What to look for when buying a home
I'm sure you have seen all those TV shows where the tv personality renovates a home and then has an OPEN HOUSE where potential buyers walk through the home saying things like "Oh honey, look how nice", "Wow, I love this kitchen" and "This place is perfect for us". But have you ever wondered what you SHOULD be looking at when you walk through a home that you are considering for purchase or rent? In this article I will discuss several of the things that I look at, as an investor and also as a home owner.
Look BEFORE you go look-
Most everyone knows what they are looking for in a new home to purchase; how many bedrooms and bathrooms do we want, how big should the home be, what part of town do we like, etc... Aside from these basic headliner descriptions what other things should you be looking at and considering before ever stepping foot on the property? Here are a few suggestions
1.Age of "Expensive" components of the home - In the state of SC, every seller (with a few exceptions) must publish whats called a "Sellers Disclosure" along with the home listing. In this disclosure, it lists things such as the age of the roof, the age of the HVAC system (both units if there is an air handler inside and a condenser outside) and lots of other good information that may not appeal to the eyes, however may appeal to the pocketbook a few years down the road. For instance if the roof hasn't been replaced in 20 yrs, regardless how it looks from the ground, get ready to spend about $5-10 in the next few years or run the risk of leaks which leads to all sorts of bad things...
2. HOA covenants and restrictions - Do you operate a small business which is based from your home? Maybe a plumbing company with a white van with commercial lettering on it, or a consulting company that requires customers to be in and out of your home? Guess what, a lot of HOA's will fine you and force you to move if you do. Its very important to know what you can and cant do in and around your own home before even considering a purchase. Want to build a 10x20 shed in the back yard for your lawnmower... not in my neighborhood you don't. You will get fined and be forced to remove it if you do. If you want to leave your garage door open, leave your trash can in the front of the house, paint your house a nice light yellow color, use red mulch instead of black mulch, park your RV in the drive way... better read those HOA covenants. They can be found online with ease if you know the subdivision name.
3. Flood Zone - Flood zones are, as you guessed it, specific to very low areas and areas near bodies of water. If the home your looking to purchase is in a flood zone, be ready to pay and ADDITIONAL $1000 or more in flood insurance on top of your normal home owners insurance. And just because you think the home is sitting on a little hill and isn't within a mile of water... I strongly suggest you check the FEMA website because you may be surprised.
4. School Zones - Here is one I never thought about until I had kids and they started approaching elementary school age. I never knew there was so much variation from school to school within a school district and even more variation from school district to school district. There are several websites out there that you can analyze each school down to the average number of students in a class to the average test scores for that school. Unless you like paying tens of thousands of dollars for private school, this one could be a biggie
So do your homework before you even go and look at a property and save yourself the time and effort if you know that home isn't going to work for you.
Once you Arrive -
You already know the basics of the home, you have seen the pictures of the home. Don't get caught up in the paint colors and the home decor in the home, that can all be changed very easily. I have seen people walk out of a house bc they hated the color of the walls in the living area. $50 in paint and a weekend fixes that problem. Here is what you should look for.
1. Signs of foundation damage - Most, if not all, foundations shift with time however you don't want one that has shifted enough to cause structural issues with the home. Regardless if the home is build on a slab foundation or crawlspace, its sometimes easy to spot signs of movement. If brick, are there cracks in the brick (or mortar) around the exterior of the home. Walk around the entire home and look. As your walking through the interior of the home, look up at all the corners of the door frames, are there any cracks in the drywall or signs of drywall repair? Look at the windows, are they square or do they look a little crooked. Often times windows are last thing that people fix to hide foundation issues b/c windows are not cheap to replace (compare to mudding cracked drywall and adding mortar to cracking brick).
2. Signs of wood rot or termites - Unless you plan on crawling under the home which I advise you not to do, your ability to detect wood rot will be limited however I have seen that a great amount of homes on the market are surprising listed without having obvious rot repaired. The most common find is soft floors around a water source such as a kitchen sink, bathtub or washing machine. Soft floors mean plumbing leak, which means rotten subfloor and often times rotten floor joists. And let me tell you, contracts are not cheap when it comes to jacking up houses and replacing floor joists.
3. Mold - Have you ever walked into a home and it just smelled like an old wet sock? That was probably mold. Mold is caused from moisture and it could be anywhere in the home. People are often times scared by the word "MOLD" however clearing up mold can be as simple as treating the area with a chemical spray and applying proper ventilation to allow it to dry. Other times it could be very, very, very bad. So bottom line if you smell mold or see mold, be sure to hire a professional to determine the severity of the situation.
4. Asbestos and lead based paint - If your buying a home that was build Pre- 1977, there is a good chance it could have lead based paint on the walls or asbestos somewhere in the home. Asbestos can be found in insulation, shingles, siding and even your flooring. If you ever plan on redoing an asbestos floor, siding or roof, be ready to pay the piper because there are special precautions that must be used to dispose of asbestos materials and it will not be cheap, I promise. Lead based paint has been linked to serious health problems in children and adults so proper removal or encapsulation of the paint would be required.
5. Neighbors - This may seem similar to neighborhood but im talking about your direct neighbors on either side of the property. Looks for signs around the property that show the current owners may not have been best friends with their neighbor. Are there 2 rows of fencing side by side on the property line? If so, its possible one neighbor would let the other use the same fence posts... not a good sign. Is there a huge 12 foot privacy fence between the 2 houses? I wonder why?Is there a wheel barrow full of empty beer cans beside an outdoor firepit in the back yard at the neighbors? If so, get ready for some long nights and weekends. Are there 2 dog houses with running paths wore in the ground. I love animals but outside dogs that bark all night, no thank you. Is there a detached garage with race car parts or motorcycle parts leaned up against it. Hope you like loud exhaust!
The above list is in no way a comprehensive list of things to consider when purchasing a home. Sometimes you walk into a property and it just "feels" right and, yes, that is perfectly fine, just make sure your feelings and emotions don't lead you to make a horrible financial decision by purchasing a money pit. As much as you love a house, there will always be a another one come along that you will love just as much or more so don't overpay and dont buy a lemon just because the home feels right. Use all of your senses (and your realtor) before and during the walkthrough, discuss the property in depth with your family and realtor, and make a smart, rational decision and things will work out just fine!
Good Luck and happy hunting!