Home Buying Guide: Red Flags When Buying a Home

Check out this home buying guide by watching out for these signs that something might be amiss with the house you're interested in.

It's exciting to shop for a new home, and even more exciting to find one you love. But don't let that blind you to the little signs of potential problems that could haunt you long after the excitement of moving into a new home has worn off.

So what kinds of situations should send up red flags when you're house hunting? Some are more obvious than others.

"The first thing we look at is the overall condition. If the house is just a total wreck when people are showing it, it's probably not been cared for overall. There may be a lot of deferred maintenance," said Curt Johnson, a REALTOR® with Century 21 Award in San Diego, Calif., a member of the RealEstate.com broker network.

Johnson said cracks on both sides of a wall, such as on either side of a door, can indicate a cracked slab or shifting foundation. So can doors or windows that do not open or close properly. It's worth further investigation, he said. And that's not all.

"Any time there is a musty smell, or just a sense of moisture in the property, it is a huge red flag," he said. "We're always concerned about mold issues."

Also look for signs of water damage in the ceiling, which can indicate a roof leak.

Sometimes the red flags aren't in the house itself but in the neighborhood.

A lot of For Sale signs can be a red flag that the neighborhood is in decline and property values are falling, said Sandy Guralnik, a REALTOR® in Charlotte, N.C., with Coldwell Banker United, a member of the RealEstate.com broker network.

Other neighborhood red flags include a lot of investment properties, or rentals, which might not be maintained as well as owner-occupied homes, she said. Additionally, a lot of foreclosures are likely to bring down property values and can signal a neighborhood in distress.

Other red flags experts say to watch out for when buying a home:

  • Signs of termite infestation. Be sure to have the home inspected for termites before buying.
  • Moisture in the basement. Correcting seepage problems can be expensive and time-consuming.
  • Signs that the home is settling beyond what would be expected for its age. Horizontal cracks can be an indicator of serious foundation or structural problems.
  • Roof gutters rusting or pulling away from the structure. Water leaks can damage the home, and gutters pulling away from the home can be a sign of wood rot in the fascia.
  • Land sloping toward the home. This is a recipe for water damage.

One of your best defenses is to have the home inspected before closing. Qualified home inspectors are trained to spot structural and system problems the average person wouldn't notice. The inspector also can advise you on whether those problems raise serious red flags or are typical for the age and location of the house.

An inspection also can tell you how long the heating and air conditioning is expected to last, or whether you're likely to need a new roof in a couple of years. If you proceed with the purchase, you'll know to budget for those repairs.

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