Buying a House Guide - Warning Signs Checklist for Home Buyers

We have all heard the horror stories about people who have bought a property that was a lemon - fine on the outside, but with serious hidden defects in the inside, that costs thousands to fix.

The first rule when buying your first home, or upgrading, is to use your head rather than your heart. You need a way of quickly, objectively and thoroughly checking properties you inspect for signs of existing problems and also signs that problem may occur down the track.

You can do the initial appraisal yourself, but after this if you are serious about it have your home checked by the experts. A good way to conduct your inspection is to divide the prospective property into three areas - the outside, the inside and the surrounding properties, neighborhood and structures.

This article provides a checklist of things to look for to spot potential problems and things you need to check further. Using it you can quickly drop the lemons and focus on the properties that are good potential buys. If you have families or friends that have some experience or knowledge of building structure and local problems get them to come with you. They may also provide a sensible, non-emotional second opinion about the property. They may also help with advice on what to look for. They may also help to balance your emotions and provide objective opinions and assessments.

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What to Check Inside the House

Water pressure - Turn on the taps in the bathroom, kitchen and laundry. Check the pressure and look for signs of rust in the water and any slow draining from the sinks.

Damp - Check the walls and ceiling for any stains, water marks or damaged paint. A freely painted area my indicate the seller has tried to cover over a damp area to hide it. Check for any damp smells in rooms and cupboards.

Cracks in the walls, ceiling or doors that stick in the frames - These may be signs of warping in the house frame, subsidence or other movement. It may signal severe damage that may need to be checked by a structural engineer. Minor cracks are unlikely to be a problem in older houses

Sticking windows - Check if the windows are hard to open or close properly, because the frames rusted (if they're metal) or have warped (if they're wood). New paint jobs may indicate attempts can hide both. Tap and push around wooden window and door frames to check for signs of dampness, dry rot or worse - termite infections.

Mould - If you find mould in the kitchen or bathroom, it usually means that there are ventilation problem, leaks or rising dampness in the walls.

New paint - Recent paint jobs may be a good sign that the seller has tried to improve the appearance of the house. But if the new painting is in vulnerable areas it may be suspicious. Run your hands down walls and look at them from different angles for signs of any problems

Bathroom - Check and look for damaged enamel on the bath and wash basin, broken surfaces and any swelling in the timber used for he cupboards. Loose grout in the shower recess, or missing, lifting or cracked tiles, can be signs of water damage. Check the pipes, drains and plumbing for leaks. If the shower recess is leaking this can be a very expensive repair job

Hot-water system - Ask for details about the age of the water heating system. Check for signs of leaks and whether there have been regular inspections. Check that the pressure relief valve is working and the wiring and fuel line are sound. Run the hot water to check the temperature and listen for any bangs in the pipes.

Insulation - If you can, peer through the manhole up into the roof and check the condition of the insulation. Ask whether the walls are insulated and the insulation rating for the house.

Pests - Look for signs of all types of pests. Look for rat or mouse dropping, mousetraps or poisons. Also look for dead cockroaches that may have been missed in the clean up. Sagging floors as well as hollow-sounding beams and door frames, can all be tell-tail signs of termite damage. If the house is in a termite-prone area always get a professional pest inspection if you are seriously considering buying the house.

Electrical wiring - Check switches and power-point sockets for their condition and any brown areas can be signs of poor wiring condition. Replacing wiring and fittings can be very expensive.

Heating and cooling systems - Check that the heaters and cooling systems work and ask about their age an condition.

Floor coverings - Check the carpets and other floor coverings for wear. Lift any rugs to check that they are not covering any damage.

Fly screens - Make sure all the fly screens are present and are in good condition. They can be very expensive to replace.

Style - Check that you generally like the style as re-decorating can be expensive and this needs to be considered when considering the purchase price. Renovations are expensive.

Kitchen and laundry - Check condition benchtops and cupboards (bot inside and out) and make sure there are no stains, burns or water damage.

Renovations - If you are planning to renovate or redecorate check that it is feasible structurally and will be economical and will add to the value of the property. Make a list of what needs to be done so that you can get cost estimated later.

Room layout - Make sure that the property has the right number of rooms and enough space for you. People always make unrealistic assumption about how they will use the rooms. The size f the rooms always looks much larger wen unfurnished.

Power points - Check that there are sufficient power points and outlets in the right places for the way you ant to use the house.

What to Check Outside the Dwelling

Orientation - Check the orientation of the house in relation to the sun angle and how natural lighting will penetrate the house. This can be very important and check whether the living areas will be too hot or cold or the kitchen and bedrooms too dark.

Plumbing - Check the outside pipes and taps for leaks and drips. Run the taps to make sure they work and look for signs of rust. Also check for any damp soil areas which may be signs of leaks or poor drainage

Fuse box - Make sure that the fuse box and electrical supply system are in good condition, hopefully modern and satisfies safety requirements. If you are concerned about anything and you are serious about the property have the wiring checked by an electrician before you proceed to the next stage.

Guttering - Look for leaks, warps, rust, holes and any signs that the gutters overflow or leak, or are blocked. Check for signs that the down pipes may be blocked and that water can drain from the property.

Asbestos - Ask whether any asbestos has been used on the property and a recent asbestos certificate. Look for signs of asbestos in garages, sheds and fencing. Professional inspections are well worthwhile if you are serious.

Roof - Check for damage, rust, leaks or missing, cracked or sliding tiles. Also check for any signs of sagging or undulations in the roof line which can be signs of structural issues in the roof frame.

General external appearance - Check the overall state condition and appearance of the building and the yard including any damaged windows, cracks in the cement work or brickwork.

Extensions - Check the building quality of any extensions and request the council approval documentation.

Surrounding Land and Structures

Trees - Check the condition and age of trees. If they are old and have limbs that may fall on the house or the neighbours house they may have to be removed, and this can be very expensive. Check for any allergy issues and leaf drop issues.

Garden - Check the state of the garden and how much time, effort or cost will be required to modify it to your requirements, including pruning and plant replacements. Check the watering systems and the neighbouring gardens. Note: It is often very hard to get approval from the local council to remove trees, and neighbours may object to landscaping changes that may affect them. The same issue apply to the surrounding properties. Check that nothing may occur that will affect your use of the outside areas.

Privacy - Property that are overlooked by surrounding houses can lead to privacy issues that can be unbearable and affect your enjoyment of the garden. Check for signs that the garden and outside spaces are well used. If not try to work out why.

Fencing - Check that all the fences and gates and sound and are in good condition. Make a special check of pool fences or pet and children security areas.

Pools and spas - Look for any bulges or cracks in the sides and bottom of the pool or any missing or damaged tiles. Also check the filtration, lighting and heating systems. Ask for evidence of any servicing and maintenance records. Check the security fencing and privacy issues.

External property structures - Check the sheds, pergolas, carports, outdoor dining and entertainment areas and decking, to ensure they are in good condition.

Drainage - Wet, bare or muddy areas in the garden and surrounds can be signs of poor drainage or water pooling. Check for water damage or drainage problems in the property itself and look over the fences for signs of drainage or leaks into the property. Water flowing from outside the property can be very hard to fix, as it is remote from the property itself with and may ruin a garden, and may even enter the house of garage after heavy rain.

Final Review

After going through the checklist and inspection, review and evaluated what you've discovered. Write down your findings and a series of pros and cons and make estimates or any repair costs. Make a cost and benefits analysis for buying the property.

If your analysis is positive and you still are keen to buy the property, its time to do your negotiations, building in any extra cost for repairs and renovations.

It's now time to bring in the experts.

© 2012 Dr. John Anderson

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Comments 1 comment

alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

A good list of things to watch out for. Hiring a home inspector is also a good idea since he may spot things you know nothing about. Voting this Up and Useful.

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