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Real Estate Red Flags — 5 Things to Look Out For When Buying a Home

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The market is great for home buyers right now. With plenty of inventory, negotiating a good deal is easier than normal. But looking for the perfect house can still be an overwhelming ordeal, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. Sometimes those really good deals are really too good to be true, leaving you with a house in dire need of extensive—and expensive—repairs.

The good news is that there are things you can look for while doing your home search—red flags that you can spot even before you pay an inspector to give the house a once-over. So, before you fall in love with that cute house that’s just inside your price range, look out for these five red flags:

1. The Neighborhood

The neighborhood is the first thing you should take a close look at when considering a home. The house may be perfect, but you can’t move it from its location. Look for signs like a lot of people trying to sell houses, or homes that have been on the market for a long time. Check out nearby businesses to see if they’re struggling or thriving.

Be sure to note whether the house has a lot of protective measures on it. Bars on windows and doors can be a strong indicator of the type of environment you’d be buying into. Keep in mind that you can always check police records online to see if the area has a lot of undesirable activity.

2. Foundation and Structural Issues

If a house has foundation or structural problems, it can get really expensive really fast. You don’t want to negotiate a deal only to move in and find out you have thousands of dollars of repairs to do. You can identify foundation issues by looking for cracks during your walk-through. Look for cracks in the pavement around the home. Then, examine the walls and ceilings for cracks that run the length of the room.

Also check for places where single walls or small areas have been freshly painted. Examine the basement floor for cracks or signs of water seepage. Finally, note how level the floors are and if the doors and windows stick. Slanting floors and sticky doors can be signs of an expensive, sinking foundation problem.

3. Bugs and Pests

Bug infestations are another issue that can be pricey, but often goes unnoticed by home buyers. First of all, if there are a lot of mature trees over the home or a wood pile right by the house, you need to ask about pest issues and check for evidence yourself.

Usually you can’t see termite and carpenter-ant damage unless you open up a wall, but there are likely exposed beams in the attic and basement. Check those areas for signs of damage to the wood beams and even brick foundations. Look for holes, small tracks bored out and piles of dust. If you see fresh repairs to structural wood, you know you need to ask about pests.

4. Heating and Cooling Systems

It’s easy to overlook heating and cooling issues, but you need to pay attention or you could find yourself shelling out thousands of dollars after you purchase a home. Find the furnace in the basement or closet and make sure the heat exchanger isn’t cracked. This is a sign of an old unit that could be leaking toxins into the home and will definitely need to be replaced.

You can also check the air vents around the house for stains to see if the HVAC system is blowing dust or exhaust through the ventilation. Make sure you have a chance to listen to the air conditioner and take a look at the unit to see how the compressor sounds. If it’s noisy, make a note to ask when it was last replaced. If you make an offer on the house, make sure your inspector checks it out before you finalize anything.

5. Water Problems

Water problems in a home can come from many sources and do a lot of damage. Water causes unseen structures to disintegrate and can leave hidden mold behind. Fortunately, you can check for outward signs of water damage before you have an inspection done. First, check to see if the home’s landscape or yard is sloped toward the home. This could mean the basement takes on water. Next, when you’re inside, look for water stains on the walls and ceilings, as well as on the basement floor coverings.

Look for small areas that have been repaired. Keep in mind that water could be coming in from the foundation, a leaky roof, or leaking plumbing inside the house. The other indicator of water problems is the home’s odor, so use your nose. If there is a musty smell, something is wet. If there is an overabundance of candles or potpourri, someone may be trying to cover up odors.

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