OK, so you’ve lined up some homes you’d like to look at. You’ve got a sense of what you’re looking for and a basic shopping list covering number of bedrooms, kitchen particulars, parking, type of lot, etc. So lets get shopping!
Well once you walk through that front door, your mind is probably going to start placing furniture and picturing yourself with a bag of popcorn watching movies.
And you want to do that. You do have to live her, so you want to project that on the home. Will your stuff fit in this room? Is the kitchen big enough to have friends for dinner? Will your bedroom set fit in this bedroom? This is all good stuff. But as a potential buyer, you should also know what things to look for that might be hiding a potential issue. Your agent should help point out issues to you, but you shouldn’t rely on them exclusively.
I’ll list off some things here, which if you see them, just means you should at least take a closer look. It doesn’t necessarily mean run for the hills. These are the types of things that can lead to costly repairs and/or small issues that can get bigger if not dealt with. And as a general rule, I suggest that you do a home tour during the day and in decent weather if you can. It gives you the opportunity to walk around the outside as well. There can be as many external issues as internal issues. So in no particular order:
Anything that doesn’t look straight
As you are getting out of the car to walk up, stop and take a look at the outside of the house. Builders generally construct everything with nice straight lines and 90 degree angles. You want to look at the line of the roof, the steps going in, any openings like a door or windows. Does anything look crooked or curved? Things that started straight and aren’t now, will not likely get better on their own.
Anything that doesn’t look flat
Generally floors, walls and ceilings should be flat (unless designed otherwise, which you can typically tell). Look for a change in the surface. A patch to walls or ceilings can mean there was (and may still be) a problem somewhere.
A floor that doesn’t seem flat or appears to be slanting one way or the other can potentially mean a serious structural problem.
Wallpaper can simply be a choice made by the seller, and is not necessarily a problem (unless its…well….really ugly), but you should pay close attention to wallpaper because it can sometimes be used to cover up problems with the wall.
Anything where the colour doesn’t look right
Again, back to the floor, walls and ceiling. If you notice that the overall color is white, but you notice a couple of spots that are noticeably yellow or darker, you could have a problem related to something leaking or that has leaked before.
You want to pay particular attention to hardwood floors that are showing stains, primarily because removing stains from wood can be particularly difficult.
Now if you see anything that has black stains, particularly in the bathrooms, under the kitchen sink or in the basement, you want to make note of it. It may be mold, and that can result in real health problems down the road. A little surface mold in a bathroom might not be the end of the world, but if it looks like something you couldn’t clean up with a basic cleaning product, you should be wary.
Anything that doesn’t smell right
Now lets be honest here. If you smell ‘food’, it is usually something either temporary, or something that can be dealt with by a fresh coat of paint. Often, furniture can hold food smells. So when that furniture is moved out, you may find the food smell goes with it.
That said, there are some smells that you don’t want to encounter in a home. Anything damp or musty may be cause for concern. Also, anything that smells ‘industrial’ like oil, gas or something found more commonly in a garage might be noteworthy.
Garbage smells can also be something to make note of. A real estate agent would advise most clients to make sure their garbage is taken out regularly, so if you are catching a whiff of garbage, you want to be sure that something hasn’t leaked and seeped into the structure. You don’t want to have to be ripping up some part of the floor just to get rid of the smell.
Also, if the opportunity presents itself, run the taps with your head just over the drain. You should make note of any odd smells coming from the water or drain.
Anything that doesn’t open & close right
Now on this point, when going through a house for the first time, you should probably stick with checking the doors. Specifically, do they open and close all the way smoothly. Doors that don’t close all the way can be fixed, but that sticking might point to a structural issue.
Again, if you have an inspection done, they should be checking to make sure all the doors & windows are operating smoothly.
Everything outside is subject to the elements, so even though it should be as pristine as anything else, the key things you want to be looking for are the things that might let the outdoors become an indoor problem.
- Check around the edges of external windows and doors to make sure you don’t see any cracks or gaps where anything can leak in
- Check the general shape of the yard, specifically looking for depressions where water might pool.
- Check the eves troughs for cracks, gaps or other forms of deterioration
- Check the roof for damage, missing shingles, or any dis-colourations
- Check the driveway and stone paths for splits, lifting or plants growing through
- Check the exterior covering (brick, vinyl, wood, metal) for any damage or dis-colourations
Other things to ask about
One of the key things you will want to keep in mind when looking at a home is its age. It stands to reason, the older something is, the closer it is to a normal end of life. Now that isn’t to say that just because a home is older, it is going to fall apart. You can find homes greater than 100 years old in most towns & cities. What it really comes down to is how well a home has been maintained.
Over the years, construction methods and product have been changing. Where houses built prior to 1970 might have plaster walls & ceilings, it is more common to see drywall now. Conversely, older homes might have nice hardwood moldings, where now painted pine or MDF are commonplace.
Where you want to pay close attention is the mechanical systems of the home. Electrical Systems. Heating & Air Conditioning Systems. Plumbing Systems. If the foundation, roof & walls of your home represent a skeleton, these systems are the internal organs. If they don’t function well, you are going to have a big problem. And if these systems are in bad shape, even if they still work, they can also cost you more money to run your home longer term.
Unless you are in the business, you can usually leave determining the health & welfare of these systems to a certified home inspector. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask about the age of these components or if there is any paperwork related to regular maintenance.
So to button this all up...
There are a number of things you should keep your eye out for. And even if things appear good on the surface, there can still potentially be issues. You cant let this keep you awake at night. And at the end of the day, you now have a better idea of what to look for. So when you get to the point of putting in an offer, it is almost standard practice now that you have a Home Inspection clause in the agreement. In doing so, you can have 'an expert' look at your home from top to bottom, and provide you will even more piece of mind.