Open House Red Flags: What to Look Out for When Buying a Home

Dec 17, 2018Buying Basics

Open houses are a great way to get to know a home from beyond the listing photos. When passing through each of the rooms, it’s common to be overcome by mixed emotions and thoughts that cause you to overlook some blemishes.

At the very least, the home should be deep cleaned and staged with stylish furniture. But deep cleaning and staging can also be done as a way to mask deeper problems. Savvy buyers need to be on the lookout for potential red flags when viewing each home.

1.Foundations/Structural Problems

Problems with a home’s foundation can be extremely costly to repair. Most homes have hairline gaps which just indicate that the house is settling into its position. But large gaps should be a cause for concern.

The easiest way to check the foundation is if there is an unfinished basement. Any large cracks are an indication of structural problems. Other ways to check for problems include checking the doors and windows. If they don’t seem entirely square or you have trouble opening and closing them, there could be a problem with the foundation.

If you have any doubts about the foundation, arrange a private viewing and bring a structural engineer to do an inspection.

2. Deferred Maintenance and Amateur Repairs

Homes require regular maintenance if they’re to stay in top condition. Look for signs that the owner has been deferring maintenance for issues like leaky faucets, faded paint, and malfunctioning electrics.

These can indicate serious problems down the road with expenses falling into the hands of the homebuyer.

Amateur Repair Man

Prospective homebuyers should also look out for signs of amateur repairs that indicate the owner took the cheap option when covering up damages. Issues like this will be hard to detect until a home inspection has been carried out, so make sure you include a home inspection contingency in any contract you sign.

3. Bad Neighborhood Condition

Smart buyers take the time to look at the home’s surrounding neighborhood. When purchasing a home, you’re also purchasing the neighborhood, and if it’s in a poor overall condition, that can cause future problems.

Rundown Home

Telltale signs of a neglected or decreasing neighborhood are boarded up windows and lots of vacant properties. Ask your buyer’s agent about the current state of the local market. If it’s decreasing in value and experiencing a sharp downturn in development, this can mean big problems when it comes time to resell.

4. Mold

Mold can lead to serious health problems, especially for young children. It’s a problem that can be fixed, but remediation is very costly and can lead to deeper problems being uncovered.

While wandering through an open house, discreetly go through the bathroom and sink cabinets and check around the pipes and faucets. Gray and black spots, even small ones, can mean big problems.

Homebuyers should also check the caulking around faucets and tubs. Patches of fresh paint on the walls or ceiling could indicate that the owner has tried to cover up mold or water damage.

5. Poor Drainage or Grading

Water problems in a home are a serious cause for concern and usually indicate poor drainage or grading. The most obvious sign of this is pooling water in the yard and overflowing gutters.

Bad drainage or grading ties in with poor foundation and mold. Good grading can overcome poor drainage for this problem, but if the home has a negative grade, it only exacerbates the problem.

The easiest and cheapest way to keep water away from the foundations of a home is by installing gutter downspout extensions.

Home Inspections Provide Protection

Some of these red flags can be difficult to spot during an open house, but you can raise the alarm early if you find anything suspicious. This is why having a home inspection is so important.

Some of these problems will require specialists to detect, so save time by mentioning any concerns you have to the home inspector beforehand. If you’ve chosen a good buyer’s agent, they can help you with spotting problems you may otherwise have overlooked.


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