Buyer Beware: Red Flags to Look Out for When House Hunting
If you are thinking of buying a home, you have probably already begun your search. It’s easy these days, with up-to-date listing information available on a wide variety of websites. And it’s fun!
House hunting is one of the most exciting parts of real estate, and it draws a lot of interest on TV shows and in-person open houses. Viewing and touring potential new homes means thinking of possibilities and dreaming about your future.
As fun as it is, though, it’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of house hunting — the perfectly staged rooms, the must-have features, the pool or kitchen you always wanted. Focusing too much on the aesthetics and amenities can lead you to miss some warning signs about a property, and a poor decision can lead to years of regrets.
We’re here to help you avoid making any costly mistakes in your home search. Read on for a quick guide on the red flags to spot when house hunting.
No Photos in the Listing
The vast majority of homebuyers start their search online to get a feel for the market and their options. It’s a good way to get a glimpse of the types of homes available, their price, and which neighborhoods might suit you best. However, not all online listings are created equal.
For example, if a listing has few photos (or zero photos), it’s probably not a good sign. Either the homeowner doesn’t want to show you what’s inside, or they don’t care enough to make an effort. Either way, chances are slim that it’s the right home for you.
Don’t just think about what’s shown in the pictures. Consider what’s not being shown.
Signs of Water Damage
Next, while touring homes, keep an eye out for signs of water damage. This can include cracking and bubbling paint, discolored walls and ceilings, pooling water, and moldy/mildewy smells.
Signs of water damage can be especially concerning because they can indicate damage to drywall, flooring, and structural components of the house, all of which may be very costly to remediate and repair. Worst of all, water damage can also mean the presence of toxic mold hidden throughout the house.
Signs of Pests
Recent studies have shown that 84% of homes have some sort of pest presence. Typically, this means small, not-very-significant issues like the occasional bug or insect. However, if the home you visit while house hunting has obvious signs of a widespread infestation, you might want to think again.
Pest infestations can be tricky (and costly) to get rid of. Not to mention, most pests cause multiple forms of damage to a house. Termites chew through wood, rodents destroy materials and leave waste everywhere, etc.
As is the case with all these red flags, you might choose to simply move on and look at other homes. But if you really like some features of the home and think you can make it work, you can always negotiate a lower price, or ask the sellers to remedy the problem.
Obvious “DIY” Renovations
As you house hunt, work on your eye for spotting obvious DIY work. While there’s nothing wrong with a homeowner learning new skills and saving money by completing DIY repairs and updates, you can never be sure of the quality of their work. Additionally, the owners may have failed to follow the proper permitting process for a job.
DIY repairs and renovations that violate the city coding laws could come back to haunt you, even if it was the previous owner who did them. More importantly, they may not be completely safe or sound.
Weird smells are never a good sign while house hunting. Cleaning is an important part of the listing process, so if a home for sale still has lingering odors, they may be hard to fix or foretell deeper problems.
As noted previously, musty smells could be an indication of mold and mildew. Additionally, questionable smells could point to pests, pet accidents that weren’t properly cleaned up, rotting food lying somewhere and so on.
Similarly, if the home is covered in air fresheners, it might indicate lingering, foul smells. Of course, it could just be the seller and listing agent trying to make the home more inviting. But an excessive amount of scents could mean they’re trying to mask an unpleasant odor.
Your Real Estate Agent is Also the Listing Agent
When looking for a house to buy, it’s always a good idea to hire a real estate agent. They can help you find the right house based on location, size, features, property size, etc.
However, if your real estate agent is also the listing agent for the house you’re looking at, make sure that they have your best interests at heart. Agents are only people, after all. Most are good folks and they try to do right by their clients. But buying a home that’s also listed by your agent/agency can open things up to a conflict of interest.
When you buy that listing, the agent makes double the commission since they represent both parties. If you have a good agent, this is not typically a problem. But an unscrupulous agent might be willing to withhold information or negative details about the home that might otherwise deter you from placing an offer.
The bigger lesson here is to work with an agent you trust!
When house hunting, it’s not just the interior of homes you should examine. You should also take a walk around the property to look for anything disconcerting.
For example, take a look at the landscaping around the foundation of the house. Does the ground slope away from the house, toward the house, or is it flat? Ideally, the foundation should slope down away from the house to ensure positive drainage.
Negative drainage will drain water back toward the foundation, which can cause water leaks in the basement/crawl space, damages to the foundation, etc. All of these problems can be expensive and frustrating to deal with.
The roof of a house is one of the most important components. It’s the primary defense for your home against the elements.
That means your roof is also the part of your home most susceptible to incurring damage. Inevitably over time, the wind, rain, hail, snow, ice and sun can break down a roof.
If the roof needs to be replaced due to regular wear and tear, it won’t be covered by most insurance companies. This means the seller is less likely to invest in roof repairs or a replacement before selling. The last thing you want to do is buy a house that needs thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars in roof repairs.
An Insanely Low Price
We all know the importance of comparing house prices while house hunting. Comparable sales are the chief way that home values are determined by appraisers and other real estate pros.
When a sale price seems too good to be true, it probably is. In other words, a super cheap home is likely super cheap for a reason.
If the home sounds too good to be true, there’s likely something fundamentally wrong. This is more common in homes that have been listed on the market for more than four or five months.
If you run into this situation, ask your Realtor to find out why the listing price is so low. Alternatively, you could place a contingent offer on the home based on the results of a home inspection. It will cost you some money to get answers, but at least you’ll know what you’re dealing with.
Ready to Start House Hunting?
It’s exciting to house hunt and think of the possibilities in your new home! Just make sure you keep an eye out for the red flags listed in this article while house hunting. A home is a huge investment, and the last thing you want is for an oversight to come back and haunt you.
Whether you’ve been searching real estate listings for a while, or you’re just getting started or mulling your options, we’re here to help. Connect with us today to start the conversation and discuss your options to buy, or sell and buy, a home! We would love to help you achieve your goals and find a home that’ll make you happy for years to come.