If you’re on the hunt for a new home, it’s important to do your due diligence before signing the paperwork. Performing a home inspection can certainly help give you peace of mind, but there are other things you can do as a buyer to get an idea of the condition of a potential home.
The most important time you have to assess the home is during an open house, or a private showing. This is your opportunity to spend as much time as you like in the house, checking every last detail. That being said, you don’t want to get too bogged down with the specifics. We’ve put together a list that should help you spot which issues are red flags before it’s too late.
Save yourself some time and money by keeping an eye out for these 9 things that signal a house will be anything but home sweet home. If you're a seller, be prepared: buyers will be looking for these issues as they peruse your property.
What should you look for at an open house?
An open house or a private showing is the best chance for buyers to look closely at a property before they decide if they want to buy it. It can be easy to get caught up in superficial details, so keep this list handy to figure out if there are serious issues hiding behind a pretty facade.
Every house will have some wear and tear unless it’s a brand-new build. Notice if the damage looks more like general use, or indicates something more sinister. For a more detailed list of how to spot serious damages, keep reading.
If you’re buying a semi-detached home or a condo, your neighbours are even more important than in a single-family home. Keep your ears open - are the walls thick enough that you can’t hear every word your neighbours say over the dinner table?
It can also be a good idea to walk or drive by a potential new home when there isn’t an open house on. See what the street or neighbourhood is like and how neighbours are interacting when there’s no one special around.
A visual check may not be enough to see if appliances are in working order. Before making an offer, turn on every appliance to confirm it’s working properly. This is probably best done during a private showing, rather than an open house.
Don’t forget to look up! If a house is older, this is even more important. Check ceilings for signs of water damage. Look for cracks, which can indicate issues with a foundation.
Flooring is another place that can be a giveaway of deeper issues. Check for the obvious, like how it has held up to scratches, furniture, dogs, kids, etc.
The less obvious issues can be felt, rather than seen. Try rolling a pen or a quarter across a floor to see if it’s level (again, probably in a private showing). If it isn’t, there may be some foundation issues. Feel if any of the floorings are warped, which can hint at previous water damage.
It may feel slightly invasive to open up all the closets in a house, but it’s necessary to see how much storage space you’re working with. Don’t just focus on the bedrooms - look for hall closets, pantries, and any built-in storage.
Listings typically have the dimensions of most of the rooms in the house spelled out, but numbers may not do a space justice. Remember that homes are staged to feel spacious, so try and picture your own furniture and belongings in a room. Would it feel as big?
Beyond just the size, look at the layout of each room and try to figure out each room’s purpose. Think about what furniture configurations would work in the space. How much of the room is actually usable?
Ask the seller's agent about the age of the windows. Beyond just looking nice, having good windows can make or break a home’s energy efficiency. Replacing windows can also be expensive.
If you don’t know when the windows were installed or replaced, see if you can feel any draft (in winter) or heat seeping in (in summer). Do the same with any exterior doors.
Privacy is key, both inside and outside your home. Look for any window coverings or shades, so you aren’t on display to your neighbours when you move in.
Check to see how visible you are to your neighbours, and vice versa. If you want a more private yard, make sure trees and fences are high enough to keep your space your own.
Look for any condensation or peeling paint, especially in bathrooms. Proper airflow is important to keep condensation from building up inside. Mould doesn’t just come from water damage - it can also come from inadequate ventilation.
Other interested buyers
We’re giving you a licence to snoop on your competition! A busy open house can indicate that a home will have multiple offers. That’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but keep it in mind when you’re thinking over the price of the home.
What kind of damages should you look out for look for when walking through a house showing?
If you notice any issues when looking at the items above, dig a little bit deeper to see if there is a bigger problem at play. Let’s break down how to spot some of the most common damages:
1. Signs of mould or water damage
Visible stains, musty odours, and changes to the floor, ceiling, and walls are often signs of water damage. And if water damage has occurred, you can almost bet that mould will soon follow. Hopefully, these issues have already been taken care of and only cosmetic damage remains, but a home inspection will help you know for sure.
2. Foundation issues
Cracks in the foundation, sagging floors, uneven settling, and gaps around the doors can indicate serious issues. These compromise the entire integrity of the home and can be costly to fix.
3. Gaps in window sealing
Windows that aren’t properly sealed, or even just old windows, can result in higher energy bills. You may end up paying more than you bargained for if the problem isn’t resolved.
4. Roof condition
Roofs typically last upwards of ten years, depending on the roof type. You should ask how old the roof is, then visibly inspect it for weathering or other damage. Replacing a roof is one of the priciest home repairs, costing anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 or more, so you should try to delay that expense for as long as possible.
5. Flood risks
Check to see if the home is located near water or a potential flood zone. If you’re not sure, you can ask an experienced local real estate agent – like those on the Properly team – to look into it for you. It’s also important to note that some insurance companies might not insure you if you’re a flood risk.
6. Leaky toilets
Listen for running toilets while you’re in the house. If a toilet continues to run long after it should have stopped, you may end up facing higher water bills than you planned for.
7. DIY repairs
Some repairs are simple enough for homeowners to tackle themselves. But others, such as electrical work, plumbing, and tile work, are best left to professionals. Look for signs of sloppy home fixes that could impact the integrity of the repair.
If a home has recently undergone extensive renovations, you can also ask the seller's agent if they know which company or contractor performed the reno.
8. Bad odours
Foul odours may not be threatening on their own, but the owner’s attempt to mask them might indicate a problem. A home that has water damage, mold, or poor ventilation can be difficult to live in because of the smell. And it may not be safe, either.
9. Signs of deferred maintenance
Check the entire perimeter of the home to see how well the homeowners have kept up with routine maintenance and repairs. Homes that have been taken care of tend to have fewer issues and may end up costing you less over time.
What should you ask at an open house?
You can ask the listing agent as many questions as you like. Run their answers by your own agent to make sure nothing sounds off.
Here's a good list of open-house questions to start with:
- When was the home built?
- What renovations have been done?
- When were renovations done?
- Were all renovations properly permitted?
- Who performed the renovations?
- When was the roof installed?
- When were the windows and doors installed?
- How old are the appliances?
- Has the previous owner had any serious issues with the home?
- Is the home located in a flood zone?
- Has an inspection been performed recently on this home?
- How much storage space is in the home?
- How long did the previous owner live in the home?
- When was the home last painted?
Related topic: Questions to ask at an open house
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DISCLAIMER: This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not an exhaustive review of this topic. The content is not financial or investment advice. No professional relationship of any kind is formed between you and Properly, Properly Brokerage, or Properly Homes. While we have obtained or compiled this information from sources we believe to be reliable, we cannot and do not guarantee its accuracy. We recommend that you consult a trusted professional before taking any action related to this information. Properly is a tech-enabled real estate brokerage that is transforming the home buying and selling experience with AI-powered home valuations and a modern streamlined service. We recommend that you compare and contrast your options, read the fine print, and conduct detailed research into any real estate, loan, and/or investment provider before using their services.
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