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8 Often-Overlooked Issues to Check for Before Buying a House

Allen is a real estate investor, homeowner, and renter who would like to pass on some important details about home buying.

It's always a good idea to hire an inspector when considering purchasing a home, but be sure to check for these eight hidden issues yourself before signing.

It's always a good idea to hire an inspector when considering purchasing a home, but be sure to check for these eight hidden issues yourself before signing.

Good Homeowners vs. Bad Homeowners

Buying a house, particularly for the first time, is a very stressful endeavor. How do potential home buyers avoid purchasing a house with hidden problems? After owning a number of houses and renting a bunch of others, I've discovered a number of secrets.

Reading this far, you might be asking: Isn't that why you hire a home inspector? The short answer is yes. If you're lucky enough to hire a really good home inspector, they might address most potential issues. However, even the best home inspector won't catch everything. Furthermore, home inspectors don't always provide guidance. It's too risky. They're not there to scuttle a potential real estate deal. Otherwise, they wouldn't get hired in the first place.

Ultimately, it's up to the buyer to educate themself on the things that constitute good homeowners and bad homeowners. That's what this article is all about.

How Do You Know Whether a House Has Been Well Cared For?

Unless I'm purchasing a house I know is a remodel, I want to buy something that's been cared for. So, how can I tell if a house has been cared for?

It's usually the little things. My experience with houses suggests that when owners ignore the little things, they've usually ignored the big things as well.

Most Homes Have Hidden Issues

Overall, it's smart to figure out where the homeowner has spent their money over the years. Did they put money into a green lawn or did they invest in long-lasting finishes? Did they put a new coat of paint on the house before replacing the sewer line? Did they cover something up instead of fixing it?

When owners choose fluff over substance, that's usually a house I want to avoid. I'm all for a nice-looking kitchen, but when the functional stuff of the house—the guts—are ignored, that's a recipe for a lot of headaches down the road.

Do your due diligence. Don't be afraid to ask questions about problems. Ask for service records. These kinds of things will save you time and money down the road.

Below are eight frequently overlooked issues that could be signs of poor homeownership. Keep an eye out for these hidden problems, and think twice about buying any house that has them for full price:

  1. Old Water Heaters
  2. Temperature Differentials
  3. Water Stains
  4. Warped Flooring
  5. Unprofessional Mitigation Repairs
  6. Poor Sound Insulation
  7. Inconvenient Driveways
  8. Uninsulated Garages

Let's explore these issues in detail.

Water heaters should be replaced every 10 or so years.

Water heaters should be replaced every 10 or so years.

1. Old Water Heaters

Water heaters have a lifespan of approximately 10 years. In any house you're going to purchase, go into the utility room and check the age of the water heater. Most people who are smart replace their old water heater before selling their house. Otherwise, it usually comes up in the inspection.

If you walk into a house, and the water heater is 20 years old, that tells you something important. It's certainly not always the case, but sometimes that old water heater reveals that the homeowners have let things go. Perhaps they preferred to let things break before addressing any problems. Perhaps they weren't proactive about problems. And sometimes, it could be a sign that they just didn't take care of their house.

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Another reason to check the water heater is to check its capacity. Many houses have a water heater that's just too small. You don't want to be running out of hot water every day.

2. Temperature Differentials

How can you know if a house is comfortable and has an effective HVAC system before buying? This is one of the most important aspects of a house and one few people thoroughly investigate. Of all the things that are important in a house, I can think of none more important than comfort. And if you don't have an effective HVAC system, you may end up miserable.

What do I mean by an effective HVAC system? I mean one that distributes both heat and air conditioning somewhat equally between floors.

Let me ask you this: If you paid $2 million for a house, wouldn't you expect a pretty good heating and cooling system? Well, even in such houses, that is not always the case. And replacing such a system is often cost-prohibitive.

The Zillow estimates on the last three houses I've rented have been $2.2 million, $2 million, and $1.2 million, respectively. Not a single one of these houses had an effective HVAC system.

In the first, the main level would be 72 degrees, while the upstairs barely would rarely get above 60. The rooms upstairs each had a split, which is an additional unit to supplement the ineffectiveness of the main system.

The second house had much the same problem. It would be 68 on the main floor and 80 upstairs. In the last house, it would be 68 downstairs and above 80 in the master bedroom.

Many houses have this problem. The more floors there are, the harder it is to distribute heating and cooling evenly. However, depending on what you're paying for a house, it's worth checking just how effective its system.

After all, if you're buying a house, you want to be happy there. You don't want to find out later you can't sleep at night because your bedroom won't cool down.

Furthermore, an extreme temperature differential may indicate poor insulation in the house, which could lead to high cooling and heating bills.

Stains could mean mold in the walls.

Stains could mean mold in the walls.

3. Water Stains

Water stains, particularly in areas with high humidity, are a sign that something is likely wrong. I had this happen in my last rental, and there was definitely a problem inside the house. We had leaks in the garage into the basement and from the master bathroom down into the main floor. There had also been another leak in the basement.

When there are water leaks, there's almost assuredly damage you cannot see. In areas with high humidity, this means mold.

So, when you are looking at a house and you see water stains, it's a red flag. It's also a reason to make sure your inspector does a thorough check of the house, including some kind of mold check. You might even want to have him inspect inside the walls if they can.

Obviously, smart homeowners paint over any water stains, which is why you need to check the disclosures and ask any questions about water problems. If the owner doesn't disclose those problems, it can void the sale or be cause for a lawsuit.

Warped flooring could mean there was a simple spill, but it could also be indicative of a larger-scale moisture problem in the house.

Warped flooring could mean there was a simple spill, but it could also be indicative of a larger-scale moisture problem in the house.

4. Warped Flooring

This is really another issue about water damage. However, I've often overlooked flooring issues, particularly when those issues are in the laundry room or places where you might expect a spill of some kind. I've since learned not to assume that a spill is the cause.

If you're walking around a house and you sense that the floor is warped, make sure you ask why. You want to know exactly how and why that floor got warped. Maybe a kid spilled a bucket of something and didn't clean it up, or maybe it was something more pernicious. Just don't ignore it.

5. Unprofessional Mitigation Repairs

I've personally been through mitigation repair, so what I will tell you is this: Professional mitigation repair is expensive. It's also thorough and effective.

Unfortunately, because mitigation is so expensive, a lot of people pursue and utilize cheaper options. Sometimes, this can work. Other times, it's downright dangerous.

Let me provide an example. There were serious floods in my area one year. Many houses with basements were flooded up to the ceiling with black water—water that contains bacteria and is not the kind of water that should ever penetrate a home.

Any house flooded with black water needs professional mitigation. All the drywall needs to be torn out. The carpet needs to be removed. The house needs to be professionally dried and monitored to make sure no mold grows. The same thing needs to happen if you have a sewage backup that comes into contact with walls or flooring.

When this flooding occurred, the local news interviewed a homeowner who complained about the cost of mitigation and wasn't willing to pay the costs. Instead, they were quoted saying something like this:

Mitigation is a rip-off. I have an uncle who does drywall, and we just had him come over and rip out the carpet and redo the drywall. Instead of spending $4000, I spent $300. Problem solved.

Sure, problem solved until you go to sell the house. I would never buy a house from somebody who used cheap labor for a solution to a problem that requires professionals. Discovering that your house is decaying from the inside out with black mold is probably the worst of all possible outcomes.

6. Poor Sound Insulation

When you tour a house, one thing you are not likely to think about is sound insulation. In other words, can somebody in the room next to yours hear what you're doing? How about down the hall? How about downstairs?

Believe it or not, this is an important element of enjoying a house, particularly if you have a family.

We rented a very nice house that was worth over $2 million dollars. Unfortunately, it had the thinnest walls of any house we've ever stayed in. Our master bedroom and bathroom were separated from the kids' rooms by a hallway, but they could hear us, and we could hear them. It was awful. And it is very expensive to fix a problem like that.

I'm sure many people reading this can think of myriad things you do in your bedroom and bathroom that you would prefer other people not hear, so next time you're touring a house, check out how well sound is insulated inside the house.

7. Inconvenient Driveways

Another often-overlooked feature in the house-hunting game is the driveway. That's because when you go to see a house, you usually don't park in the driveway, and you certainly don't pull into the garage.

However, if you go to work each day or use your car often, the way in which you leave your house can create an unbelievable amount of stress. Pay attention to how you're going to exit and enter your house. You'll be very glad you paid attention.

If you've never backed out of a narrow driveway with a blocked view of the sidewalk, then you're lucky. If you've had this experience, then you know what I'm talking about.

My current rental has a narrow driveway and a one-car garage. The driveway is blocked on one side by tall hedges, so when I'm backing out, I can't see anyone who may be walking by. I fear I'll run over a child.

In another house I rented, there was a shared driveway. There really was no other option than to pull in forward. So, when I left, I had to back out and make a turn going backward. I also couldn't see around the bushes to the sidewalk. It was terrible.

Believe it or not, how you enter and leave your house is a big deal. Don't overlook the driveway.

In colder climates, uninsulated garages can lead to water freezing, and this can cause the concrete to crack.

In colder climates, uninsulated garages can lead to water freezing, and this can cause the concrete to crack.

8. Uninsulated Garages

I never knew a garage could cause so many problems until my last rental. This is another area to look for issues.

First, is the garage insulated? Okay, it's a garage, so who cares? However, usually what an uninsulated garage suggests is that the owners were cheap or that they just didn't care.

Now, an insulated garage doesn't make much of a difference if you're in a relatively temperate climate. If you live in a place where it's cold in the winter and hot in the summer, however, then it does make a difference, particularly in the winter.

At my last rental, it snowed in the winter, so when we drove into the garage, the water melted off our car. Then, at night, when it got really cold, that water froze, and the floor of the garage began to crack. Existing cracks expanded. Furthermore, the garage was actually over part of the basement. Well, those cracks widened, and the water went into the basement. It was a disaster.

An insulated garage can be an important component to comfort and the integrity of a house.

Check Now or Pay Later

Hiring a really good inspector will likely save you tens of thousands of dollars and tons of headaches. Beyond that, if you follow the guidance in this article, you can likely dodge some serious house issues.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Allen Donald


Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 23, 2021:

Useful tips before buying a house.

Liz Westwood from UK on September 23, 2021:

This is a very helpful article. I have learnt a lot from reading it.

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