Courtesy of Brandpoint
Photo: © Photographee.e - Shutterstock
House hunting can feel like an adventurous new chapter in your life, and if you're lucky enough to find the property that checks off all the must-have boxes—appearance, size, price, location—it's easy to fall in love.
Not so fast, though. Before making an offer on any property, it's smart to take a deeper look at the overall structure and systems to ensure warning signs for costly major problems are not hiding in plain sight. If the house holds more issues than your budget—and drive to renovate—can handle, it might be best to walk away. Of course, you'll also need to hire a third-party home inspector to take an in-depth look at the property. In the meantime, this checklist can help you understand what you're getting into and decide if you should take the next step or move on in your house search.
Exterior: Walk around all four sides of the house, scanning it from ground to rooftop. Note the condition of the doors and window frames, looking for cracked or peeling paint or signs of loose siding. Higher up, eye the chimney, making sure it appears straight and is in good condition, and ensure that gutters and drainpipes are in place and functional.
Roof: Ideally, the roof would be ten years old or less, so scan the roof for classic warning signs of aging and neglect, such as curled and missing shingles, dark stains, moss growth, and signs of sagging, all which can signal serious issues. (A home inspector can confirm if full replacement is needed or if a few simple repairs could stabilize things for another decade or so.)
Yard: Take note of the landscaping. Is there a slope angled away from the house, or is there potential for a flooded basement after a major rainfall? Mature trees provide lots of shade, but watch for overhanging branches, as these can break off in a storm and cause major damage to the roof. Finally, take note of the condition of the driveway and sidewalks.
Foundation: The sight of a few hairline cracks in the cement is not a cause for panic, but keep an eye out for telltale signs of serious issues such as widening cracks, water stains, and bulges. If you're looking at older homes, it doesn't hurt to bring a level to confirm the walls are straight.
Plumbing: In addition to checking basement and under-the-sink pipes for signs of leaks, scan the ceilings for water stains. Open all the faucets to check the water pressure and how long it takes for hot water to reach the tap.
HVAC system: Know the age of the heating and cooling systems, and check these for tags and other signs of routine maintenance. If the system is older than a decade, that can spell costly repairs and a replacement in a brief time frame. When it comes to older systems, energy efficiency is another consideration, according to Tom Tasker, product manager for Coleman Echelon Variable Capacity Residential Systems. "Newer HVAC systems are remarkably more efficient when compared to those from even a decade ago, which means they keep your house comfortable for as little as half the cost," says Tasker. For example, Coleman Echelon products are rated up to 20 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). Compare these to the 10 SEER systems of 25 years ago, and that can give you an idea of what to expect in potential energy costs, Tasker says.
Appliances: Note the age and condition of items like the refrigerator, oven and range, washer and dryer, and hot-water heater. As with the HVAC, older appliances tend to consume more energy, and you'll face a shorter timeline for needed repairs and replacements.
Buying a house is a big decision, but knowing what you're buying goes a long way to assure you that you've found the right place.