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What To Look For When Buying A House

Erica Gellerman3-Minute Read
December 11, 2020

Do you know what to look for when buying a house? It can be difficult to make an objective assessment, especially if you’re not a professional inspector. But there are a number of things you can look for yourself to help you determine whether a house is worth your time to pursue further.

We have seven good signs and seven red flags to watch for when you’re house-hunting to help you know what home to consider and what home to pass on.

good sign red flags

7 Good Signs To Look For When Buying A House

When shopping for a home, you may be immediately excited by some of the cosmetic details — like the paint color, the finishing, and the lighting. But look past those details and focus on some of the good signs that point to the home being a good purchase.

1. Newer Roof And Exterior Paint

Are you walking up to a home with missing shingles and peeling exterior paint? Or is the roof newer and does the paint job still look fresh? The home’s exterior can be a meaningful sign of a house’s condition. While you shouldn’t choose a book or a house by its cover, the cost of painting a house and reroofing can be substantial. Having those two big-ticket items intact means the home is off to a strong start.

2. A Dry, Odor-Free Basement

When a home has a basement, it’s important to assess whether the basement has been subject to flooding. Unfortunately, basement flooding isn’t always a one-time thing and can cause recurring long-term issues. Check to see if the basement is dry and odor-free. If there’s an odor, you’ll want to investigate whether it’s due to flooding or dampness — two things that can be very difficult and expensive to fix.

3. Signs Of Regular Maintenance

Buying a home, you want to find a home that has been regularly cared for by the owners. That means they’ve dealt with issues as they’ve arisen and have kept things in good working order.

Buying a home that has been cared for can help indicate that there aren’t major issues lurking below the surface.

4. Good Upkeep Of Nearby Homes And Yards

While you may be focused on the house you intend to buy, don’t have tunnel vision. Ensure that you take a walk through the neighborhood and survey the condition of the other homes. Are most of them rundown and in need of serious work? Or do they have good upkeep and nice yards? How someone keeps their home can tell you a bit about the neighborhood. If the home you’re considering buying is the only home with a nice yard and exterior upkeep, it might be a good idea to do a little more digging into the neighborhood before you buy.

5. Crack-Free Ceilings

While you may be looking straight ahead when viewing the home, don’t forget to look up at the ceiling. A ceiling can give you clues about the structural integrity of the home and any damage it may have sustained. You won’t be able to tell yourself why the cracks exist, but a good inspector will be able to investigate this for you.

6. Natural Light

There are some things in a home that you’ll never be able to change. One of those things is the amount of natural light the house gets. While you can do some things to improve it (sunlight and trimming back trees), you won’t be able to change the home orientation. If the house is oriented in a direction that gets a lot of natural light — and natural light is important to you — that’s a great thing to take note of.

7. Floor Plan

A good floor plan can make the difference when it comes to a home. If a home you’re looking at has a good floor plan that makes the best use of the square footage and is functional, that will make a big difference in how you use the space (and enjoy it!) day to day. It also helps make remodeling easier if you choose to do that because you won’t have to worry about moving walls that could potentially be load-bearing.

7 Red Flags To Look For When Buying A House

Before you call out an inspector or entertain making an offer on a home, there are some signs you can look for to determine whether a home is even worth pursuing at all.

1. Cracked Or Crumbling Foundation

The foundation is key to a home’s structural integrity. That’s why foundation issues can be a warning sign when you spot them. Since it’s such an important part of the home, a foundation should be inspected by a professional. But you may get a sign that the foundation will be an issue if you spot cracks or crumbling.

2. Signs Of Water Damage

When touring the home, pay special attention to any signs of water damage. This includes stains and discoloration on any of the walls, ceilings, or floors. Water damage can be a sign that there is another bigger problem: it can cause wood rot or increase the chance that there is mold lurking somewhere in your home.

3. The Presence Of Mold

If you notice any mold anywhere in the home, consider that a red flag to look more closely at the root cause of the mold. Is there a leak? A problem with venting in the home? An inspector can tell you if you have a serious problem causing the mold to show up.

4. Strong Odors

If you walk into a home and are met with an offensive smell, that’s something you’ll definitely want to investigate further. The odor could be something as serious as a gas leak, overheating electrical components, a broken sewer pipe, or mold. It could also be a sign that the previous owners had a number of pets that weren’t well trained (and the smell will take some work to eliminate).

5. Uneven Floors

Do the floors feel slanted, sloped, or slightly uneven when you walk through the house? It could be a sign of foundation issues, which can be a serious threat to the structural integrity of the home.

6. Large Wall Or Ceiling Cracks

Another sign that the home is struggling with structural issues is large cracks along the ceiling or walls. These hairline cracks can form in older homes as they settle, but large cracks could be from large movements. You’ll want to get a professional in there ASAP to find the root of the problem.

7. Evidence Of Electrical Issues

Electrical issues can create big problems if they’re not taken care of quickly. When you’re viewing a home, be aware of any signs of electrical issues like a buzzing sound when the lights are on, flickering lights, and hot ceiling fixtures.

Summary: What To Look For When Buying A House

While your viewing of a home won’t take the place of a professional home inspection, there are a number of things you can look for to help you determine whether a home is even worth pursuing. Evidence of structural damage is a big red flag, but even smaller issues like home smells need to be investigated.

It’s important to work with professionals to ensure you’re making a good decision. If you’re moving ahead in your home search process, contact a real estate agent today.

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    Erica Gellerman

    Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom and more.