When you’re walking through a house that’s up for sale, sometimes the little things give voice to the untold story. You may encounter minor defects that you could easily spruce up yourself. But what are the red flags that could indicate a need for costly repairs or a structural problem that will give you a permanent headache?
Soggy Spots Near the Foundation
Sometimes you can spot trouble before you even venture inside. That mushy little puddle may look innocent enough, but the area next to the foundation is not a good place for water to pool. If the situation has been this way long enough, water may already be seeping through the foundation into the basement.
The earth around the foundation should be graded, or slightly tilted enough that water tends to roll away from the house. Splashguards should be in place underneath downspouts to keep puddles from forming there, too.
The Wrong Kind of Foundation Crack
Cracks in foundations are common, especially in older homes. But some kinds are much more serious than others.
Cracks wider than an eighth of an inch may allow water into the house. Horizontal cracks are more likely to indicate structural trouble than vertical ones. Other signs of serious problems are cracks in the mortar of a block foundation the zig-zag up in a stair pattern; uneven cracks that have one side that juts out; and foundation cracks that are accompanied by cracks in door and window frames.
Brownish Spots on Walls or Ceilings
It’s no secret that stains on walls and ceilings are related to water leaks, usually from leaky roofs or pipes. But it’s hard to tell an old stain from an active problem, so you may need to ask the current homeowner what repairs they have made. A home inspector armed with a moisture meter can also tell whether the leak is still active.
Occasionally, ceiling stains are not caused by roof problems, but by condensation in the attic. Stains around a bathroom exhaust may mean that the ventilation pipe above it is not well insulated, so that condensation collects and then leaks back out.
A Light That Dims All by Itself
A light that dims or flickers is a sign of a miswired, overloaded circuit. Buzzing lights or outlets indicate aging wiring that needs to be replaced. Discoloration around the socket holes of outlets also cry out for an electrician.
An acrid burning smell in the air is a sign of dangerous electrical problems that could cause a fire.
Moisture or Minerals on Basement Walls
Look for signs of water leakage in the basement, especially if you already have concerns about the foundation based on what you saw outside. Inspect walls for cracks, stains, mold, or chalky mineral deposits. Some homeowners have been known to stack boxes in strategic areas to hide problems.
There is a particularly bad thing going on if any of the walls actually bow in. Cracks in the floor could also indicate a problem.
Anything That Just Seems Odd
Maybe there’s a room with only one freshly painted wall. Or there’s a room you are not allowed to see. Maybe the owner seems suddenly nervous when you walk past the sump pump. Trust your tingling intuition. Ask questions, and make a mental note of the suspicious circumstances to refer to later.
Before you let yourself fall in love with a place, be objective as you watch out for any signs of trouble.
What did we miss on this list?
What have been some of your own discoveries of minor damage that has saved you money by catching it early?
Have you had a nightmare scenario?
Tell us all about it in the comments!