Not everyone can have the eye of a home builder when it comes to house shopping, and buying your first home can make this a very scary outing. Because of this, many people are nervous and think they might miss something important that could cause a lot of problems and cost a lot of money down the road. That said, there are some things to avoid when buying a house.
Should you find any of these in a home that you are seriously looking at buying, this should definitely trigger a home inspection at a bare minimum (here’s how to find a home inspector). It should also encourage you to have a contractor look at the home and provide you with an estimated cost to fix the issues before you proceed on the house. I’ll also share with you a tip you can do when you are in a house to tell if there is a problem right away (see #3).
Bowed or Curved Roof Lines
Except for a clearly intentional rounded or curved roof, roof lines are supposed to be straight. When you walk back about 50 feet from the house and look at the roof from different angles, how straight does it look? If it’s got any major curves or bows to it, there’s definitely an issue.
I’m not talking about an inch or two; I’m talking like 3-4 inches or more. It’s going to be obvious. The most common place this happens is along the eave (usually bows out), along the ridge or top of the roof (usually bows down), and along the flat, sloped part of the roof (usually bows down).
If you see that any of these areas bowed out or have sagged down 3-4 inches or more, there are sure to be other issues with the roof structure.
(If you aren’t at the home buying stage yet but are still looking, grab this buying a house checklist, it’s free!)
Bowed in Foundation Walls
Similar to the rooflines, the outside of the foundation wall should look straight. Over time, these walls bow in toward the house due to the mud’s continuous pressure against the walls. This usually happens over decades. We call this backfill pressure.
When you step back 20-30 feet from the foundation and look along the wall, you should tell if it looks like it is curved in. If you’re unsure about doing this, bring along a string line. String the line out along the edge of the foundation wall, having one person hold each end at the corner of the house. If there is a significant gap between the string and the wall in the middle, you have a problem.
1-2 inches is not the end of the world, as many older homes do have this issue to a certain extent, and I wouldn’t be worried about them falling down.
However, if it’s 3” or more, you definitely need a home inspection (this is one item in our home inspection checklist) to confirm what you’re seeing and determine the significance of the damage. This issue is also going to require you to find a contractor to provide you with a quote. The fix will almost definitely involve digging up the basement, and it won’t be cheap.
I’m not talking about the difference between 2 flooring surfaces that are of different heights and where they butt together. I’m talking about the floor as a whole being uneven. Meaning one side is higher or lower than the other. This is one of the key things to avoid when buying a house.
In older homes, no floors are perfect, so here we’re looking for a major difference. On a floor, 2” would be a lot. More than 2” is a real cause for concern, as this means the foundation is either settling or heaving in certain areas. Either is bad and will eventually need an expensive fix.
This is one of those red flags that is definitely going to require a contractor to look it over and provide a quote before you purchase the home. It’s not as simple as seeing water damage on hardwood floors, but you can spot it pretty easily.
So, how do you check for uneven floors? If it’s really bad, you’ll be able to tell just by looking at the floor, even if you don’t have a construction background. To make it easier, squat down like a golfer does when they’re looking at a put. The closer you are to the floor, the easier it is to see any slope.
Here’s a pro tip: Keep a golf ball in your pocket when viewing homes and if you come across a floor that seems to be sloping, put the ball on the floor and see what happens.
On regular floors, the ball might roll around a bit slowly and eventually roll to one side of the room. On really bad floors, the ball will start rolling downhill immediately, picking up speed quickly as it goes.
Water in the Basement
Another thing to avoid when buying a house is water in the basement; this should be a top thing to look for when viewing a house. I think most people would see this as a red flag, but most wouldn’t know what to do about it. Obviously, if there’s water on the basement floor or signs that there has been, the water is likely seeping into the basement from the outside.
It’s critical that you find an experienced contractor to look into this and give you a price to fix before moving forward. An inspector may or may not be able to tell you what’s causing the issue, but you need to know the cost to fix it before moving ahead any further.
Sometimes, these issues involve digging down around the outside of all the basement walls and doing major foundation work. Sometimes, it’s simply the lack of a sump pump and drain tile. Almost always, a lack of grading on the outside contributes to water issues. Grading is the slope that the ground is at around the house.
Consider this, if all of the rainwater that hit the ground ran away from the house because the mud outside was sloped that way, how would water ever get into the basement?
This is an excellent thing to check if there are water issues. Again, get down low like a golfer and look along the outside of the house. Which way is the ground sloping? Toward the house? Or away from the house? If it’s sloping towards the house, this will help you determine that the issue might be partly because of grading.
Mold: A Final Thing to Avoid When Buying a House
We all know that black mold is bad, but it’s not something that’s always front of mind when viewing a home. It’s important to know if there’s any mold in the home you’re buying, as it greatly affects the air quality that you and your family are breathing.
Start by checking in areas that are prone to moisture build-up (moisture grows mold). A place like the windows, bathrooms, and damp basements. These are the common spots where we see mold starting to grow. If you do find mold, or an area of the home has that damp, or a place that has a musty smell to it, you may want to consider making your offer contingent on an air quality test. This will either immediately point out where any mold issues are or give you the confidence you need to move forward.
There are, of course, several issues to be aware of, but the above are some of the most common. We hope by understanding each one a little more in-depth, you have a little more confidence going into your next viewing!
What Are Some Other Things to Avoid When Buying a House
This list of things to avoid when buying a house isn’t exhaustive, but they are some of the main things to look for to quickly cross a house off of your buying list. If the house is still worth it, in your opinion, approach with caution and make sure to get a home inspection and a contractor to see how much it will cost to fix any of these items. The last thing you want to do is buy a money pit when buying your first home. Remember that some of these things can be hidden at times of the year. A good selling real estate agent will know the best month to sell a house, so shop with these things in mind to be best prepared.