You've found the listing for the perfect house. Enough rooms for all your kids, a patio to relax on after work and a giant tub in the master bath. You know before you even go to tour the home that this is the one.
Slow down. A home that looks great in an online listing may have serious issues once you see it in person. Some problems can't be captured in a photo, like a damp smell that tells you there are possible mold issues. Visiting an open house or going for a home tour is precisely to look for these sorts of issues.
What to Watch Out for During Your Home Tour
You won't have too much time to check out the inside and outside of a home before deciding whether you want to make an offer. So, know what to look for once you get there. Start with the following:
- Signs of leaky pipes: Leaks can occur in a multitude of places, and can run the gamut from an easy fix to a major issue. A leak under a bathroom sink may discolor the wood in the vanity below, and might be remedied with a new gasket. But a leak around the chimney that discolors the surrounding ceiling? Now you're talking about the big bucks of home repair. Even if there's no visible water, stains may indicate a leak that's been hastily repaired, or only occurs when it rains.
- Window issues: Windows that don't keep water out might need to be replaced along with the wall below. Likewise, windows that don't open could be expensive to repair. Be sure to note if the windows are single or double pane—it can make a big difference in your heating and cooling costs. Replacing windows generally ranges between $200 and $850 per window on average.
- Signs of a sloppy flip: House flippers may use trendy, inexpensive materials and place less focus on quality work. You can see signs of a quick, cheap flip with things like missing quarter round molding on newly installed floors, bubbling vinyl floors and messy caulking. A house somebody is trying to flip may be trying to hide issues with showy fixtures, so ask for more details about the renovations.
- Electrical problems: Don't be embarrassed to try out all the light switches. If you can, bring a receptacle tester or even just your phone charger to see if all of the outlets are in working order. Burn marks, broken outlets, warm walls and flickering lights may all be warning signs that deeper problems are present. If you get a chance, you might also want to take a look at the home's breaker box to make sure nothing seems amiss.
- Siding: Good siding requires more than just a nice coat of paint. Walk around the exterior of the house and check the joints of each exterior corner. This is where rot may show. Also check to see how close the siding comes to the earth around the house. Siding that's too near to the ground may rot or provide an opening for pests.
- Roof: Many roofs will last 25 years and the sellers should disclose the age of the roof before you even start looking around. Regardless of the roof's age, it's wise to look for moss growth, lifting shingles and any other openings for water intrusion. Also check around the base of the home for any crumbled gravel or roof tile fragments that may have fallen off.
- Gutters: Check for missing or loose gutters. Look to see if there is any water damage where gutters have been poorly attached. At the base of downspouts, check to see that downspout splashes have been put in place so that siding is not water-damaged.
- Wet spots in the yard: Don't write off wet spots in the yard as the result of a recent heavy rain. The water may be a result of poor drainage, underground leaks in water pipes or, worse, a break in the sewer line or septic system.
- Neighbor activity: Can you hear music blasting from the next-door neighbors? If they couldn't courteously turn it down for their current neighbor's open house, they likely won't behave much better after you move in.
- Pests: Signs of rodents may be cause for concern, but shouldn't necessarily be a deal breaker—a property that's been empty may have had some furry visitors. Be prepared to look for more serious signs of pests like termite damage, however. Termite damage will be visible in wood features of the home as well as walls and ceilings, which may appear swollen.
- Wildlife: See if you can scope out signs of animal life nearby. Do the neighbors have their trash cans locked or shut tight with a bungee cord? This could be a sign of racoons or even bears getting into the trash.
- Sirens, aircraft and other noise: Hearing sirens or the low rumble of plane engines? There may be an airport, firehouse or police station near the home. Decide if you can deal with hearing multiple noise disruptions every day, even in the middle of the night.
- Complex/HOA contract: Ask for a copy of the complex or homeowners association contract. If you're touring a condo or a home with an HOA, get a good look at how the surrounding homes have (or haven't) been maintained. It will give you some good clues about what will be expected of you. If every home looks like a carbon copy, you may not have much leeway with the HOA to do extensive landscaping or external remodeling.
- Records: Before attending a home tour, do some research. Search online appraisal databases to get an idea of what permits have been pulled for work on the house and when. This may reveal a home addition or a basement that needed to be fixed after a flood. You can also find building permits and records at your local city hall.
The Bottom Line
Finding problems during a home tour doesn't mean you have to give up what otherwise seems to be your dream property. It just means that you need to go into further talks with eyes wide open and a realistic accounting of just how much it will cost to get the house in good condition. You can request that repairs be completed by the current owner, or ask for a price reduction if you'd rather make any necessary repairs yourself.
You can save on loans for repairs and your future mortgage by having a higher credit score. Use Experian's free credit monitoring to track your score while house hunting so you can be confident that your finances are in good shape when you finally find the perfect property.