Sellers are supposed to report known damage to the real estate agent who manages the property, yet that doesn’t always happen. Therefore, before you make an offer, you’ll need to check for warning signs that things aren’t as perfect as they seem. Some people think that significant problems only come with fixer-upper homes but that is certainly not the case.
One of the reasons that real estate agents are constantly preaching about picking a top-shelf home inspector is to ensure that all the big red flags are researched.
Keep reading to discover 11 red flags to look for before buying a house.
1. Large Cracks
Cracks are an indication of foundational issues that can cost homeowners thousands of dollars to repair. When visiting an open house, ask to see the basement. This is one of the easiest places to spot foundation problems.
However, you should also check each room in the house for these tell-tale signs, as some concerns may present in unusual spots
Before leaving the property, make sure to walk around the home’s exterior and look for other indications of foundation damage. Unless the home is significantly under your budget, you may want to pass on the listing, since these issues usually have a high price tag to repair.
2. Noticeable Water Damage
As you examine each room, look for signs of water damage. This could include marks on the ceilings, walls, or floors. Even if the seller says they’ve repaired the problem, unseen damage may still exist inside the walls.
Depending on how extensive the water problem was, it might have caused wood rot, structural damage, or mold growth. These are all expensive problems to repair, which may push the limits on your budget.
Also, look for unusual repainted areas in the home. For instance, if the homeowners only painted one part of the ceiling or a single wall, they were likely trying to cover something up.
3. Recent Rodent and Pest Activity
Rodent and pest activity is another red flag to look for during your house hunt. They reproduce quickly, leading to infestations. It’s common for rodents and pests to cause structural damage since they like to chew through wood and other materials. Additionally, some rodents carry disease, and they can contaminate your living spaces and food.
As if these concerns aren’t bad enough, mice and rats are known to chew through electrical wires, creating severe fire hazards.
A house with rodent or pest activity will likely require extensive renovations. In some cases, you’ll need to pay an exterminator to visit multiple times to eradicate these creatures effectively. It is essential to keep shrubbery and landscaping trimmed back away from the home as they tend to invite all kinds of pests into your home.
4. Uneven Flooring
Like cracks, uneven flooring can be a sign of structural instability. As the foundation washes away, a house can shift and cause the floor to become unstable. Sometimes, you may be able to see gaps between the walls and the floorboards. It's always best to have a structural engineer evaluate the property to determine the severity of the issue.
5. Outdated Electrical Wiring
Any outdated features you notice in a home should be an immediate red flag. Appliances and household systems need to be updated and maintained regularly. Outdated electrical wiring is a fire hazard and can be very dangerous. Inspectors should note when things are not up to code, but it’s always good to notice these details as early as possible.
Replacing the electrical panel costs an average of $1,500-$2,800, so it’s a sizable commitment and expense for buyers.
6. Limited Cell Signal
In this digital era, cell signal and Wi-Fi connections are more important than ever. As you walk around the property, take a quick peek at your phone. See how many bars of signal you have in each room. Low bars — or no signal — means the reception quality is poor.
While you’re there, ask about internet connections and the nearest cell towers. If the real estate broker can’t give you this information, you may want to call local providers to see what coverage they have in the area. In some cases, you may be able to find this information online before you even visit.
7. Recent Updates
If a property description includes the words “recent updates” or “facelift,” you'll need to pay closer attention to the details in each room. Be especially leery when buying a house that has been flipped. Sometimes these homes look great on the surface but once you start digging the problems can surface. House flipping has become very popular so do your due diligence.
A fresh coat of paint makes everything look better, so take some time and inspect untouched areas like baseboards and hardware. Dirt, scratches, and paint chips are all signs of prior neglect. When you pay attention to these areas, you’ll better understand the homeowner’s general upkeep habits.
With a bit of effort, you may discover there’s far more damage than you initially suspected from the photos. While updates alone are not a cause for concern, they may indicate the seller is trying to hide underlying issues with a quick coat of paint.
8. Inadequate Ventilation
Check out the ventilation in your potential dream home. Look specifically in rooms that usually have a lot of humidity, such as kitchens and bathrooms. Poor ventilation can cause mold growth. It’s also necessary for attic spaces, where excessive heat can lead to roof and shingle damage.
9. Basic Neglect
If you walk into a house and immediately notice basic neglect, it’s evident the seller did not care about maintenance. If they didn't bother to keep things clean, they likely cut corners or neglected other areas of the home too.
Besides eyesight, utilize your other senses when viewing a listing. If you notice a bad smell, there’s probably an underlying issue causing it. Beware of homes that smell overly scented from candles and air fresheners. The seller may be attempting to mask an unpleasant odor by overcompensating with other fragrances.
If you love the property, ask for a second viewing and request that the seller unplugs the air fresheners before your arrival.
10. Undesirable Neighborhood
While you may be caught up in how perfect the house is, you’ll need to look at the surrounding area. For instance, is the property near a highway? If the other houses on the street are boarded up or poorly maintained, you may be moving into a bad neighborhood, and it could impact your experience. It is important to seek out a healthy neighborhood - one where homes are bound to appreciate in value over time.
Just as important, pay attention to whether there are multiple houses for sale on the same street. Check to see if there has been an uptick in crime or other concerns that would encourage people to leave.
If you’re moving to a new-build neighborhood, go and knock on a neighbor’s door. A quick conversation with them will alert you to potential problems you might experience if you are buying a home built by the same developer.
If you keep in mind the neighborhood amenities that are important to other home buyer's you'll surely do well yourself.
11. Poor Drainage
As you inspect the property, you should look for signs of inadequate drainage. This includes poor grading or puddles in the yard.
Additionally, check the gutters to see if the owners maintained them. The water should exit away from the house and foundation. For the best and most accurate guide, visit the property during or directly after a major rainstorm.
When it comes to buying a new house, it pays to stay focused. Keep an eye out for these 11 red flags, as they may indicate costly problems. If everything looks terrific, you should still have the property inspected by a professional. There may be issues, such as radon, which you cannot detect without a test.
About the author: Rose Morrison wrote the article above on home buying red flags. Rose is a home improvement and real estate writer. She is also the managing editor of Renovated.