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Six Home-buyer Warning Signs

Michael Gonzalez



May 9 6 minutes read

We all know that feeling of elation and excitement when you start looking for a home. It could be your starter house, or your retirement nest. And with the market being competitive, you might be tempted to make an immediate offer once you feel like you've found "The One". But before you go putting down that deposit, don’t forget to carefully inspect the home. 

Ownership History

A home with high turnover is a serious warning sign. The average length of home ownership in the US is 8.7 years, so a house that's been going through owners every two or three years is something to watch out for. You can easily check homeownership turnover online or ask the realtor handling the property. It’s really hard to truly know what it’s like to live in a home until after you’ve taken possession, but at least you will be able to anticipate potential issues once you know if it has a high turnover rate.

Roofing Issues

Well-maintained roofs can last 30 years or more—but a shoddy installation or poor-quality shingles and tiles can mean needing to replace a roof much sooner. Ask the seller how old the roof is, and inspect the gutters to make sure the drainage systems are in good working order. Be on the lookout for dry rot—often caused by poor ventilation—which can cause sagging and crumbling. You may be able to see from the ground whether there are cracked or missing shingles, but it pays to get a roofer to do an inspection, either before you make the offer or during the contract phase of the negotiations. If the seller has already done a home inspection prior to putting the house on the market, ask to review it. Some states also require disclosure forms, mandating that the seller be up-front about any issues with the home. 

Cracks and Sticking Doors

Check for cracks in the walls and ceilings, and watch out for doors that stick to their frames. These may be signs of warping in the house frame, subsidence, or other movement, and may signal severe damage that may need to be checked by a structural engineer. The inside can smell fresh and new, but the structure could cost you a fortune if you don’t pay attention. Minor cracks are unlikely to be a problem in older houses, but anything more than 1/4 of an inch wide will need a structural engineer. Bring a leveler, preferably with a laser pointer, and look for signs of paint or surface mismatch, as some owners will attempt to plaster and paint over cracks as well.


Check the walls and ceiling for any stains, water marks, or damaged paint, and check for any damp smells in rooms and cupboards.. A freely painted area may indicate the seller has tried to cover over a damp area to hide it,  but if you conceal water damaged areas with paint, you trap the moisture in the walls that will likely lead to mold. Black mold is unhealthy to breathe. Look carefully at the underside of drawers and sinks in the kitchen, and at the base of the tubs and toilets. One of the biggest culprits is the sheetrock underneath window sills. If you see soft or warped sheetrock, you know there are leaks.

Uneven or Bouncy Floors

Always bring a marble to an open house and place the marble around different areas of the floor of each room. The older the house, the more important it is to do the marble test to see how uneven the floors are. Sometimes a house will aggressively settle, creating a hump in the middle. These deflections will be costly to fix because of the amount of work involved: you’ve got to rip out the existing floor, correct the support columns, find a matching floor, and finish it to match the original flooring. And if there are very uneven floors, foundation work might also be needed.

House History

Poorly executed renovations, bad plumbing repairs or faulty drywall can come back to bite you. Knowing the history of the home is always good information to have, and you should always ask to see the Report of Residential Building Record or 3R Report, which is like the report card for a property. The disclosure packet compiled by the sellers will be your best guide to recent renovations and repairs, and a good disclosure package will highlight all the problems of the property. It will still be up to you to make sure the problems are what they say they are, and not something worse. If the sellers don’t get into as much detail as you’d like, probe further. Bad repairs that need to be fixed later can be extremely pricey. Fixing poorly laid shower tiles may just cost a few hundred dollars, but a badly installed driveway, drywall that’s made of subpar or toxic materials, or improperly installed electrical wiring can quickly spiral into the thousands. 

The initial rule when buying a property is to use your head rather than your heart, so quickly, objectively, and thoroughly check for signs of existing problems, and also signs that problems may occur down the road. A qualified real estate agent can also guide you through the process, providing specific advice and the assistance you would need.

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