Danger Ahead: Warning Signs of a House’s Condition
You may have found a home you’ve fallen in love with, but you must assess the house’s condition as part of the purchase decision. Don’t let these flashing red lights escape your notice, or you could pay thousands in repairs down the road.
Examine the seller’s disclosure of property condition
Most states require sellers to complete a form that discloses the house’s condition and reports structural repairs and past damage from water leaks, wood-destroying insects and more. Examine this report from your seller closely. Ask about reported damages and ask to see repair invoices from contractors.
Have the home inspected
Having the home professionally inspected is crucial to determining the house’s condition. The inspector will note even small issues to provide a comprehensive report on the property’s condition. He will use the seller’s disclosure as part of his work. Take the condition report, the inspection and your own questions into account when deciding whether to buy the home.
Look at the county appraisal district’s records of past ownership of the home. If the house has been turned over frequently in short periods of three years or less, this could be a sign of ongoing problems that past owners have unloaded by selling. The seller’s disclosure report may also show that a particular problem kept recurring.
For older homes, inquire about the presence of asbestos and lead paint. These substances weren’t banned until the late 1970s.
Prior to 1976, plumbing pipes were made of cast iron, which deteriorates over time, particularly the main sewer line. If there’s any doubt about what pipes are made of, have a professional inspect them using a camera mounted on a probe line.
Because copper wiring prices were high in the 1960s and 70s, many homes were built during that time with aluminum electrical wiring. This turned out to be dangerous, sometimes leading to fires before it was banned in the early 1980s.
Looking for clues of damage
Bring a marble or a rubber ball and place it in various spots on hard floors. If the ball rolls away, the floor has a slope. This doesn’t necessarily mean foundation problems. It could be that the house has merely settled but not shifted. But a sloping floor may need pulling up and replacing at some point, depending on how severe it is.
Signs of potential foundation issues are doors and windows that are difficult to open or close, diagonal cracks in Sheetrock (not straight vertical cracks in the seams), and jagged cracks up outside walls, especially if bricks and mortar are broken. The presence of fresh stucco mortar on the foundation may indicate the seller is hiding cracks.
Look for water stains on Sheetrock walls and ceilings. If a ceiling has been freshly painted, ask why. Warped Sheetrock can also indicate past water damage. Be attentive to musty or moldy odors, especially if the owner is using deodorizers or scents to mask them.
Mud tubes on the foundation from the ground up indicate termites. Warped or soft window interior trim can also indicate the presence of wood-destroying insects, or water leaks.
Work done right
If the house has been structurally remodeled, the owner who made the changes should have obtained building permits and inspections. Ask about them and check the property inspection report to see if work was done without them. Not having the proper permits and inspections can raise expensive problems with local code enforcement and with the property appraisal district.