So you are looking at homes and ready to settle into the perfect one. Good for you! Owning Real Estate is a great investment, and after some time, you’ll be glad you did. But how can you make sure the home you are looking at is actually a good investment, and not going to cost you thousands in repairs?
Home inspections are a great way to gain confidence in the property, or have the seller help address any issues with the house. Home inspections are performed after you go under contract. This means you will have some money invested before you ever get the inspector out there, so it’s a good idea to have a good level of confidence in the home before you ever go under contract.
Here are some things you can keep an eye on at showings to help determine the condition the home is in.
1. Roof Condition
It may not be possible for you to climb up on the roof during showings, but it’s a good idea to view the roof as close as possible from the ground. You can often see enough of the roof from ground level to get an idea of the condition, especially if there is a nearby hill you can stand on to see.
In addition to looking from the ground, you should have your buyers agent reach out to the sellers to see if they know how old the roof is, and see if they have any paperwork regarding the roof such as a roof certification letter. A roof certification letter is given to sellers after an inspection and it estimates the roofs condition over the next few years. Most sellers will not have one, but it can’t hurt to ask.
Also be sure to look at ceilings in the house for water stains. These can be an easy way to determine if the roof has had water intrusion. Of course, a water stain does not necessarily mean there is an active leak. It could have been previously repaired, but it is certainly something you will want to check with the sellers about.
A typical roof can last anywhere from 15-30 years, and can cost $5,000-12,000 to replace. If you still aren’t confident in the homes roof, have a roof inspector come out and take a look.
2. Crawl Space
The crawl space is a big deal that can have massive effects on the longevity of your home. In North Carolina, I am no longer surprised when I see moist crawlspaces, but of course your goal is for it to be as dry as possible.
Standing water is a big red flag, and moisture can also lead to mold growth which could potentially be hazardous to your health. If there is growth in the crawlspace, it can add up quick- ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars depending on the severity of the issue.
Moisture can also cause insulation to break down overtime, giving you one more thing that needs repaired, and causing your utility bills to slowly creep higher and higher.
Again, in North Carolina it is rather common to see moist crawlspaces, but consider things like
When did it last rain? Could this water be from yesterdays showers or has it been here a few weeks?
How heavy was the rain to intrude into the crawlspace?
How might the water be getting into the crawlspace?
Is there standing water or just moisture in the air?
Are the gutters clogged? Do the downspouts drain far enough from the crawlspace?
Although it may be common to find moisture in crawlspaces, that does not mean it should be accepted. While you may not find the perfect home with a bone-dry crawlspace, if you notice moisture you should take the proactive steps to regulate the moisture in the crawlspace after you take ownership, or have the seller address the issue before you take ownership.
If the crawlspace floods during heavy rains, a high quality sump-pump may address the issue. If it feels very humid, an automatic dehumidifier might get rid of that problem for you.
3. HVAC Unit
The HVAC unit, along with the spiderweb of ductwork, is responsible for keeping your family cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Not all homes have HVACs, and some have them only for cooling and get heat from other sources such as a furnace. It is important to check any heating a cooling system in a home, but HVACs are the most common and also tend to have a shorter lifespan than furnaces at around 10 years.
When seeing properties, you’ll want to make sure that the HVAC is functioning properly. Sometimes you will be able to tell as soon as you walk in, if it’s a hot summer day and it’s cool inside the house, or vice versa.
If not, it is reasonable for you to turn it on to make sure it is working. Just make sure to turn it back to whatever the seller had it on as soon as you are done!
You should also listen to the HVAC unit run while you are there. If it is making weird sounds, that could be a good indication there is something wrong with it.
Lastly, ask the sellers the age of the unit, and if they have any service records for the unit that they can provide to you.
While you may not be a plumber, there are still some easy things you can keep an eye out for. You are welcome to test sinks and showers, and flush toilets at showings to make sure they are functioning properly. In addition to that, here’s some other simple things you can check for.
Unfortunately toilet leaks are almost impossible to spot until they have rotted out the wood underneath. You can put your foot around a toilet and feel if it has softened up around the base of the toilet. You can also gently try to wiggle the toilet and see how much give it has, which could also be an indication that it might leak.
The water heater is also something you want to check. The lifespan of a water heater is 10-15 years, and after this they can rust and leak water. Water heaters should also be placed inside of a drip pan in case of any leaks (not a huge deal if it isn’t in one, this rule is rather new so many older houses will not have them in a drip pan, and it is a cheap item to add).
You should also ask about the sewer or septic lines. The seller may have had the septic pumped, or may have repair records for work that has been done. Sewer and septic can be expensive repairs so it is something you should consider having inspected as well.
5. Appliances and Outlets
Electrical is in a league of it’s own, but unfortunately, many of us (myself included) aren’t informed enough about electrical systems to be able to differentiate right from wrong in a breaker box. There are however some things you can check.
Appliances are typically the only electric items in the house when you buy it, so you are welcome to make sure they function properly, especially since they can be costly to replace. Ice makers are notorious for breaking, so it might be a good idea to test that out if it is a big deal to you.
Outlets are also important to most buyers, so you are welcome to check outlets around the house to make sure they function properly. Especially if there is one near where you will be setting your bed, or one where you will be plugging in your hair dryer or your toaster oven.
If you opt for a traditional home inspection, the inspector will check all appliances as well as go through every outlet in the home and make sure it is working properly and grounded securely.
Sometimes, you might get more than you bargain for out of a neighborhood. Noisy neighbors, odors from animals, and other things aren’t exactly unusual.
I have worked with buyers in the past who would drive by every house we saw one more time in the evening just to make sure that the neighborhood was the same in the evening as it was when we saw it in the daytime. That is a fantastic idea if you want to be extra cautious you are picking a perfect location.
Good neighbors are even more crucial in townhouses or condos. It is a good idea to schedule showings when you think they might be home, so you can get an idea of if the walls are thin and you can hear them or not.
If you happen to see one of the neighbors checking their mail or mowing the grass, feel free to stop by and say hello! Neighbors are usually happy to chat about their neighborhood, and can offer you very valuable insight about the neighborhood.
7. Exterior Condition & Foundation
A homes foundation is arguably the most important and expensive factor in a home. Repairs can be very costly, and you can often see tell-tale signs of issues during your showings. Issues such as:
Cracks in the foundation or in drywall
Gaps on interior walls, often above doors or windows
It is important to note that houses are incredibly heavy, and dirt isn’t always the most solid structure. Some cracks are normal from a house settling, but bucking and bowing of bricks can be a sign the there are more serious issues at hand. If you have concerns about the foundation, reach out to a structural engineer to stop by and check out the property to tell you if it is a serious issue, and how much it could cost to fix the issue.
If you do everything that this blog post has advised you to do, you are essentially acting as a home inspector (except the part about talking to neighbors. They won’t do that part!).
Doing these yourself is a good way to gain some confidence in the home prior to submitting an offer, but it’s still a great idea to have a home inspector take a look as well. They are trained and experienced and know exactly what to look for when checking everything out regarding your next home.
They also won’t be on the same time constraint, so they will be able to do a more thorough job, and create an easy to understand report that you can review and use to negotiate repairs with the seller.
This blog post was primarily made to help you be able to do some of your due diligence before going under contract and as a result hopefully saving you money from having to back out of the purchase due to any unforeseen issues with the home. But please know that I do not intend for this to replace the duties of a home inspector. I encourage all of my clients to get as many home inspections and the want and can to make sure they are completely comfortable with the property.