Inspect a Home Carefully Before Buying

You’re ready to join the frenzy and buy a home. Inventory is low at some price points in some location; you might find that home is quickly scooped up by other eager buyers. You might also be facing multiple bid situation with other house-hungry buyers.

However, pay attention and think your purchase through. No home is perfect, like outdated appliances and misguided paint choices. But certain types of issues are severe enough to be a deal-breaker. And if you overlook the wrong ones, your new home can quickly become a money pit. Consider that what may be too expensive or time-consuming to fix for you might be entirely acceptable for another buyer who has resources to fix the issue.

Flags that could be deal breakers

Foundation and Basement Problems.

Look to see if the house is showing a few minor cracks after settling or are there more significant cracks that may mean expensive trouble. Look at the floor joists. Sagging floors and slanted floors. Check the basement are there any watermarks?

Wiring or Electrical Issues.

It not out of the ordinary to encounter outdated or inferior electrical work in older homes. If it’s been a few decades since the systems have been updated, it could be a fire hazard. Electrical issues such as tube wiring or aluminum wiring found in older homes can be very expensive to replace.

What to look for: Check the main fuse box, make sure it’s in good working order. Also, pay attention to any exposed wiring and wire that do not lead anywhere. Wiring a house can range anywhere from $3000 to $20,000.


Plumbing is the guts of the house, and problems may not be immediately evident – although water stains, sagging floors, and mildew can be evidence of leaks.

More insidious and costly issues might be with sewer lines or older septic tanks. It’s been years since many sewer lines have been updated.

What to look for: When you are in the house, run the water in kitchens, bathrooms, and toilets. See that they drain properly and have good water pressure. Check the age, location, and condition of the water heater. Check for leaks or leaky toilets or sinks.

A major sewer line or septic tank repair. Can run anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 to replace or repair.

What to do about it: Should any of these issues be confirmed by a licensed plumber, it may be grounds for asking for a price reduction. If a major overhaul is required, you might think twice about making an offer. At the least make sure you can safely cover any extra costs without blowing your budget.

Fuse Box

What to look for. Check the main fuse box to make sure it is in good working order. Look for any exposed wiring and wires that do not lead anywhere.

Heating and Air Conditioning Systems.

HVAC problems can be costly. Make sure the seller has done an excellent job of maintaining the systems. Has it been cleaned and serviced on a regular basis? Have the filters been regularly changed? Ask for maintenance records.

What to do. Should you be concerned about the condition of the HVAC system. Hire a licensed HVAC service to inspect the system (s).

The Roof.

Well-maintained roofs can last up to 30 years or more – but poor quality shingles and shoddy installation can mean needing a new roof. Make sure you ask the seller how old the roof is, and inspect the gutters to make sure the drainage systems are in working order. You also want to look out for dry rot – often caused by poor ventilation. Dry rot and poor ventilation can cause sagging and crumbling. Look for cracked or missing tile or shingles.

What it could cost you. Replace the roof can be a costly setback. A new roof can run anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000, depending on the size of the house you are purchasing.

What to do about it. Just because a roof is old is not typically grounds to ask a seller to reduce the purchase price of the home. But you may have room to negotiate if the roof has not been maintained and if repairs are necessary to fix visible leaks or other significant issues. More often than not you will probably be the one to replace or repair the roof.

Termites or other pests.

Current or past infestations of termites, carpenter ants and other pests may weaken the home’s structural integrity. Ask the seller if they have a transferable termite bond on the property.

What to do about it. Have a licensed pest control service do a complete inspection of the home before you purchase.

The flood zone.

The home you want to place an offer on may not be near or next to a river, beach or dam. However, that does not mean the property is not at risk. Flood zones have become increasingly important. Purchasing a home in a high-risk flood zone can mean a dramatic increase in insurance cost, as well as more difficulty selling the home. Flood insurance can cost you, depending on the flood zone, insurance premiums can vary by hundreds or even thousands of dollars annually.

What to look for. Speak with local authorities about conditions in the area. Neighbors know which street typically flood and which do not. Some homes always have problems. Ask the seller if they have installed French drains or a sump pump. Ask questions.

What to do about it. Plug the address of the home into FEMA’s map database. Get more information on what your flood insurance might cost is the house in a flood plain at the National Flood Insurance Program website.

If you dream home location is in a region at risk, assess the pros and cons. You may find that the seller is more willing to negotiate, but you also have to factor in both the increased risk of damage both personal and property and the ongoing extra costs for flood insurance.

The house’s history.

Poorly executed renovations, lousy plumbing repairs or faulty drywall can be costly issues. Knowing the history of the home you want to purchase is useful information. Ask questions. When were repairs done? Ask if a licensed contractor completed the repairs. You might also ask about former owners and the surrounding area. Find out about the crime in the area.

What to look for. The “Seller’s Property Disclosure” will be your best guide to recent renovations and repairs. If the seller’s disclosure does not provide the details, you would like to know ask questions.

When it comes to a death in the home. Sellers do not typically disclose, especially if a certain number of years have passed. Requirements for disclosure of this detail vary by state so ask? Your REALTOR® or sales associate can help you with this detail. You can also check online crime reports and databases for information on the neighborhood.

Handling Deal Breakers.

When you find issues, and it means two things. (1) Negotiate repair cost with the seller or (2) Repair costs will be an out-of-pocket expense for you if you purchase the home “as is.” Many first time home buyers cannot absorb a hit of several thousand dollars after buying a home. So know your budget before agreeing to purchase the home anyway. Even if you love the house and are feeling pressured to move, financial realities may make you reconsider whether you can afford a particular house, no matter how much you love it. Before your final decision, to purchase, check with a reputable contractor, or maybe even a structural engineer about the likely cost of repairs.

If you are buying a home, your REALTOR® or sales associate can help you calmly assess whether you should regard inspection report findings as a deal breaker. Or view them as future projects. The REALTOR® or sales associate may even suggest reputable contractors and licensed contractors that help you with estimates of what repairs costs.