Buying a house can be both exciting and stressful. It can be tempting to focus solely on the layout and appearance of the home when touring possibilities, but this can be a costly mistake. There are many potential problem areas deserving equal attention, so your dream castle does not become a money pit. To protect your investment and your expectations, here are five primary areas of a home that should get a hard look before you proceed with the buying process.
The roof is your home’s first line of defense against the elements. It can also be a big-ticket item to replace if it is old or in disrepair. Here is what to look for:
- Buckling, sagging or waves in the roof
- Missing or severely damaged shingles
- Proper ventilation through soffit, gable, exhaust or other types of venting systems
- Moss or vine growth on or around the roof
- The condition and cleanliness of the gutters
- Evidence of leaking in attic or upper floor ceilings
You should make sure you are aware of the roof’s age and any known problems with the roof. If you can peak in the attic, look at the condition of the plywood beneath the roofing material for any indication of water or pest damage.
Since the foundation is the underpinning of the entire house, it is essential it is in good condition. Most foundations are made with concrete or stone that can weaken over time. It is not uncommon that older homes and poorly built homes can have problems with their foundation costing a pretty penny to fix. Watch out for these signs:
- Large cracks that run from top to bottom or side to side
- Evidence of bad drainage or soil that slopes downward toward the foundation
- Large holes, crumbling corners, or damage
- Uneven or unlevel foundation, with parts that may be sinking
- Major tree roots growing around or under the foundation
Foundation problems can also be detected from within the house. For example, if floors are sloped or wavy, or if doors do not close properly or stick, these are signs the foundation has shifted. You may also see significant cracks in the walls or ceilings. If you can look in the crawl space or basement, look for water damage or moisture, mold, signs of pests, or unlevel supports. Have a good understanding of the drainage system around the perimeter of the foundation, if any. If the home has a basement, inquire if it has a sump pump or if it has ever flooded.
Especially when viewing an older home, you will want to have a good understanding of the state of the electrical system. Although electrical outlet replacement or rewiring is not necessarily expensive, it is the damage caused by a faulty electrical system that can be devastating. You may want to bring tools to help you investigate the electrical system such as a nightlight and a small flat head screwdriver. Here are details to look for:
• Older outlets with only two prongs
• Ungrounded outlets (remove an outlet and look for grounding wire)
• Light switches or outlets that do not work
• Circuit breaker box or electrical panel is missing
- Circuits have too many things on them
- Buzzing or flickering lights
- Evidence of fire, smoke or discoloration around an outlet
- Large systems such as the furnace are not on their own circuit
- Improper amperage for larger appliances, i.e., fridge should be on a 20-amp circuit
If you can look at the raw wiring through an unfinished closet, the attic, the basement or by removing an outlet, see what condition the wiring is in. If it is coated in fabric, fraying, chewed by pests, these are not good signs. If the electrical panel is disorganized with a mess of wires, this can also be an indication the wiring throughout the house may equally be a mess or unsafe.
The HVAC system controls the heating and cooling of your home. Especially in locations with extreme heat or cold, survival depends on a fully functional system. If the HVAC system is old or not working, it can be a significant cost to replace. Look at the following to see if there are any problems with the HVAC system:
- Inspect the thermostat, see if it is accurate and working
- Turn the A/C and/or heat on, and see if it kicks on appropriately
- Vents have dirt stains or clogs
- A burning or wet, musty smell within the house
- Vents not present in all rooms of the house
- Corroded wires or rusted pipes around furnace and fuel tanks
- Multiple systems with no clear purpose, i.e., electrical heat and forced air heat
Make sure you understand how old the HVAC system is and when it was last maintained. If the owners did not have a regular service program for the HVAC system, it can indicate that problems, and costly repairs, are imminent.
Much like the electrical system, the plumbing system runs throughout the entire house and can cause severe damage when it is faulty. As you walk around the house, you may want to carry a flashlight to get a better look under sinks and behind appliances. Keep an eye out for the following warning signs:
- Sign of leaks around toilets or under sinks
- Water stains on walls or ceilings
- Corrosion or mineral build up around faucets
- Blocked or slow draining drains
- Orange or brown staining around tubs or toilets
- Broken or rusted pipes
- Mold or moisture
- Poor water pressure
- Bad smelling or tasting water
- Strange noises or knocking in walls when water is turned on
You will want to know if the house runs on city or well water, city or septic sewer, and if there are additional appliances such as water softeners or filters connected to the plumbing system. Keep an eye out in older homes if any of the pipes are wrapped in asbestos for insulation. Asbestos is extremely harmful and expensive to remove.
Although we always recommend hiring a professional home inspector before purchasing a house, you should be able to get a good feeling through your own observations of some of the major issues present in the house and set your expectations appropriately.
All is not lost if you encounter the above issues. These problems can be used to negotiate with the sellers, either by reducing the cost of the house or having repairs or replacements done before moving in. PunchListUSA can help provide quick pricing in priority order so you can make an informed decision. Our team will also help with the renovations at friendly prices to ensure you settle into your dream home without a worry.