Potential Issues to Watch for When House Hunting

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You’re finally ready to buy a house, but don’t get too excited just yet. While house hunting can be fun and exciting, it’s important not to let that cloud your judgment. Before you make an offer on that cute bungalow or sprawling ranch, keep an eye out for any red flags that could turn your dream home into a money pit down the road.  

Learn what to watch for when checking out prospective houses so you can avoid any costly surprises after move-in day(*).  

Major Red Flags That Could Mean Big Repairs 

When house hunting, keep an eye out for these major red flags that could mean costly repairs down the road. If you still choose to make an offer, make sure you’re doing so with your eyes open to the potential costs and pitfalls. 

Water Damage 

Water damage is one of the worst things you can discover in a house. Check for sagging ceilings, stained walls, musty smells or visible water marks. Water damage often means structural damage, mold issues or damaged plumbing or roofing that will need fixing. Typically, very costly repairs ensue. 

Foundation Cracks 

Look for diagonal cracks in the walls, jammed doors or windows, and sloping or buckling floors. These may indicate foundation issues that are extremely expensive to repair. Even small cracks can turn into big problems. Don’t buy a house with foundation problems unless you get an inspection and warranty. 

Old or Faulty Plumbing and Electrical 

Look for exposed, outdated plumbing or electrical wiring, flickering lights, slow drains or leaky faucets. These systems deteriorate over time and replacing plumbing, HVAC and electrical for a whole house can cost tens of thousands of dollars. 


Watch out for signs of pest infestation like chewed wood, droppings, nests or musty smells. Termites, rodents and other pests can damage the structure and wiring of a house. Eliminating an infestation is difficult and expensive. An active one can spell serious trouble. 

Smaller Red Flags to Keep in Mind 

When you’re touring homes, it’s easy to get caught up in curb appeal and an open floor plan. But pay attention to the little things, too, like: 

Doors or windows that are stuck or difficult to open. This could indicate foundation issues that have caused the house to shift. Call in an expert to evaluate. 

Lack of insulation. Feel along exterior walls for cold spots, check the attic for adequate insulation and ask about the home’s energy efficiency. Insulation impacts both comfort and utility costs. 

Lack of ventilation or airflow. Make sure bathroom and kitchen fans are vented outside and check that windows open properly. Inadequate ventilation can lead to high humidity, mold growth and indoor air quality issues. 

While any one of these on their own may not be a deal breaker, several combined could be cause for concern or leverage to negotiate a lower price. Do a thorough walk-through, ask questions about anything that worries you and remember to bring in a professional home inspector before you make an offer. Your dream home is out there — it’s important to choose the one that makes sense first. 

Questions to Ask About Maintenance History 

When viewing a potential house, the maintenance and repair history can reveal a lot. Asking the right questions will help determine if there are any underlying issues you need to be aware of before making an offer. Some things you’ll want to inquire about include: 

What major improvements or renovations have been made recently? Things like a new roof, siding, flooring or mechanical systems can be expensive, so you’ll want to know the approximate age and condition. Ask if permits were pulled for significant work. 

How old are the major appliances like the water heater, furnace and air conditioner? The typical lifespan of many big appliances is 10- to-15 years, so they may need replacement soon. 

When was the last time the septic tank was pumped or inspected? For homes with septic systems, routine maintenance is critical to avoid costly backups or damage. 

What ongoing maintenance does the home require? All houses need regular upkeep, but some may need more frequent or expensive care like repainting, re-roofing or pest control. Make sure you understand the full scope of responsibilities before buying. 

Were there any insurance claims filed for the property? Water or fire damage in the past could reveal areas that need repair or are prone to issues. Ask for details on the claim and any remediation done. 

Do you have records of service calls, warranties, or manuals for equipment? Previous owners should provide documents for anything that’s staying with the home. This helps ensure a smooth transition and means you’ll know the service history for critical components. 

Asking the right questions about maintenance and repairs offers valuable insight into a home’s condition and potential trouble spots. Make sure you get detailed, honest answers so you have a clear picture of responsibilities that come with the house before making an offer. Forewarned is forearmed, and knowledge is power when buying a home. 

Signs of Poor Maintenance to Look out for 

When checking out a potential new home, be on the lookout for signs that the current owners haven’t properly maintained the property. Little issues can turn into big, expensive problems if left unaddressed. 

Roof Damage 

Look for visible signs of damage like curling or missing shingles, water spots in the attic or on ceilings and sagging spots in the roof line. The roof is one of the most important and expensive components of a home to repair or replace.  

Plumbing Problems 

Turn on all the faucets, showers and toilets to check for any dripping, leaking or strange noises which could suggest plumbing issues. Look for visible water damage or mold on floors, walls and ceilings. Outdated plumbing systems may need replacement, which can cost thousands of dollars. It’s best to determine the condition of plumbing before buying. 

Structural Flaws 

Be on the lookout for cracks in foundations, floors, walls and ceilings as these could indicate structural damage. Check if doors and windows open and close properly. Look for sloping or uneven floors. It’s always wise to have a professional building inspector evaluate the home to figure out if there are any major structural defects. These types of issues should be addressed before completing a purchase. 

HVAC Problems 

Ensure the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are functioning properly in all areas of the home. Look for signs of rust or water damage on air vents, furnaces or air conditioners. Test to make sure each room is heating and cooling adequately. HVAC repairs and replacements can be pricy, so you’ll want to be aware of any issues before buying. 

Keeping an eye out for these common signs of neglect or deferred maintenance can help prevent ending up with costly surprises down the road. Address any issues you find before making an offer, or factor potential repairs into your offer price. 

Other Potential Issues to Watch for 

Zoning and Permits 

Make sure the home complies with local zoning laws on things like business use, additions or rental units before buying. Check if proper permits were obtained for any renovations or construction. Non-compliant or un-permitted work could force expensive changes or legal issues in the future. 

Hidden Costs 

Be wary of homes requiring lots of near-future repairs or maintenance like a new roof, furnace, plumbing or electrical work. Get estimates for any serious issues to decide if the overall cost is still reasonable or if it’s best to keep looking. 

HOA Conflicts 

If part of a homeowner’s association, read through HOA rules thoroughly to ensure you’re comfortable with all fees, restrictions and responsibilities before going ahead. Disagreements with HOA boards have caused headaches for many new homeowners. 

Don’t get caught up in the excitement of the hunt and overlook vital warning signs. Do your due diligence by investigating anything suspicious uncovered during home tours. And when in doubt, check it out! The time spent upfront could save you thousands down the road. 

(*) Please note: we are not home inspection experts or realtors and are not offering housing advice, other than you should consider obtaining additional information and counsel from your housing advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances.

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