampness.
- Foundation Flaws: Small cracks, sticking doors and windows.
- Poor Maintenance: Chipped paint, worn shingles, cracked driveway.
All of these problems can be easily fixed with the right contractor, and shouldn’t be deal breakers. However, if any of the following problems are flagged in the report, you might want to have second or third thoughts:
- The Roof Needs Replacing: The average cost of a roof replacement is $7,000.
- The House Is in a Flood Zone: Use FEMA’s flood maps to determine if the home is at risk.
- Major Foundation Issues: Hire a structural engineer to determine if those cracks are actually serious.
- Aluminum Wiring: This type of wiring almost always needs to be replaced, a process that can cost thousands of dollars.
These are some of the most expensive repairs and conditions you will come across while house hunting. If any of these pop up during the course of your home inspection, be sure to consult with your real estate agent to see if the sellers can be convinced to pay for the repairs. For certain issues outside the home, such as flood zones, be prepared to pay for additional insurance coverage to mitigate your risk.
Don’t let those potential pitfalls deter you from making an offer on the home of your dreams. As long as you keep a checklist when buying a home, and heed the findings of your inspector, you’ll be able to make a fully informed decision.