The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Thanksgiving is the holiday that centers around the home. No fuss with presents, no explosion of fireworks, simply gathering in the dining room to share a meal prepared in mom's kitchen. Not surprisingly, many folks see their home with new eyes as they prepare for family and company to visit during the holiday season. This can often lead to dreams of updating the hall bath, adding a mother-in-law suite, or even buying a new home with the intention of remodeling.
If you're contemplating buying a home, keep in mind that house hunting can be an enjoyable experience. All those properties...each with its own character. It's exciting to get past the listing searches and actually go see properties. But it can also be tricky to navigate. Sometimes we tend to be sold on "charm" and not practicality. Conversely, we may struggle to visualize what a relatively lackluster house could become.
Ideally, the home will be empty and clean when you view it, but that isn't always the case. Concentrate on the true nature of the structure and overlook existing furnishings and personal belongings. Take note of the room size and not just the decor. Don't miss out on a great property because the kitchen has fruit basket wallpaper borders circa 1985!
So, what should you look for when house hunting? In short, everything. Take a camera along, or use your phone to snap photos as you tour the home. Your goal isn't pretty photos, it's to capture the good, the bad, and especially the ugly. It's also not a bad idea to print out an online home inspection checklist and take it along. Use one that's organized by room so you know what to look for in each area. If you're with the home owner or real estate agent, don't hesitate to ask questions and take note of the answers.
There are several obvious things to look for on your initial tour. Look at the condition of the roof and gutters. Walk around the entire home exterior. Cracks in the exterior or interior walls could be minor, or a sign of foundation issues.
Also, you will want to look for any signs of water damage. Watch for spots on ceilings. Don't just look at the base of the tub and toilet. Test every faucet. Look at the underside of sinks and cabinet drawers in the kitchen and bathrooms. Remember that beyond cosmetic, water damage could also indicate mold. Be sure you see every area of the home, including the attic and crawlspace. Take a look at the electrical box; everything should be neat and labeled.
Aside from the physical property attributes, there are other things to consider. For instance, take note of signs of recent work done. What is the quality of the work, and what was the purpose? You may have to investigate a little to determine if it was an improvement, or if it was a quick fix to cover a larger problem. Find out who did the work, and if there are existing warranties. Do not waive the home inspection. The seller may offer tempting incentives for a waived inspection, but you may pay for it in the long run. Keep in mind also that new construction homes can have just as many issues as older homes. Consider having a contractor walk through the home with you to provide insight into the pros and cons of the existing structure.
Most of us have heard that to sell a house faster, you should have warm cookies fresh from the oven to make the space more inviting. That may be so, but beware of any fragrance, no matter how pleasing. Air fresheners, candles, and other scents can be hiding a multitude of troubling odors. Mold, mildew, pet odors, leaky pipes, sewage, or a dead mouse inside the drywall to name a few. Another factor to consider is the property's ownership turnover rate. A relatively quick turnover of three to five years could indicate a variety of issues from nuisance neighbors to hard-to-get-rid-of-pests.
Of course, this is not meant to be an all-inclusive list, just a tool to help you in your journey to home ownership. Once you have a completed inspection, be sure to get estimates from a reputable contractor for any necessary repairs, as well as any initial upgrades you want to make. This will allow you to factor the expense into your home loan. Your contractor can work with you to determine what your priorities are, and what may be planned for the future. Happy house hunting!