You see the ads, you go to the open house and you fall in love with the house. The shiny granite countertop and sparkling stainless steel appliances are an attractive selling feature. The fresh smell of paint in the living room and dining room is intoxicating. Just don't rely on your real estate agent to tell you everything wrong with the house. Your real estate agent although required by law to look after your best interest, has a vested interest in helping you buy the house. As a former real estate appraiser I have inspected hundreds of houses and have truly seen it all. I am going to point out what you the purchaser should look for to protect yourself against some expensive repairs.
Start in the basement and look for water stains and cracks. This is where you can tell a lot about the house. Although it's normal for basements to have some small cracks here and there, larger ones should set off alarm bells. If you see a significant or large crack in the foundation, ask questions and be on your guard for what comes next. This is a sign of significant settling that has gone on over the last say 10+ years. It is also an expensive repair to have the yard dug up and then fixed. Count on a minimum of say, $2,000 to start. If your agent says its not a big deal, put on your best running shoes and run, don't walk away from the deal. You will thank your lucky stars later.
Next, look at the heating equipment while in the basement. Look at the tag on the side of the gas furnace that says date of test. This is the installation date of the furnace and is a clue as to how old the house is. The same goes for hot water boilers as well. Look for any built up corrosion around the furnace and listen for any excessive noise coming from the furnace. If it lasts more than say a minute, just be aware of it and put in the back of your mind for recall later. Take notes as well, as was told to me from a former senior appraiser, 'in court he who has the best notes wins'. Take pictures as well of any and all deficiencies and enquire about them.
Check the electrical panel and see if it is breakers or fuses. If it is fuses, then you might have some work ahead of you. While in this area check the main breaker at the top of the panel, this should tell you the electrical service of the house. 100 Amps is the minimum standard, anything less than that is inadequate. With fuses it's a little different, check on the outside cabinet on a steel embossed tag for the amount of electrical service. Also be on the alert for knob and tube wiring. Knob and tube is an old standard from the 1800's to the 1930's where single insulated copper conductors ran within wall or ceiling cavities, pass through drilled joist and stud holes via protective porcelain tubes and supported their length on nailed down knob insulators. If you see a house with knob and tube wiring, you had better ask for a substantial discount on the price of the house. Otherwise run from this house as your insurance company will ask for significant premium if you can get insurance at all. On top of that they will want to inspect the house first before they say yes to insuring your home. The inspector works for the insurance company and will tell you what has to be fixed. Failure to undertake the necessary repairs may void your home insurance policy.
Next examine the main and upper levels while looking at the ceilings, walls and floors. Look for old water stains on the ceilings and around windows. These are another obvious tell tale sign of water coming in from outside or up stairs or the roof. If you see water stains, inquire as to the cause of the stain. It could have been from an overflow in the tub a long time ago and the problem has since been fixed. That's an acceptable answer, however, just be aware that it may be more serious than the homeowner is letting on. At anytime during your inspection you feel uncomfortable with the house, walk away from the deal and trust your gut.
When going through the kitchen, look for signs of wear and tear on the floor. It is a good indication of how well the house has been maintained. If the kitchen is outdated, that's okay too. I have seen a lot of 'outdated' kitchens that were in pristine condition compared to the beautifully updated but water stained kitchen ceiling and floors. Sometimes, simple is good and so is being out dated. This is an indication that the homeowner was prudent and spent money only when and where needed. Remember you can live with the paint being a different colour, but not a leaky kitchen sink. Having an outdated kitchen gives the purchaser more leverage on the selling price. As in 'we like the house but, the kitchen and bathrooms are really outdated. unless of course you can do something on the price'. Be sure to emphasize this with your agent to relay to the listing agent and the seller.
A quick walk around the outside can tell a lot about the house and how well it has been maintained. Too often I have seen a beautiful interior only to find some of the exterior brick work crumbling or near to it. Pay close attention to the shingles on the roof. This is where the rubber hits the road and in terms of priorities, this is tops. Curling roof shingles indicates that the house is need of a new roof and soon. The longer it sits, the worse it gets. It is a good idea to ask how old the roof is. If the answer is 'new' ask how new is new. A 2 year old roof is not 'new' but a roof done 6 months ago is. Typically an asphalt shingled roof lasts 20 years +/-.
Finally, observe the condition of the driveway and garage floor. If the driveway is really broken into pieces and the garage floor is cracked up, it is a foregone conclusion that this will cost a bit of money. This is acceptable because this repair can be done at your leisure and on a list of priorities, this one ranks near the bottom. It is not mission critical to have this done right now, although it would be nice. If everything is to your liking at this point, and there are no major deficiencies go ahead and make an offer on the house.
Don't be in a hurry, repeat, don't be in a rush to plunk down your hard earned money on a building with four walls and a roof. If the listing agent says 'it won't last long', don't buy into it. There are plenty of other houses on the market. Go back and look at the house again if your not sure, it is amazing what one misses on their initial inspection. Don't be afraid to walk away if something doesn't feel right. It is better to loose on buying a house only to later find that the new homeowner is in court with the former one and their real estate agent.
About Author / Additional Info:
Mathew Jazenko is CEO of MRJ Financial Solutions and is dedicated to improving YOUR bottom line. I welcome your questions/comments: firstname.lastname@example.org or http://mrjfinancialsolutions.ca