Red Flags Would-Be Home Buyers Should Be On the Lookout For
A home inspection is an essential part of any resale house purchase. But in a competitive real estate market, would-be buyers don’t always have the luxury of waiting around before placing an offer. Savvy shoppers know to be on the lookout for a few key red flags that may indicate costly renovations will be needed down the road.
Here’s an outline of how to conduct your own onsite home inspection.
Pick up an electrical outlet tester (about $10 at the hardware store). Pop it into the wall outlets to test for proper grounding. Ungrounded wires may indicate old wiring (such as knob and tube) that many insurance companies are reluctant to provide coverage for. You could be looking at a few dollars to install ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets to several thousands in upgrades. (You’ll also want to replace any outlets near water sources – in the kitchen and bath – with GFCIs.)
In the basement, inspect exposed ceiling joists for ceramic knobs and tubes and follow the wires to see if they’re disconnected or not. Finally, make sure the electrical panel has at least 100-amp service (otherwise you won’t be able to use electrically intensive modern conveniences, like air conditioners, until you upgrade the panel).
Turn on the taps in the kitchen and each bathroom to test for water pressure and rusty red water — the latter indicates corroded pipes.
In the main bathroom, turn on the tub or shower faucet then flush the toilet. If the water flow in the tub cuts off significantly (or completely) your water main may need to be upgraded. Many municipalities offer subsidized upgrades but homeowners can still end up footing bills in excess of $1,000.
Heating and air conditioning
Check the furnace for its installation date and for tags indicating a recent inspection. Gas furnaces generally have a 15- to 25-year lifespan. Anything falling without that range could prove to be a costly problem down the road. Air conditioners are usually good for 10 to 15 years of service.
Note that if the home is heated with radiators you won’t be able to add central air conditioning without first installing ductwork. There are attic and exterior wall-mounted A/C units available but they’re significantly more expensive than their more common cousins.
Check around windows and door for signs of water damage and drafts. (If you can see daylight around the edges of a closed door it’ll need to be replaced, or weatherstripped at the very least.) You can tell how old aluminum- and vinyl-framed, double-pane windows are by looking at the manufacturers’ date stamp on the aluminum strip between the two sheets of glass. Condensation between the panes means that the seal is broken.
Crooked doorframes could indicate uneven settling of the foundation (though doors that stick in humid summer months are likely just swelled).
Musty smells in a finished basement could indicate water leakage.
(See also, Lead, Mold, and Asbestos for information on potentially serious household hazards.)
Take a couple laps around the building to inspect the exterior. Check bricks for cracks and crumbling mortar. Inspect siding for cracks, rot, discoloration, and any signs of pest infestation, such as chew marks at the edges of panels.
Finally, binoculars are a handy item to have for inspecting roofing shingles and the condition of the chimney from ground level. Also inspect that the eavestroughs appear in good repair (i.e. there shouldn’t be any weeds sprouting from them).
Of course, before finalizing any deal, you should hire a trained, certified professional home inspector to check the place out. They can save you their $350–$500 fee many times over.