This is a tough one. You really need to look at a house in two ways as you tour it – emotionally and practically. The emotional part comes easy. Could you picture yourself living there? Do you love the layout? Is the yard awesome? Is it super close to work or friends or family? Does it have the coveted “open floor plan” you’re dying for? Is the kitchen updated? Does it have the number of bedrooms you want/need? Can your car fit in the garage?
The practical view is harder. The emotional view really, really wants to just take over when you’re looking at a possible home to buy. It is important to also look critically at at least the major elements of the house. I realize that you are not a professional home inspector or realtor (otherwise you would not be reading this site!) but there are things that we would absolutely look A LOT closer at if we ever purchase another property.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to start.
General Things To Take Note Of
- Anything outside that looks wrong – like porch posts leaning, cracks in exterior foundation, etc.
- Any holes in the exterior or roof that you can see from the ground
- Rot around exterior of windows or doors
- Anything that looks like mold or mildew on the outside of the house
- Safety issues with decks or porches (loose handrails, bad steps, rotted wood)
- Do the other homes in the neighborhood have any of these things
- Tree or shrub roots pushing under foundation of the house
- Moldy or musty smell
- Extreme artificial fragrance (like over use of fabric sprays or plugins)
- Visible mold or mildew anywhere
- Water staining on ceiling or walls
- Cracks in walls or ceilings
- Soft spots in floors
- Rotting around windows or doors
- Any window or door that you cannot open
- Evidence of, or actual leaks
- Evidence of, or actual water in a basement or crawl space
- Anything that looks like it was recently painted over or repaired or replaced (there should be documentation of what was done)
- Anything that looks out of place – like a piece of rubber molding when the rest of the room has wood trim, for example
- Look for service records right on the HVAC and water heater – it will often tell you when the unit was installed and how often it has been serviced
I am not suggesting that you act as your own inspector. You should absolutely hire a qualified professional if you find a property you want to buy. But, having these things in mind as you walk through a house can alert you to items to ask more questions about and/or point your inspector to during their inspection. Believe me, the last thing you want are after move in surprises!
Here is a real world example of what I’m talking about and something that we definitely were not thinking about at first. This will not apply to every type of property, but for houses it probably should. Our master bathroom had no exhaust fan in it when we looked at and bought the house – not something you’d necessarily notice if you were not specifically looking for it. It had two windows, one of which opened. The code back when this home was built, apparently did not require an exhaust fan be put in if the bathroom had a window that opened. I guess the idea was that you could open the window when showering to let the steam and humidity get out of the room? Here’s the rub though – it gets cold here for quite a few months. Who in their right mind is opening the bathroom window when it is 30 degrees outside? No one.
So, the bathroom never had the humidity released, at least not for significant portions of each year. We saw this in another home we looked at on the same street a year prior. In the first home, which we ultimately did not buy, it was really obvious that there was a moisture problem – there was visible mold and the ceiling paint was completely peeling in the master bathroom. In the home we bought, all of that had been covered up with stain blocking paint and drywall repairs. Had we known then what we know now about moisture issues, we would have asked a lot more questions. Our bathroom ended up having toxic mold, primarily from water leaks, but the ongoing humid environment contributed to the mold too.
Pay attention to these types of things on your house tours! Let your realtor know that you care about this stuff too. It is easy for them to also focus on just the emotional side of things. Part of their job should be to help you identify potential issues with the house, or certainly to not just try to gloss over things that you are concerned about or questioning.