Whether you’re buying your first home or your fifth, you’re in the market for a new house. While it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of open houses and open floor plans, it’s important to look beyond the surface whenever you visit each property.
In many houses, especially older ones, there could be surprises lurking under the walls and beneath the floors, such as mold, lead paint and asbestos. While in many cases the problems with an old house are fixable, in others, they can be severe enough that you decide to look for another property. Knowing what’s going on with a house can help you make the most informed decision.
You can also use what you discover about a property to negotiate with the seller of the home. If there’s a substantial issue, you might be able to get the seller to pay for repairs before the contract is complete. While you can sometimes detect obvious problems on your own, it’s worth hiring a home inspector to look over the property before you buy it and provide a full report on its conditions.
Why You Need a Home Inspection
From a 120-year-old Victorian to a newly constructed condo, every home could have at least one thing wrong with it. A more common result is in the neighborhood of 50 to 100 issues. Although the idea of encountering up to 100 issues in a home you’re considering spending your life savings on might seem alarming, don’t worry — many of the “issues” an inspector uncovers aren’t any real cause for concern.
One of the reasons home buyers need an inspection is because inspectors know the difference between a “big deal” and a “don’t sweat it” issue. Another reason to hire a home inspector is that they know what to look for in a house. Although state regulations vary when it comes to certification and licensure, in many states, inspectors need to complete training and earn certification before they can inspect homes.
In Pennsylvania, to earn the title of a home inspector, a person needs to first inspect more than 100 homes under the supervision of a licensed inspector. Home inspectors in NJ need to pass an exam and complete 180 hours of education and fieldwork. In New York, inspectors need 140 hours of pre-license training and experience.
How to Arrange a Home Inspection
Usually, you don’t need to arrange a home inspection until after you’ve found a house you want to make an offer on. You can set up the inspection before you put in your offer or after you make it, but add in a clause noting that it’s contingent on the results of a home inspection.
You’re responsible for finding an inspector to check out the home. If you’re unsure where to start your search, your real estate agent might be able to recommend someone to you. You can also ask friends who have recently purchased a home in your area for recommendations.
On the day of the inspection, go along with the inspector as they walk through the house and around its exterior. You can ask questions while they work to get a better idea of what a house’s issues are and what you can do to correct them.
Home Buyers’ Guide: Understanding the Seller’s Disclosure
Another thing to pay attention to when buying a house is the seller’s disclosure. Most states require that a seller disclose any known defects or issues in a house before they sell it. Reading over the disclosure can give you a better idea of the house’s history and problems, but it isn’t meant to replace an inspection. This is because it’s possible for the inspection to turn up issues the seller didn’t know about.
Viewing a House Checklist: Exterior Issues to Look Out For
When you approach a property, the first thing you see is its exterior. In some instances, that first glance at a house can tell you everything you need to know. But some houses make you look a bit more closely to discover any concerns. Here are four exterior problems to look out for.
1. Paint Problems
The appearance of the paint on the exterior of the house can point to an array of concerns. First off, if the paint job on the outside of the house is faded, peeling or otherwise worn out, that can be a sign that the seller didn’t put much effort into taking care of their property. If the outside of the house looks tired and worn, you might feel compelled to wonder what other issues lurk beneath the surface.
In homes built before 1978, peeling paint can be a problem for another reason: lead. Around three-quarters of houses built before 1978 have lead paint. If the house is old and the paint is peeling, that can suggest you’re going to need lead paint removal at some point in the future.
2. Roof Issues
Don’t underestimate the importance of the roof on the house. A well-cared for and properly installed roof can last for decades, but one that is missing shingles, made of low-quality materials or incorrectly installed can lead to leaks and other problems sooner rather than later.
In some cases, you’re able to see roof problems at a glance. Shingles might be missing, or there might even be a hole in the roof. A home inspector is more likely to spot other less noticeable issues.
3. Cracks in the Foundation
Without a robust and sturdy foundation, a house is likely to crumble. Often, one of the first signs of an issue with a home’s foundation is the appearance of cracks along the exterior walls. You might see these cracks when you view a house for the first time, and your home inspector is likely to detect them, as well. If necessary, a structural engineer can give you a more in-depth idea of the foundation’s issues, what repairs are needed and how much the project will cost.
Fixing foundation problems can cost anywhere from $1800 to more than $6000 depending on the extent of the problem and your location. To avoid a hefty repair bill and a complicated renovation after you buy a home, it’s a good idea to take a close look and correct any foundation problems before the sale is complete. You might decide to back away from the purchase and continue your search if the damage is severe enough.
4. Tree and Landscaping Concerns
A large tree growing near a house can seem like a benefit, but depending on the type of tree and how close it is to the home, it can be a cause for concern. The roots of some trees tend to push their way into sewer lines and water pipes. Over time, the roots can cause the pipes to break, potentially leading to sewage spills on the property or puddles of water. In some cases, tree roots can push their way into the foundation of a house, causing cracks or even pushing the house upward.
Some trees are more problematic than others. Species such as silver maple, American elm, hybrid poplars and willows tend to have the most invasive roots. If you see a house with one of those trees on its land, take a look at how close to the building they are. Ideally, the trees will be at least 10 feet away from the house and at least 20 feet away from any pipes or sewer lines.
Trees aren’t the only sign of trouble when it comes to landscaping around the house — a home with shrubs and other plants positioned close to its exterior walls could be hiding something. You might want to go rifling through the bushes to see what you can find. It’s also worth noting that shrubs and other foliage near the exterior walls of a home can provide insects like termites and ants with easy access to the property.
Interior Issues to Look Out For
Once you’ve checked out the exterior of a house, it’s time to move inside. Here are six issues to look for on the interior when buying a house.
1. Water Damage
Signs of water damage can range from obvious to subtle. Obvious signs of water damage include spotting or stains on the walls, particularly near windows or doors, and bubbling or flaking plaster or drywall. Subtle signs of water damage include rusty pipes, which could have a slow leak.
In some cases, water damage might be something you smell rather than see. A house that has a musty odor might have a leak or water damage somewhere. Sellers may try to hide the musty smell by burning scented candles or using room sprays. If you detect a lot of powerful fragrances in a house, that can be a warning sign that damage is lurking somewhere.
There are a few ways to be on the lookout for mold in a house. One is to keep an eye out for visible mold growth. You might see mold growing around the caulking of a tub or sink or near the pipes underneath sinks. In some cases, mold can grow on the walls or around the windows in humid areas of the house.
Another sign that can point to mold is a house that doesn’t have proper ventilation. For example, if there are no fans in the bathrooms, then it can be challenging to keep mold growth down.
When there is water damage in the walls or ceilings, it’s possible there is also mold growth. While you can’t peel back the paint and check for mold underneath, you can review the seller’s disclosure to see if the house has had a history of water damage or leaks, which could suggest a problem with mold.
Subway tile on the bathroom walls or as a kitchen backsplash can look beautiful — that is, unless the person who installed it did a poor job. Uneven tiling can suggest that the work was done by an amateur or someone who was in a rush and couldn’t be bothered to get it right. It might not seem like a big deal, but it can give you an idea of the care and artistry that went into other areas of the home.
You’ll want to pay attention to a few details when checking out the appliances in a house. One crucial detail is whether or not the sale of the home includes appliances. There is a chance that the seller doesn’t plan on parting with that shiny new refrigerator in the kitchen or the high-efficiency washing machine in the basement. If that’s the case, you might have to spend more to install necessary appliances in your new home.
Another thing worth checking out is the warranty on the appliances. If the seller is leaving a dishwasher, oven and washing machine to you, what happens if one breaks down?
Older appliances might make you think twice when purchasing a home. Although they might have a few years of usable life left in them, older machines are likely not to be nearly as energy efficient as newer models. Even if a house comes with a refrigerator or dishwasher, you might be better off replacing them with newer versions.
5. HVAC/Furnace/Air Conditioning
Similar to the appliances, it can be worth investigating the state of the house’s heating/cooling or HVAC system. Some older properties might not have central air conditioning, which can be a deal-breaker for some buyers. Some homes might have a furnace and an air conditioner, but the systems might be so old that they’re barely hanging on. Depending on the age and condition of the heating and cooling system, you might end up needing to repair them frequently or replace them after buying a house.
Like lead, asbestos is a material that was commonly used in houses up through the 1970s. If you’re looking at an older home, it’s likely that asbestos is somewhere in it.
Generally speaking, material that contains asbestos is only a cause for concern if it’s damaged. Damaged materials can release the asbestos into the air, and airborne asbestos is a health concern that can cause breathing difficulties and cancers.
If you see damaged ceiling tiles, insulation or other potentially asbestos-containing material during your initial viewing of a house or an inspection, that can be enough to make you reconsider putting in an offer.
If you suspect there is material that contains asbestos in the house, and that material isn’t damaged, your best option is to leave it alone. Should you decide to renovate or remodel the home after you buy it, you’ll want to hire a company that can test for asbestos. If you do have it, you’ll also need a company that will safely to remove asbestos. Asbestos detection and testing isn’t something you or most home inspectors can do.
What Can You Do If a House Has Problems?
You’ve found a home that seems great, but you noticed a few issues when looking at it, and a home inspection confirmed your concerns. Depending on the scope of the problems, they might be worth fixing to be able to live comfortably in your dream home. Haven Property Solutions offers environmental remediation services, including lead paint removal, mold remediation and more. We can remove mold and lead paint and clean the air ducts in your home, creating a safer and healthier place for you to live.
If you plan on remodeling your home and discover asbestos, we are certified to handle and remove asbestos and to dispose of it properly. Mold, lead and asbestos shouldn’t keep you from turning your house into your home. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.