Buying a home is a tremendous investment, both financially and emotionally. All going well, your efforts should reward you with the keys to your dream home, and you’ll live happily ever after. Sadly, that’s not always the case.
The good news is that most major homebuying catastrophes can be avoided by keeping an eye out for the following 13 warning signs. So let’s take a look.
1. Lots of Neighborhood Sales
If you notice that many homes are up for sale in the area you’re prospecting, that should raise some questions. This is one of the common signs of a neighborhood that’s in decline. On the one hand, this means that you can negotiate a lower price with the seller. But, on the other hand, it can also indicate an increase in the local crime rate, amenities that are closing down, or the construction of a highway or even a landfill. So there’s a reason your potential neighbors are moving out, and it’s a warning sign you should pay attention to.
2. Off-limits Sections of the House
When you buy a house, you’re expecting to buy the entire property. And as a result, you should be allowed to peek into every room, nook and cranny. Be wary of sellers who deny access to certain rooms, especially the attic or the basement. A common excuse is that the areas you’re not allowed to see are a bit untidy or need a bit of renovation. Realistically, though, those areas are just hidden costs that will make themselves apparent after the sale and can take thousands of dollars to fix.
3. Cracks in the Foundation
To an extent, cracks in the foundation are normal. Best case scenario, they occurred naturally as the foundation set in. Worst case scenario, they could indicate a structural hazard. When touring the property, look for doors and windows that don’t open or close properly and any cracks wider than half an inch. Vertical cracks going up towards the windows could indicate that the foundation is sinking. Remember to check the exterior as well. If the ground slopes towards the house, rain and melted snow will pool at the bottom of the house, causing basement and foundation problems later on.
4. Roof Problems
The roof is the second most expensive home repair after the foundation. So be extra vigilant when visiting a house where the roof looks like it might be failing. Look for missing or damaged shingles, mold on the exterior wall, gutters that are rusted or missing their apron, loose or missing flashing, even sagging ceilings. If you can, try visiting the property on a rainy day, and check if the gutters look blocked or if there’s any water leaking in the attic.
5. Water Damage in the Basement
Even though the basement can look dry and tidy when you visit it, there are several signs of underlying water damage. A dehumidifier is usually the first giveaway, but other signs are a bit more subtle. Check for damaged legs on the furniture, especially rust on metal tables and chairs. Black mold on the ceiling, missing tiles around a drain, or the presence of a sump hole will also indicate that the basement is prone to flooding or leaks.
Pay close attention to the basement, especially when visiting a house in spring, when signs of water damage are more obvious than after the rain. Over winter, the heat radiating from the house will melt the snow in the soil. This build-up of moisture will worsen when the soil above ground starts melting as well and will result in water damage that will be very costly to fix.
6. HVAC System Looks a Bit Dated
An aging HVAC system costs thousands of dollars to replace. And if the system is older than 15 years, there’s a good chance that you’ll need to replace it sooner rather than later. Ask the seller the age of the HVAC, and ask to see its warranty paperwork. If you detect a faint burning smell, especially in the attic, this could be a sign of compressor issues caused by a filter that’s never been changed. Also, keep an eye out for bent ductwork, which will cause restrictions in the airflow, and reduce the system’s efficiency.
7. A Fresh Coat of Paint
Freshly painted walls may not always be a bad sign, but there are some cases where they could flag potential problems. For example, a fresh coat of paint underneath the windows, along the bottom of the walls, and especially on the ceiling could hide water damage or mold stains. If the house only has a new coat of paint and new carpets, but everything else looks a bit dated, that could also indicate a hasty attempt to conceal flaws.
8. Uneven Floors
An uneven floor is more than just a cosmetic flaw. It can indicate a problem with the foundation or the ceiling on upper levels, as well as water or pest damage. Look for any dips and squeaks, and check if the floorboards shrink away from the wall when you step on them. Don’t be shy about bringing a spirit level with you when you visit. Or, as a simpler alternative, place a marble or a golf ball on the floor. If it rolls anywhere, you’ll be able to determine which way the floors are sagging.
9. Signs of Pest Damage
A house can attract several types of unwanted visitors, and the sooner you spot them, the better. Termites are a real hazard and will target anything made of wood, from drywall to the foundation. Look for bulging or blistered floorboards, small piles of droppings or wood that sounds hollow. In the attic, knock on the walls and listen for any sounds. If you hear a buzzing, that’s usually a sign of wasps. If you hear scuttling, you’re probably dealing with squirrels. Either way, you’ll have to contact a pest control company, which is the last thing you’ll want to deal with as the new owner.
10. House Smells Suspiciously Nice
Every seller knows that a house that smells like baked cookies will seem more inviting, and therefore more likely to sell. However, pleasant scents can also be used to conceal the smell of mold, cigarettes, even pet urine. And if every room has an air freshener, you can be sure that they’re there to conceal the less savory smells. So let your nose guide you through the tour of the house, and remember to check inside cabinets and cupboards for unpleasant odors as well.
11. DIY Upgrades
At best, a DIY upgrade can add a touch of unique charm to the property. But there’s a difference between an amateur cabinet maker and a DIY plumber, or worse, an electrician. Check for lighting fixtures that are oddly placed, wall outlets that feel wobbly or switches that don’t seem to do anything. Test the plumbing by filling the sinks and seeing how long they take to drain and give each toilet a flush. Also, keep an eye out for rooms that feel out of place or areas that look like they’re missing a wall. If the conservatory or the sunroom look like they might have once been a garage, there’s a good chance they were. Often, DIY upgrades indicate that the work was done without a permit and may pose a risk.
12. Gorgeous Interior, Shabby Exterior
Sometimes, it’s safe to judge a book by its cover. Or, in this case, a house. Spending a lot of effort on decorating the interior of the house while neglecting the exterior is common, especially when dealing with house flipping. Often, it could indicate a hasty renovation aimed to cover up problems rather than fixing them. So if the property lacks curb appeal but the inside is decorated to dazzle, it’s worth asking yourself why.
13. No Inspections Allowed
This may be the last item on our list, but it’s by far the biggest red flag. If the property is being sold in good faith, there’s no reason why the seller would object to an inspection. Hiring a home inspector may up your budget by a few hundred dollars, but it can turn out to be a crucial investment. A home inspector can uncover numerous issues with the property, from faulty electrical wiring to structural integrity flaws. So if the seller says pass on the home inspection, that’s a telltale sign that you too should say pass on the property.