Home Buying 101: Watch Out for These Red Flags
When you’re in the market for a new home, touring various properties is one of the most exciting parts of the process. But beware; as you begin your house-hunting journey, there are a few red flags you should look out for on your quest to find your dream home. From duct tape to foul smells to cracks in the foundation, here’s a roundup of some things to watch out for and steer clear of when you’re shopping for a new home.
New Paint Only
If you’re touring a home and the only thing you see that’s been updated is new paint, this might be a red flag. That fresh paint smell is a nice sign that at least the home has been refreshed — even just on a cosmetic level. But if a home’s listing boasts that it has new updates, you should expect to find more than just painted walls.
If you’re looking at a home on a bright and sunny day, you may miss areas that have leaks, flood damage or access where water can seep in. If you’re house shopping in a floodplain or in an area that’s prone to seasonal flooding, the weather on the day when you tour a home is especially important.
The Sniff Test
Sometimes it can be really helpful to do an old-fashioned sniff test when you visit properties. When you walk into a home, think about everything you smell. If you smell a lot of very strong cleaning products, this could be a sign that the owners are covering something up.
Some of the main things you do in your home are sleep, relax and rest after a busy day. If the home you’re looking for is near a train station, public transportation depot, busy street, highway or even a dog park or a school, listen for noises outdoors. Tour during the times when you’ll be home, if possible.
One of the most important areas of a home to inspect is the roof — it plays a critical role in the home’s structural integrity. The roof of your home is also one of the most expensive things to update. When you’re looking at a potential home to buy, pay close attention to this area.
One of the most expensive pieces of equipment in any home is the furnace. Check this appliance before buying a home. When you’re first touring a property, you can ask how old the furnace is and when it was last inspected.
Signs of Condensation
When you tour a home, check the windows and doors for condensation. If you see a lot of water or condensation on a window (or inside double-paned windows), this means the window has lost its seal. A window that isn’t sealed properly lets cold or hot air in or out at your expense.
The foundation is literally what holds a home up, so it needs proper care and maintenance. When you look at a home for sale, take a few minutes to walk around the structure and check for exterior cracks along the perimeter of the foundation.
Bricks and Siding
If the home you’re interested in is showing signs of damage on the exterior, take a closer look before you make an offer. Inspect the bricks and the siding of the home you’re touring from the outside by walking around.
The plumbing system in a home is really important for its overall function. When you’re looking at a potential home to call your own, check the drains in the sinks, toilets, baths and showers.
Other Plumbing Problems
Don’t just determine how well the plumbing drains; look at other elements of the water system, too. Sometimes the hot and cold water knobs get reversed during installation; run the faucets to be sure. If these are switched, it could be a sign of sloppy construction elsewhere.
There’s nothing more disappointing than an outlet that doesn’t work, but this can also be a dangerous red flag. Ask your inspector to check all of the outlets before you move in. If outlets don’t work, it can be a sign of a bigger wiring problem that requires more extensive repairs.
Cable and Internet
When you’re first checking out a house, look at the walls where your television will go. If you don’t see cable or internet hook-ups, this might mean they aren’t there. If you’re willing to tackle a project and install your own wiring for a sound system, that doesn’t need to be a deal-breaker. But do your homework on the cost and timeline. If you want something professionally installed, it’ll likely cost more.
If you go to tour a home and there’s an area or a room that’s off-limits to look at, this could be a big red flag. It’s one thing if the sellers have their dogs sequestered in there during the tour and don’t want them to get out. But if something seems strange and you aren’t able to look at all of the rooms or floors in a home, it’s probably a sign you should just walk out.
If you’re house hunting during the winter months and you see a lot of ice accumulation near the roof or even icicles hanging from the gutters, this could be a costly sign. Ice accumulation could mean that the roof isn’t properly insulated.
If you’re looking at a home and have seen some signs that worry you in terms of energy efficiency, you may want to take a second look. When you see condensation, feel cold drafts or spot cracks, you may want to ask for a copy of the utility bills before you make an offer.
If you’re potentially buying a home from someone who did a lot of DIY construction, you may be taking a risk because a professional didn’t do the work. While plenty of cosmetic work is fine for DIYers and handymen, there are some home systems you just don’t want the Average Joe to mess with — electrical work and plumbing are chief among them.
One of the worst things that can happen when you purchase a new house is that you buy it and realize your cell phone doesn’t get reception in the home. When you’re touring a place, double-check your cell service and ensure you can make calls and send messages from various spots around the house.
When you look at a home, assess the grading — the slope of the surrounding landscape. If you’re up on a hill or at the bottom of a hill, look at how extreme the slope is. A home that’s on top of a hill is nice because water should flow away from it, but you may have trouble parking if the hill is too steep.
When you’re house hunting, you might want to stay away from busy streets or areas with high-flow traffic. If you have small children or pets, busy roads are a safety hazard. You may also have a loud, disruptive problem on your hands.
The Parking Situation
If you’re looking at a home or condo in a busy, densely populated area, scope out the parking situation before you tour it. If there isn’t parking included with the home or a dedicated spot or garage for a condo or townhome, street parking can be tricky.
Termites can be expensive pests to get rid of, and that’s not just accounting for the damage they can do to a home’s structure. Request to have an inspection completed by a pest-control specialist. You don’t want your new home to also come with roommates.
When looking at a potential home, check the pantry, utility room, laundry, garage and basement for signs of any rodent problems. If you see mouse traps or other traps or bait, these could all indicate that the house you’re looking at has a known rodent (or cockroach or other pest) infestation.
When you find a house and want to make an offer, it’s always a good idea to get a radon test done. Radon is an invisible gas that is formed in Earth’s crust. It’s also one of the leading causes of lung cancer in people who don’t smoke.
Time on the Market
One of the biggest red flags that something may be wrong with a house is that it’s been on the market for much longer than the average home in your area. A house that’s been on the market for hundreds of days — even in a buyer’s market — could have a big problem.
No Photos Posted
If you’re looking at houses online and you come across one with only one photo, this could be a bad sign. Listings that only have exterior photos are often dead giveaways that there are big problems inside the homes or that they aren’t as updated as the descriptions say. Foreclosures often only have exterior photos in their listings, too.
When you’re house hunting, find out who your neighbors are. If you have young children, for example, you might want to look for areas with a lot of other young children. You can walk around the neighborhood and search for parks, playing kids or other families out and about.
The Cleanliness Level
If the sellers didn’t even bother to pick up after themselves or clean anything before your tour, it may be a serious red flag. When you’re coming to view a home, you can usually expect to see a spotless space. A messy home can say a lot about the importance the owners (don’t) place on other maintenance tasks.
Duct Tape Test
While duct tape is an amazing invention that has all sorts of great uses, home repair isn’t one of them. If you look around a home and see multiple things that are only held together by duct tape, keep on looking.
Calling All Pet Lovers
While many people love their four-legged friends, not everyone wants to move into a house where dog damage, cat urine or other foul pet odors or messes are present. If you know the current owners of a home have pets, check for signs of damage or for any bad smells, particularly where carpeting is involved. Urine can seep into carpeting’s underlayment, making it impossible to clean and necessitating complete replacement.