Red Flags to Watch Out for When Buying a Home

Jon Stroud
Jon Stroud
Published on July 1, 2021

So, you found a home that checks meets your important cafeterias. Before you rush into anything you may regret, watch out for the following signs of trouble ahead.

Buyer Beware!

When checking out a property, prospective buyers try to get a feel of how well a house will fit their lifestyle: Is it open concept or more segregated?  Is the kitchen large and functional enough?  Does it have enough bedrooms? Do the bathrooms need updating?

For many people, a home is their biggest investment.  It’s not only important that the house fills your wish list but that it’s also in good condition. There is usually a disclosure with a standard contract to help interested buyers determine the shape of a property. The disclosure is where the seller is supposed to list all the known defects of the house. The seller may not, however, be aware of all the defects, and some sellers may deliberately withhold issues, hoping it won’t get noticed. To avoid unexpected repair costs, read on to learn about some typical red flags that should make you think twice before you buy. 

1.      Foundation Cracks

House Problems

Most concrete foundations will crack at one time or another.  Hairline cracks are not usually a sign of a problem. However, if a crack is wider than 1/2 inch, it’s a good idea to have the foundation area examined by a professional. This includes cracks that appear to have been recently patched. Large cracks can indicate an unstable foundation.

2.      Signs of Mold

Most mold isn’t of the scary toxic variety like, Stachybotrys, but inhaling any type of mold spores can cause respiratory symptoms, headaches, and other illnesses. The existence of mold may indicate a problem with the house. If you smell mold, check beneath sinks, in basement and crawl space, around windows for leaks. If a leak has been going on for a long time, construction materials, including wood, drywall, and carpets may need to be replaced.

3.      Saggy Ceiling

A saggy ceiling, even if the sag is only a little, can be the result of roof or plumbing leaks, structural movement that’s causing the ceiling drywall to work loose from the ceiling joists, or an insect infestation that’s eating away at the joists. Fixing it can be expensive no matter what is the cause.

4.      Active Insect Infestations

Termites are well known for their ability to cause widespread and costly damage to properties, so it pays to recognize the signs before making an offer. Things to look for are small piles of tiny brown droppings on a floor near a wall., a hollow sound when you knock on a wood surface and the presence of mud tubes on a foundation. Termites are subterranean, so they construct tiny tunnels of mud along foundations and walls to protect them from sunlight as they travel back and forth between the wood they’re munching and their below-ground nests.  To further insure that there are no active termites or damage to the home, get a termite inspection before purchasing the house.

5.      Strong Air Fresheners

If you are walking through house and smell the strong scent of air freshener or if essential oil diffusers are active in every room, this could be a sign that the homeowner is trying to hide the smell of something else, such as carpeting with pet urine or mold that’s growing beneath the sink. If you’re interested in the house, ask for a second showing and request that the seller not use air freshener before you arrive.

6.      Shingle – Roof Problems

Replacing a roof can be quite expensive.   A new roof can cost $6,000 to $20,000 or even more depending on the size of the roof and the type of roofing materials.  Being that, check out the roof carefully. Shingles that curl up at the corners, missing shingles, cracked shingles, or exposed nail heads are all signs that the roof might need to be replaced.

7.      Standing Water in the Yard

Drive by the house you like after it has rained. If you find puddles of standing water, the yard may have a drainage problem. Beware of puddles near the foundation, because water that drains along a foundation wall can leak into a basement through the smallest crack.  To keep water away from the foundation wall, a yard should have a minimum 2 percent grade away from the house.


8.      Lot of Homes for sale in the area or development

The most important factor in buying a house is “location, location, location.” You can do many things to fix and repair a home but its location is pretty much set.  If many nearby homes are up for sale, this could be a warning of a problem with the location, such as a rising crime rate, proposed landfill in the area, etc. Drive around and check out the neighborhood.  Walk around and talk to some of the neighbors to get a feel for the neighborhood.

9.      Aging HVAC System

Depending on upkeep and area’s climate, the average furnace lasts 15 to 18 years and the average AC unit lasts around 10 to 12 years. As heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units draw to the end of their useful lives, they become less efficient than they once were which results in you paying higher utility costs to run them, and they may not heat or cool the house effectively. There’s also the chance that one or both of them will quit working entirely, and you’ll be left with the high cost of replacing them.  Check the age of the HVAC and if it’s been annually checked and maintained.  (There should be a log on HVAC – furnace system.)

10. House Has Been on the Market for a Long Time

The average time from listing to close is 68 days for a house on the market.  Many factors can affect the amount of time a house is on the market before it sells. Beware of a home that has been on the market for months, or even years.  That usually a red flag that the house is priced too high or something is wrong with the property.  It could very well have hidden problems that could be expensive to repair.

11. Sloping Floors

It not unusual for floors to have a slight slope due to settling but if the slope is prominent, it could be related to a foundation problem, rotted support beams or broken floor joists. Structural problems can cost thousands of dollars to repair, so it pays to have a structural engineer take a look at the home if one or more of the floors are sloping.

Final Note

These are just some of the red flags to look out for in a home.  It’s always wise to have a home sale contingent on having a home inspection.  Home inspection by a professional provides an opportunity for a buyer to identify any major issues with a home before closing.

Further reading – Should You Skip the Home Inspection to Win a Bidding War?

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