While viewing homes for sale, what should you focus on? First, there’s the obvious – Is the home in a good location? Will the layout fit your lifestyle? Is there enough storage? Enough bedrooms? Baths? Sometimes you walk up to a home and instantly know it’s not the one for you. Other times, you need to be a little more discerning and keep an eye out for red flags that may hint toward potential issues. While a home’s layout or fixtures may be exactly what you’ve dreamt about, you also need to make sure the home’s system and structure are up to snuff.
Here are some red flags to keep an eye out for next time you’re viewing homes:
1. Fresh Paint in Only One Area. Many homeowners will do some updating before putting the property on the market. A fresh coat of interior paint is a popular choice, because it’s relatively low-cost and appealing to buyers who want a move-in ready home. However, if you’re walking through a home and see that one area, like a wall or ceiling, was recently painted, chances are that it was to cover something up.
If you are interested in the home, it’s recommended that your Realtor asks the selling agent why the area was painted. You may also need to ask the home inspector to pay special attention to that area while he or she is looking at the home. There may have been a leak or evidence of some other damage there.
2. Cracks in the Walls and Foundation. Homes settle over time and that can cause cracks. However, large cracks or multiple cracks can indicate a serious structural problem that needs to be addressed by an engineer. Cracks can also create avenues for termites and other pests, as well as water, to enter the home. Even more problems could be on the horizon.
A structural engineer can inspect the home and advise you on the best way to fix the issue, if it’s installing reinforcements, raising the house, etc. The home may also need a pest treatment and good cleanup. Depending on the position of the seller, they may pay for this work. It all depends on how badly they need to sell, because it can be a costly fix. Otherwise, you may need to decide if the home is worth the investment.
3. Missing Trim and Finishes. Home updating is very important for maintaining the value of a property, but shoddy work can mean you’ll be spending more money down the line. If you aren’t a plumbing or electrical expert, you may not be able to quickly identify issues, but one way you can get an idea if corners were cut on a project is to look for missing trim and finishes.
People figure that if you can’t immediately see it then it won’t make a difference, but if they’ve left gaps open under the cupboards where bugs can get in or didn’t finish tiling behind the stove, or wasn’t consistent with the molding throughout the house, chances are that they’ve cut corners in the home systems and not just the cosmetic work.
4. Mold. Damp areas in the home – showers, attics, basements, and areas around heating/cooling units – can be centers for mold growth. It can also pop up if a home has plumbing or flooding issues. It comes in all kinds of colors (white to black) and shapes (string-like to resembling dirt). But mold growth isn’t always obvious and if you see signs of it, that may be an indication of a larger hidden colony.
If you see any signs of mold growth, you should reconsider if the home is right for you and your family. Mold can cause health issues, including skin irritation, watery eyes, sneezing, headaches, memory loss, and more. It can be removed, but the process can be tedious and expensive. However, if the home has the perfect layout and location, it may be worth the extra expenses.
5. Odors. Bad smells in a home can a sign of lingering problems and poor maintenance, including mold, pet damage, dirty ducts, etc. That may seem obvious to buyers. What’s not so obvious is that good smells can also be a red flag that there’s something wrong with the home.
A commonly advertised real estate sales tactic is baking a fresh batch of cookies in the home before a showing. The smell elicits good memories that leave a positive impression on the buyer and, hey, that’s not so bad. Who doesn’t love fresh cookies? But other sellers may use plug-in air fresheners to try and cover bad odors. So, if the air fresheners seem to be a little overwhelming, you may want to request a second showing without them.
6. Stains and Burn Marks. A good indication of problems are stains or burn marks on the walls, ceilings, or floors. This is why most owners try to paint over them. However, they’re not always a sign of a current issue. The root cause could have very well been fixed, but it’s important for your Realtor to ask why the marks are present and have them checked out by a home inspector.
7. Locked Doors. Ideally, all rooms and closets in a home will be left unlocked so a potential buyer can view them. So, what is a person to think when a door is left locked? Oftentimes, it’s because the family pet is being locked up to keep them from causing any issues during the showing. Other times, the owner is either protecting valuables or trying to keep the buyers from seeing something unsightly.
If you’re at a home showing and find a locked door, the good news is that there’s always a second showing. If you’re seriously interested in the home, you can request the door be left unlock. If the sellers need to, they can move the pet or the valuables to another room. If they refuse, then they’re obviously trying to hide something and this may not be the home for you.
8. Signs of Pests. The visual indicators of a pest infestation are varied. They can be fecal remnants from rats, holes from snakes, or chewed wood and mud tunnels from termites. You may not see any signs during a showing, but if you do, it may be a sign that the home hasn’t been well-maintained. Luckily, pest inspections are a common step during the Due Diligence Period of the Offer to Purchase. Once the problem is pinpointed, it can be resolved before the home is closed on. The cost depends on the pest and amount of damage the home has incurred.
9. Bad Grading or Drainage. If the property seems low, there’s no drainage features, or the yard slopes toward the home, that could indicate potential problems with rainwater. This is a very serious issue to have in our neck of the…beach. One bad storm and the home’s yard may suddenly become your new waterfront property.
When there’s a question about grading/drainage, we suggest taking a drive by the home after a rain. Fixing the issue can be as simple as rerouting gutters or as complex as completely redeveloping/hardscaping the yard. That’s where it gets to be expensive.
10. Multiple For Sale Signs. Did you notice a lot of for sale signs on your way to the showing? That may be a red flag that people are not happy living there. It could be a bad HOA, inconsiderate neighbors, crime, declining schools, or an upcoming public improvement that will affect the lifestyle. Make sure you do your due diligence before purchasing or you may be buying into an unfortunate situation.
Most of the red flags and issues listed here can be remedied. You just need to decide if the solution is within your budget or if the seller is willing to incur some costs for the sake of the sale. What this all boils down to is 1) you need to have some healthy expectations when you enter the negotiation process and 2) you should always get a home inspection (at the least). You don’t want to recognize the red flags when it’s too late. You may even save yourself from having to pay for an inspection on a property that has issues beyond what you’re willing to do.
If you have any questions about buying or selling real estate in the Wilmington area, give us a call or send us a message through our Contact page.