Red Flags to Watch for When Buying a Home

Posted by Steve Minino on Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 at 5:30pm.

Home BuyersWhen house hunting, it can be easy to become emotionally attached to a property. Maybe it's in the perfect location, or it has that fireplace you've always wanted. Before you start planning where your grandmother's hutch is going to go, it's imperative that you take a closer look at the house to make sure there are no potentially costly issues lurking behind that great first impression.

Here are some of the most important items to watch for as you look for homes. They're not necessarily deal breakers, but they could be indicative of serious issues, so be sure to investigate further if you come across any of the following problems.

Cracks in the foundation. If there are lots of small cracks, or cracks that are bigger than a quarter of an inch, it could signal structural problems.

A poorly maintained roof. Are there shingles that appear warped? Are there lots of haggard-looking layers? A roof that's old and not well-maintained could cost you a lot, especially if it starts to leak and has to be replaced.

Windows that don't keep out cold air or water. You want to watch for chipped paint and peeling caulking along the sills, and water between the panes of double-pained windows. These could indicate that there's a water leak, which can cause mildew problems and damage the wood. If you feel lots of cold air by the windows, they might not have been installed properly. This air loss could come back to haunt you in terms of heating costs.

Doors and windows that don't open easily. If you find that several doors or windows are tricky to open and close, it could be a sign of the foundation settling.

Water DamageStrong odors. Does the home smell like pets, urine, or cigarette smoke? These smells can be hard to remove completely. Is it musty? There might be a mold or mildew problem in the house. Can you smell sewage? The sewage system could be blocked or damaged. What if all you can smell is an overwhelming wave of air freshener or bleach? The seller could be trying to cover something up by trying to mask other odors. Whether the place smells musty or like a pine forest, if you encounter strong odors, be sure to locate the source of the smell to make sure it isn't a symptom of a serious problem.

A yard that slopes towards the house. During heavy rain or snow, water will run towards the house, and could get into the foundation or basement. This can lead to a host of problems including dangerous mold and structural issues. When touring the basement, be sure to look for water stains and check for a musty smell, both of which can indicate that moisture has gotten into the basement before.

Improperly maintained heating & cooling systems. Is the HVAC system being well-maintained? If there's a build-up of dust and grime, the filters likely haven't been changed in a while. Check the furnace for any signs of damage. Cracks in a furnace can lead to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the home.

Poor water pressure and slow drains. Weak water pressure could suggest plumbing problems and pipes that need replacing. Slow drains suggest a blockage or even problems with the sewer pipe.

Leaky showers. Check to make sure that there are no water stains in the room underneath the shower. If there are, they could be caused by a leaky shower pan.

Overloaded Electrical OutletElectrical problems. Check all light switches and watch for flickering. Also pay attention to the outlets. If they're overloaded with extension cords, get warm with use, or simply don't work, there could be issues with the home's wiring.

Signs of pests. Watch for signs that there is or has been an infestation of insects or other pests. Termites in particular can cause a great deal of damage to a home.

Synthetic stucco siding. Though this type of siding looks good, it's been the source of headaches for many homeowners. Water can get trapped underneath the siding, causing mold to grow and the structure to rot. Termites are also attracted to this kind of siding because of the protection it gives their nests as they go about feasting on the wood. The National Association of Home Builders suggests that synthetic stucco be inspected by a specialist every year to make sure there are no problems.

No one's lived there in a while. If the house has been sitting vacant, there could be problems like mold, frozen or busted water pipes, vandalism or even theft. It will be important during the home inspection to have the electricity turned on (if it's been turned off) in order to do a proper inspection.

An evasive seller. If you're asking the seller questions about the home and their answers are vague or they refuse to give you the information you're looking for, this could be a big red flag. Also be suspicious if there are parts of the house that they won't allow you to go or furniture placed in an odd spot -- it could be blocking or hiding something.

It's impossible to look at every possible detail when touring a home, and it's hard to know which issues are minor and which could cost thousands to repair. This is why it's critical that you have a team of professionals to assist you along the way. A Realtor can guide you through the buying process and a home inspector can check for these and other issues. He or she, along with your real estate agent, can help make sure that you're fully informed before signing the dotted line.

--written for the Hopkins Home Team

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Steve Minino - Realtor, CREN

Hopkins Minino Home Team
Steve's blog
Cell: 402-990-9658


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