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Home Buyer Beware: 6 Things to Look For Before Making an Offer

Homeowner May 29, 2018
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Lindsay Cutler

When preparing to put a home on the market, sellers tend to focus on the cosmetic issues buyers can see (new kitchens, remodeled bathrooms), not on the underlying structural issues which are arguably more important. Sellers ultimately care more about maximizing profits than the longevity of the house, and so the onus falls on the buyer to research and thoroughly inspect a home before buying. First-time home buyers, this is for you. Here are a few things to check out before bidding on a house.

1. Follow your nose

If you’re at an open house and there’s a strange smell in every room, something is definitely off. Dry rot, mold, and sewage problems will make themselves known by scent — and it’s rarely subtle. In the same vein, if there’s an overpowering smell of perfume or air freshener inside the house, the realtor probably knows the problem and is actively hiding it. Ask them! Disclosure laws in most states require realtors to be honest and upfront about a house’s defects, especially when you ask them directly.

2. Look at the land

Take a good look at the property, including the land adjacent to the plot. Are huge, knotty tree roots too close to the house’s foundation? This can lead to sewage problems down the road. Does it look like there’s enough space on the land for rainwater to adequately drain? Is the home at risk for floods, fires, or just plain inclement weather? If you’re serious about buying a house a pre-bid inspection is essential, but simply poking around the property and using common sense will help you rule out homes that are too big of an investment.

3. Inspect the windows

You can get a sense of how a home was cared for by the state of its windows. Go outside and see if you can stick your fingers inside the external window frame. If you can, that’s a clear sign the wood is rotten and that the windows (and other issues in the house) were not adequately cared for. Additionally, if windows are jammed shut or seemingly misaligned, that’s a clue that the building’s foundation may be faulty. If you’re still interested in the property, get an inspector to check if the windows were merely misinstalled or if there’s larger foundation issues at play.

4. Check the plumbing

So much open house smoke and mirrors can be eliminated simply by looking under the sinks. If there are any signs of moisture, stains or warping inside the cabinets, or if the p-traps are looking a little rusted and crusty, that’s a telltale sign of leakage. Look for signs of deterioration at the main water line in the basement and check out the toilet bases for discoloration and loose flooring. Note any water stains on the walls and ceiling — even minor discolorations indicate a leak serious enough to breach the drywall.

5. Get acquainted with the neighborhood

You’ll discover that your affordable new smart home isn’t such a boon if it’s in a neighborhood with high crime and foreclosure signs on every street. Talk to your neighbors to get a sense of how the local economy has changed over the years. If you know this isn’t your forever-home, keep resale value of the forefront of your thoughts when choosing a neighborhood. But if your main concern is your budget and you don’t plan on reselling your home anytime soon, consider using the neighborhood “grit” as a bargaining chip when you bid.

6. Don’t be fooled by staging

Don’t let a striking accent wall or some well-placed mood lighting sway you from seeing the house as it really is, warts and all. Conversely, many potential home buyers are turned off by things as simple and easy to change as an unflattering wall color or carpeting in the bedroom. If it’s purely cosmetic, requires no structural alteration and if your home is still under budget, it’s doable with some imagination.


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