We are in the thick of the real estate season and many of you are looking at homes but not quite knowing what to keep an eye out for. Well, today my dear dad has joined us to give some sage, tried and true advice. He gave me a list of things to look for or check out when we were looking to buy our first home. I realized after we put an offer in on our home just how useful this tool was! Be sure to check these boxes before you pay the inspector a couple hundred (non-refundable) dollars to tell you what you could have told yourself.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the charm of an old house, but it’s really important to look at the not-so-pretty things like structure. If your charming house is sitting on top of a crumbling foundation, you’re not going to be happy with your decision to buy the home. Here’s a few things to check out when you’re first looking at the home:
- Are there cracks in the basement floors/walls? If so, there’s probably some settling happening (which is typical), but be sure to ask about the extent of the damage. Mike Holmes has a great article on different types of cracks in basements.
- Are there cracks in the interior walls? It could be more settling or a deeper structural issue.
- Does the hardwood floor sag in certain areas? Take a look in the basement below and see what the support beams look like. They might need to be supported by sister joists or replaced.
- Are there lumps or buckles in the floor? This could be a sign that the floors were not properly installed or that there is a moisture problem somewhere.
Doors & Windows
Doors and windows are pretty easily replaced, but it’s always something to take into account concerning budget. Maybe one or two windows would need replaced—no biggie. But if you’re replacing a whole house of windows, you might want to consider that in your budget and your final offer amount.
- What is the condition of windows? Are there some replacements and some old? Odds are that you’ll need to replace them eventually for insulation purposes if they are older.
- Is there any water damage on windows? This could be another sign that window replacement isn’t far off!
- Look on the outside of the window, where the glass meets the wood, is the (typically white) layer peeling off? You’ll likely need to re-glaze around each window.
- Are there water stains on/ near exterior doors? This is a pretty easy fix, assuming that weather stripping is a viable solution.
- Do all the room and closet doors work smoothly without rubbing? It’s like trying out a zipper on a new purse…you just gotta make sure, even though you look silly!
Heat & Air
I’ve learned about heating and air conditioning the hard way! When you’re looking at a home for the first (or second) time, make sure to take the heating and cooling into consideration. We thought that we would be fine without air conditioning (yeah right…) and oil baseboard heat. We weren’t aware that the heating system wasn’t installed correctly and would stay at 85 degrees All. Winter. Long. So, I beg you, please look into whatever heating and cooling system your potential home has and make sure that it works properly!
- What is the age of the heating and/or air conditioning system?
- What kind of fuel does the heating require? Oil, natural gas, electric? Be sure to do your research on what general costs are for maintaining and filling each type of system. If you’re thinking you’ll need to replace the system, be sure to add that into your budget before making an offer! A low estimate would start at $10,000! Get some help figuring out what type of system you like on my heating and cooling post.
My Dad has done the electric work for every person we know, and I completely trust him for our own home. Here’s a few of his tips for making sure the wiring in the home is safe.
- Can you see any exposed wires? If so, check and see if the covering is new vinyl or old fabric. Old fabric is a clue that you’ll may need to re-wire at some point.
- What brand is your breaker box? If it’s Federal Pacific, you’ll absolutely have to have it replaced. It’s a fire hazard and there really isn’t an option but to replace it..
- What size is your breaker box? Generally you’re looking for 200 amps or more.
The outside of the home is just as important as the inside, make sure to take a thorough walk around the home and property and get answers to these questions:
- Does the earth around the home look well graded? If not, you’re looking at water entering the basement.
- Where do water spouts lead to? You want them to direct water far away from the home’s foundation.
- Are there cracks, pinches, bucking, or cracking on the exterior walls? If so, you’re looking at some fixes like re-pointing.
Roof & Chimney
Roofs and Chimneys are big money pits if they aren’t in good shape—roofs take a lot of material and labor if they need replaced and chimney repairs are just never cheap! Make sure to look into any concerning issues that come from these questions:
- Is there a chimney? If so, look for any bricks (especially at the top) that are missing or out of line. This could hint at water leakage.
- What type of vent is on the roof?
- Are there potential spots for leaking such as skylights, chimneys, or other storm damage?
- Is the roof in good shape? Are the shingles, gutters, and flashing in working order?
- How old is the roof and how soon might it need replaced?
And finally, the basement! The basement is like that friend that just can’t keep a secret—it’ll tell you most everything you need to know. So, be sure to take some time in the basement and look around for answers to these questions:
- Are there any water stains on the floor or walls? If so, it’s a sign that there has been flooding and likely will be in the future. Be sure to ask about sump pumps and other flood equipment.
- What is the ceiling height in the basement? This is an incredibly important question to ask if you’re planning to finish the basement or add heating/cooling ducts in a home. For an idea of what a basement renovation might take, make sure to see all my great posts on basement remodeling!
I really hope that this proves to be a great starting point for buyers, like yourself, to get a feel for what they are getting into. Just because you see one of these problems in a home (which you likely will) doesn’t mean that the house is out of the question. It just means that you should consider the cost of repairs when making your offer. Best of luck to you in all your home buying endeavors, I’d love to hear about what kinds of things you look out for when considering an older home in the comments below!