You know the phrase, “never judge a book by its cover?” The same rings true when it comes to shopping for a home. We tend to fall in love with (or are averted from) a home based on the exterior — or even a few photos we see online. But there’s often much more to be discovered, whether it be untapped potential or hidden damages. The best way to truly get a feel for a home is to have a look yourself via a home tour. Most likely, you’ll be “taking it all in” during your first home tour — getting a feel for the layout, the overall space, location and if the home delivers any of your wish list items. In some cases, maybe you’ve already toured the home and have fallen in love. No matter the circumstances, it’s good practice to attend your home inspection where you can spend more time inspecting the home. Discovering damages or issues that could cause you problems in the future is paramount. Unforeseen home repairs can get costly and the last thing that any of us want during the home buying process is additional costs or fees. Get ready to tap into your inner investigator as you keep an eye out for the following when doing a home tour:
Tip: Bring a camera, pen, paper or some way to record what you uncover. It might even be beneficial to create a checklist that you can carry with you. OR thoroughly review your home inspection report.
Remember, the home you’re considering will go through a professional inspection, but it’s always a good idea to raise concerns when you see them and to ask a professional. Make sure to take good notes yourself and to be involved.
1. Visible damage
There will be some damages that are easy to see with the naked eye — but may not always be eye-catching! Some common things to look for would be cracks in the ceilings, walls, or floors that could be caused by a poor or unstable foundation. You may also find cracks in fixtures, windows, etc.
Also look for stains on the ceilings, walls, or floors. These could be indicators of past or present water damage, mold, or excess moisture. Other visible damages may include windows.
2. The subtle things
While on your tour, take a moment to sit in each room and just observe. Maybe even close the eyes. What do you hear or smell? Do the rooms feel bright or dark? Do you feel comfortable? Are there walls that you don’t like? Are there things that you already want to change? How much would these changes cost? If there’s a lot to change right off the bat, then it’s important to keep in mind the additional, immediate costs you may face, or consider talking to your loan officer about a Renovation.
During a home tour, don’t feel like you’re overstepping or being rude by testing everything. Below is a list of things you’ll want to inspect:
Try the lights switches
Flush the toilets and check the piping
Run the sinks and showers (note the water pressure and temperature)
Look under all sinks
Start the dishwasher
Start the microwave
Start the oven and turn on the stove (check each burner)
Start the washing machine and dryer
Turn the HVAC on and off (listen for any odd sounds)
4. The year of the home
Many older homes could have been built with what we now consider as hazardous materials or have been renovated haphazardly over the years. If touring an older home, ask if the home still has asbestos insulation or lead paint. Older homes are also known for having older electrical and plumbing systems. You may ask to have a contractor or professional join you in your home tour to properly evaluate the quality of these systems to see if they need to be replaced — and most importantly, costs associated.
TIP: Keep in mind, not all older homes have issues. The sellers could have replaced or reconciled any hazardous materials or outdated electrical and plumbing.
5. Outdoor features and structures
While outside, inspect the overall grounds of the home as well as the exterior features that are especially expensive to repair. If applicable, check the state of the septic tank, water heater, well, HVAC system, garage, garage door, porches, deck, crawl space, the foundation (slab), sheds, fencing, etc. Be sure to not only look at the state of these items, but how they’re operating.
6. Threats from mother nature
Keep an eye out for the home’s proximity to natural hazards. Below are some examples:
Older or dying trees
Waterways subject to flooding
Landscaping that may cause flooding or pooling of rainwater
Insurance may cover some issues mentioned above, but for others, you may need to pay for additional home coverage to protect your home. If it fits in within your budget, then it isn’t a problem to consider buying a home for existing issues that would require attention. In some cities, some of the natural hazards are inevitable (such as flooding), therefore protection is important. But if it’s too much of a risk, then you may want to consider a home in a different location.
7. The neighbors and neighborhood
A pivotal factor when touring and assessing a home is both the neighborhood as well as your direct neighbors. Be mindful, it’s not just if you like the folks or not — but also the state of their home and their property. Are there any trees or structures on their property that could pose a threat to yours? What does the condition of their home look like? Are there any loud sounds that you hear from the neighbors or the surrounding areas? In this category, I recommend coming back at different times of day to really assess how the neighborhood flows.
8. The roof
Costs to repair a roof could be — well, through the roof. Be prepared, inspecting the roof of your prospective new home may be a tough job. According to the American Society of Home Inspectors, there is no exact specification on how roof inspections are conducted.
At the conclusion of your home tour or inspection, review your findings. Did you uncover current damages or malfunctions? Are there concerns that are OK now, but could evolve into bigger issues over time — and are you willing to foot that bill? Are any of these damages things you’d be willing to fix, but may help you negotiate a lower price? Depending on these answers, you’ll be able to make a more educated decision to move forward, or walk away.