It’s easy to get caught up in excitement when you’re looking for a new home. Keep in mind, though, when a home is listed for sale, it is being presented as positively as possible. As a prospective buyer, you will want to examine the property inside and out, door to door and ceiling to floor.
While no house is perfect, be aware that window treatments, throw rugs, mats and landscaping features may be hiding known or unknown issues. Even if you ultimately decide to purchase the home, you’ll at least know its flaws and understand the repair costs you may be facing.
Consider having someone well-versed in home construction accompany you. Should you sign an intent to purchase, use a qualified home inspector. While not every state regulates home inspectors, be sure to use a licensed inspector if your state requires it. Find an inspector who is experienced, has worked in the area previously and knows the potential issues in your county or region. Ask for references and try to find reviews.
Here are some suggestions as you tour the home room by room. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Look at ceilings – are they smooth and uniform? Many ceilings are textured. Do the textures and paint shades look different? This may be a sign of prior leaks or patching. Pay special attention to surfaces near windows and below upper level rooms with a water supply.
Examine the windows and the walls around them.
- Thermal pane windows with a broken seal can appear to be foggy and not completely clear when looking through them.
- Move window treatments and look at the walls near the upper corners of the casing. Cracks in the drywall can indicate settling. Bulges in the drywall or stains near windows can suggest water leaks.
- Open some windows to see how they function if you don’t have to move any furnishings or decorations to do so. If they are difficult to open, improper installation or settling of the home may have occurred.
Open and close doors to rooms and closets.
- Do they latch and fully close? Do they open without rubbing a hard surface floor through their full radius?
- Drywall cracks near upper casing corners, stains and bulging could also indicate settling and leaks or improper installations.
Open cabinets and look for signs of leaks under sinks. Corrosion on water supply valves could mean that they are older or minerals in the water are deteriorating them.
Turn on water in a few sinks to check the pressure. If the house has well water, do you detect any odor? Are the sink fixtures corroded or difficult to operate? Corrosion could be a sign that they may soon leak.
Check the bathrooms for signs of leaks.
- Properly applied caulk usually consists of a thin, uniform bead smoothed down flat or slightly concave. The presence of excess amounts of caulk or caulk of a different color in one area of a shower enclosure or tub could indicate the presence of leaks.
- Drywall bulges, dark spots, or stains near tubs and showers could also be signs of leaks or high levels of moisture.
- Check the toilet. Place your palms on the sides of the toilet bowl and gently push left to right. Movement could indicate something as simple as loose closet flange bolts. But it could also be a sign of a cracked closet flange or deteriorated subfloor from slow, imperceptible leaks. Does the floor around the toilet seem out of level? If the floor covering is vinyl, does the floor near the toilet seem to deflect when you press your foot against it?
Check floors for signs of damage.
- Are there loose, lifted or cracked tiles?
- Are there bulges or low spots that could be signs of leaks, weak areas, voids, improper installation or wrong subfloor? Carpet can conceal issues such as improper joist installation or support, but a home inspector may be able to find signs of this.
Look in the basement for signs of moisture.
- Finished basements may hide signs of water intrusion or cracks in concrete block or poured concrete walls. An inspector should be able to conduct moisture and mold tests.
- Stains or white powdery areas called efflorescence evident/located on block or concrete walls or floors could be signs of prior water intrusion.
Look carefully at the exterior of the home.
- Shingles that don’t lay flat, have lifted or are curled at the lower edge could be signs of a roof in need of replacement. Moss or lichen covered shingles could be a sign of an aged roof or it may simply mean that some branches over a roof on the north side of a home need trimming. Shingles often contain copper to reduce growth of moss on roofs. Lower grade shingles will have less copper and a shorter warranty. Different shades of shingles could be signs of a repair.
- Are the gutters sagging? Do they have regular seams? Gutters with seams will likely be more aged and represent a potential leak/maintenance area. Seams should be sealed.
- Do the downspouts enter a drain pipe at ground level or do they simply end with an elbow over a splashblock or an extension at grade off of an elbow? Ideally, water should be transitioned away from the home, especially if it has a basement. Current codes in many jurisdictions require control and management of storm water from a home. If the ground appears to slope toward the home and landscape covering next to exterior walls does not taper down and away, surface water may drain toward the home.
- Does the exterior siding or cladding of the home appear clean, free of deterioration, flat when looking along the face from the side?
- If there is a septic system, insist on copies of maintenance records and required jurisdictional tests. Older systems may not pass; upgrade and replacement can be expensive.
This is not a complete list of items to look for when considering a home purchase, but it may help you weigh the pros and cons of the home you are considering. If you sign an intent to purchase, the home inspector should also examine all the mechanical systems in the home: plumbing, electrical service and wiring, water heater, furnace, air conditioner…and nearly everything else! A thorough inspection containing accurate information can assist in your price negotiations.