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How to Inspect the Exterior of a House to Decide if You Want to Write an Offer

Updated on June 11, 2016

Buying Houses

This house cost 18,500 in 1971
This house cost 18,500 in 1971 | Source
Marble Patio with Hollyhocks naturally coming up patio and garden was all covered up with 3 ft high debris leaves and high grass.  Look and ye shall find.
Marble Patio with Hollyhocks naturally coming up patio and garden was all covered up with 3 ft high debris leaves and high grass. Look and ye shall find. | Source
I really wanted a house with a picket fence, but in looking at what would hold the dog in and give her boundaries and still be white and pretty we settled for a corral fence.
I really wanted a house with a picket fence, but in looking at what would hold the dog in and give her boundaries and still be white and pretty we settled for a corral fence. | Source
Tiny window made into wall of drapes-big reason couple bought the house
Tiny window made into wall of drapes-big reason couple bought the house | Source

My second house

This was the second fixer upper... Much bigger ... added front porch, back fence, fill dirt in backyard, windows, finished upstairs interior with a back extension. Miscellaneous renov.
This was the second fixer upper... Much bigger ... added front porch, back fence, fill dirt in backyard, windows, finished upstairs interior with a back extension. Miscellaneous renov. | Source

My First House

My first house was an endeavor of reading some classifieds of house for sale and realizing that a single family house would cost the same per month as the apartment. After some calculations- was only looking around to see if there was anything desirable in the affordable price range... little money down FHA. This one was advertised in the classifieds. It was a rental house so it needed lots of work. Working for the government made the loan easy, so it was just a matter of writing down a list of all the things the house would need that could be do it yourself projects. There were lots of nice things that I found when digging around, but Hurricane Agnes and a lot of rain found major things that if it wasn't for my father I would have regretted. After cleaning up the yard a marble patio was uncovered and Hollyhocks arrived and I was thrilled.

We got estimates for popping the top and most things like carpeting were done by my trusty exacto knife because the rooms were small. We bought remnant area rugs and I cut them to fit. I put a little wrought iron gate between the kitchen and dining room that matched the wrought iron chandelier I made from a kit. I covered the old round Kelvinator Refrigerator (that the previous owner put in at settlement from his basement where he kept apples in it), with wood grain contact paper that matched the kitchen cabinets. It was barely noticeable except the silver kelvinator letters across the front. It blended in with the kitchen and it still kept the food cold.

The tiny windows on the ends were wall to wall draperies on the inside that I had made and then made a little cafe curtain from the sill down so we could open the window if we wanted but still had the effect of a huge window from the draperies.

Most of the things done to this little house (2 bedroom 1.5 baths) were cosmetic, a couple of cracked window panes, paint, rugs, drapes and elbow grease. Some fixtures were replaced by myself, no major things except the sump pump in the stairwell and the fence. It was an adorable little house, and it shown when it was sold 1.5 years later to move to number 2.

It was an education. There are so many things you cannot see until you live in the house unless you are experienced at different houses and know what to look for. In this article we will try to talk about as many issues that you might have as we can.

The front porch was put on the 2nd house to have a place to sit outside. It just wasn't big enough to sit on the little side deck next to the kitchen.

A List of Exterior Look Fors

Curb Apeal Ability-- LOVE Your home

First does it have curb apeal or could you give it the I like pulling up here and saying I live here. And if it looks eww, try to imagine if you could give it a little pizzazz yourself.. a bush here or there, a change in color-if the HOA(homeowners association rules) allow it. A little garden, a storm door, shutters ... many things that make houses adorable are something you can do with a little elbow grease..... But beyond beauty, look at the basics.

1. Check any exit stairwells. The first house I bought had an outside exit stairwell. That means that the ground is not level where you come out of the house, usually at a basement, but sometimes a split foyer or split level will have one of these exits. I learned. Look at the outside exit stairwell drain and be sure if you have one that it is always clear of leaves and debris. Make sure it is a real drain and not a little pipe going nowhere. If the drain is just a foot down hole into a gravel pit, if you have a big storm the water will not go anywhere and back up in the stairwell, then into your doorway and under your door and into your basement..... SO all stairwell basement doorway drains need to have a pipe to make it go out far away into the yard somewhere. Preferably buried so you do no see it in your yard but make the water go away from your door. In this house we also installed a sump pump hole in that stairwell to make any excess water pump out. Thanks Dad. When I sold Real Estate I always looked at these and pointed them out to the buyers to make sure that they kept them clear. Sometimes there is a tree near by and the basement problem in these houses is merely that the homeowner did not keep the leaves out of the drain area. If the drain goes anywhere you still have to keep debris and leaves off the grate of the drain.

2. Look all around the house and check for the way the landscaping goes away from the house- Look for Termite food feasts. There should be a slight slope in the earth packed against the house foundation so all water will run away from the house If it is flat and even or sloping inward toward the house-it will eventually erode and make little pathways into your foundation and may find a place that is not waterproofed on your foundation walls and in it will come Sometimes this takes years but when i makes a path in the ground it is hard to remedy without excavation and reparging. So make sure your ground is going away from your house. Make sure there are no pieces of wood or wood stacks near the house to draw termites to the base. Termites leave little mud tunnels on the concrete that look like mud dauber tubes. They incase themselves so they are not exposed to the daylite. Yes they do get on concrete to get to the place where they can enter your building foundation to get to the floor joists. House number three that I don't have a picture of had beautiful hardwood floors and no basement. I bought it from an elderly lady who held the mortgage. I loved the house and I had nowhere to go... it was like a little piece of heaven for me.... but probably the termite chemical treatment that they did in the old days made this a toxic box. There was no inspection as it was not required for a mortgage held by the owner and I had no money and two babies. The detailed grain in the shiny coated hardwood floors were actually little pathlines the termites had eaten the floor underneath and they were almost a long slot of a hole, but from a distance looked like just a detailed grain. Only a spiked high heel with a very small tip that I wore when I went out to show houses could do the telltale and fall through that tiny crack. Do not use wood around garden beds right next to your house. When they start feasting the party raves right into your home.

While you are walking around the house look at the outside wood areas to see what needs painting or replacing in the shutters, splashboard under gutters, wood decorative panels under windows and the facade around the doorways(Those wooden frames that are for decoration around the doorway tend to collect water and rot away when they are wood and are food feasts for carpenter ants and termites) You can now purchase facades to place around your doorways from a door store that are not wood and are water resistant and look very beautiful. These are not inexpensive but are maintenance free. House number five I had to replace the facade on the front as it totally deteriorated. It was bad when I bought the house but I kept mending and painting until I had to replace. I stained and sealed the deck every two years myself. It was a beautiful 3 level deck, but was tired when I bought the house. This was something I figured I could make last as long as it was stable. I was able to open up a section of it to maintain the underneath and make sure that there were no termite tunnels to the house. When I did find one on the concrete are I installed the termite control monitor system all around he perimeter of the house. If termites appear you just put a poison stick in the monitor system and they take the poison back to the nest and eat themselves to death. Termites can cause major damage. But be sure you are exposing yourself to chemicals that are toxic. In house number three, when taking the walls out to put a bigger addition on the upstairs the removal of drywall revealed there were no studs in the wall that held the little stairway up. The termites had come up through the floor and eaten all the wall studs. Part of this house was on cement slab so that was stable, but the part that was hardwood floors...I had already seen he damage they could do to that. When you got down on the floor you realized that the dark line was really a long hole. That was a revelation to me. I had done a lot of talking about termites over the years but house number 3 told me that termites are something you should take seriously.

3. Look at the gutters inside and out. (inside meaning at the attic inside-if they backup they cause mold in the attic around the edge of the roof) Are the gutters full of leaves and debris?... then maybe your downspout will be too, only you won't see it until it doesn't let the rain come out at the bottom. Make sure you have splashblocks or gutter extensions and ways for the water to run out and way after coming down the gutters. Many people bury these gutter extension attachments that are black hosing. Sometimes over the years extensions come off or rust where they connect and break off and no longer go into the holes that were made for the water to wash away from the house. So look at where the gutters empty out for gutter extensions, splash blocks and gravel directives to wash the rain away from the house or just what you can do if you decide to buy the house. Just be sure to screen the ends so animals don't next in them and cause a blockage. Chipmonks, squirrels and other little four legged creatures love a pre made home. One of the first things I did on my last house was change the gutters to larger gutters that were one piece so they did not need cleaning and the birds could not nest in them.

When you look in the attic, look at the eaeves where the roof and gutters meet. If the gutters tend to freeze up and then when melting or raining back into the attic under the roof-there will be mold sometimes that green mold in your attic. This is a sign you need some gutter work. Sometimes the gutters are not hung properly if someone did it themselves they forget you need a slight slope so the rainwater immediately runs to the downspout corner. Many of these things your homeinspector is supposed to notice on his checklist. If you have already looked and have a question list for him when you have the specialist there you can make sure to get the answers you need for general maintenance.

I love the birds, but not in my gutters or under the flaps of the roof corners.

4. Think of all the plus and minuses of trees and being at a dead end next to trees or backing to parkland or trees. Trees and animals can be trying and cause slight or big crises.

Yards are wonderful and you need to scope out the yard for anything you want, need or don't want or need.

Trees can give animals access to the roof of your house if too near, but also storms can cause the trees to fall or large branches to fall on your house or cars, or a tree from your yard can fall on a neighbors house, car person. So try to keep the trees trimmed, and healthy. Leaves from trees that pile on your roof can also cause damage so keep leaves out of gutters and off of the roof. I personally love trees, which you can tell from the pictures, but I also am known for my handling of a chainsaw and lopers. The fifth house I bought had two beautiful Bradford pears which in bloom are spectacular. The roadway was lined with them, so it was like going to see the Cherry Blossoms....... until first one split and I had to get the huge half of it out of the roadway. A neighbor helped with the cuttng the tree up that was laying across the road. Their big chainsaw and my little one chopped that baby up so the county could just load it up and take it away. I always have a couple of pairs of loppers. It is great not to have to call someone when some branches are hanging over your deck or something needs to be smaller to go into the recycle... loppers are a must have for evey homeowner.... a small pruning handsaw is good. Eventually both huge Bradford Pear Trees split and fell in pieces, each time causing major cutting and sawing and piling but luckily the County would pick up if stacked, tied and bagged. These were things I was able to take care of myself, but it is thousands of dollars for huge trees to be cut down and taken away.

Trees give places for animals to nest, woodpeckers can decide a tree near your house is inviting and after pecking all they can out of it... the wood on your house may be next. House number 4 had a family of red headed wood peckers that sounded like a construction crew in the front yard. They were fascinating to watch, but before the sun barely came up the woodpeckers were at it.

Snakes can drop off of overhanging tree branches and slither down flu pipes. 

Cover all of your openings with mesh so animals cannot get in. This includes Fireplace chimney tops and flu tops.

I.E. 2nd house..... Racoons came down the chimney and sat in the childrens beanbags, bared their teeth at me like it was their house and I was visiting and the beanbags were their chairs to sit in by the fireplace. When I asked them to leave they promptly ran into the kitchen and got on the counter tops. I had just come home from the grocery and not put the groceries away, just dumped them on the counter when I saw the racoons. I called animal rescue and they told me they were very dangerous and to get something long and open the doors and try to make them leave without getting close. I opened the kitchen side door and the front doors and used a rug tube to poke at them... One got on one counter and the other got on the other counter and they threw tuna fish cans back and forth and ran away with a string of lollipops after giving me a long exasperated fit. They returned many nights with their little ones and walked along that railing on the side porch and dragged whatever looked good out of the trash.

I.E. 2nd house... Terrible smell coming from trashcan area. Trashcans had no trash in them, but an oppossum had found it's way into one of the trashcans and had it's litter of little ones... What a smell.... That is not a pretty face to look into especially as it was a defensive mother so she showed me all her teeth... and sharp they were.

I.E. 4th house- surrounded by trees. One neighbor had momma snake come into the house through her dryer vent and nest in the warm dryer... Not a pleasant picture to a snakeophobic when they open the dryer and many tiny snakes slither out. The other neighbor called me to come look at the many copperheads hanging off the top corner of her house... I declined to look, when she asked me why they were up there I told her to call a snake specialist... not I.
This house also had a rabid racoon in the woods. It was spotted by a neighbor an she called over to tell me it was in her yard in the daylight acting strangely and it had headed for my house. I was carrying groceries in the house when she called and had left the baby in the carseat with the door open to the car and to the garage. By the time I got out there the rabid racoon was headed for the car and the baby..... I had a ferril cat that came to the porch when the children and I sat on the porch and we loved it dearly. The cat ran between the racoon and the baby and they had a long terrible loud fight. I managed to get the baby out of the car while they were fighting. The cat did not survive. The racoon was later trapped by the animal control people. It was rabid. A raccoon out in the sunlight is probably a bad thing and if they are barking it is worse. Stay away and call for help.

I.E. 4th and 5th houses... surrounded by trees... Squirrels in the attic... once a squirrel finds a way into your attic you need to get it out. They nest and damage a lot. Make sure the attic area is clean and free of old papers (silverfish food) and no holes eaten by woodpeckers or squirrels, and snakes also can reside in attics. Your local pest control people can block the hole with metal sheeting and then have a handman repair the outside. The pest control people will try to relocate any resident squirrels you have by catching them in a cage with apple and peanutbutter bate. Birds squirrels and other animals will sometimes be in pairs... male and female. When they are nesting, one will make the nest and the other will forage for food and bring it to the nest.

I.E. house number 5.. Nesting birds may find an upturned shingle at a corner of your roof where it slopes or a gutter turns. Make sure all your shingles are securred. If you have loose shingles this is another area where critters may decide to reside with you. Metal sheathing can block any holes they have already made, but you must secure the area so they cannot pullup things and make new entries.

5. Driveways, sidewalks, paths, stoops and steps.

House number 1 had an area you could pull off the road and out of the way. Parking is important. Especially when you come home late at night and cannot find any parking.. So check it out. Got parking... then check condition. If the driveway is concrete it could settle crooked or crackup unevenly. Asphalt driveways need sealing periodically to keep their condition good. Gravel driveway eventually gets smashed into the dirt and then you can't even see gravel anymore. So you may have to add more gravel.

Never put salt on your concrete stoop, this eats up the concrete and the surface becomes eroded. If there are steps, make sure he steps are intact and that you don't have uneven depths. If that bottom step is too high it makes it so some people cannot make it up your stoop.
Make sure you have a railing if there are 3 or more steps, and if there is a railing that it is secured firmly.

In house number 5 the sidewalks were slate and totally broken up and uneven. Very dangerous condition if people come to see you and cannot see where they are walking they can stumble and fall. I ended up getting Driveway Impressions to redo the driveway and sidewalks leveling the sidewalk to the bottom stoop so all the steps were the same. They do everything in asphalt but stamp and color it so it looks like brick or stone. It is resilient and stays good for many years with no settling. No cheap but redoing the concrete is not either.

I did a new sidewalk down the front and pathway along the gardens on the side with landcaping paper and clearing digging the ground put landscape covering and then sand... then your slate and fill in around with stones or gravel of your choice. I used white gravel. I reused the slate from the old front sidewalks to make the garden walking paths.

6. Look at the Direction of the Sun and the quality of the Soil and the lay of the Land for Gardening if you are Wanting to grow any gardens.

7. Look at all the Windows and Doorways and Exterior Surfaces for Energy Saving Features and Maintenance Free Features-if they are not there Look to see What you can do in the Future to Save Energy Time and Money.

8. Look at the Chimney on the outside to make sure the chimney cap mortar is intact and the chimney itself is stable. Next article we will go inside and look at the interior of the home.

9. Make sure you walk all around the yard to be sure that the yard does not feel swampy.

Sooooo

RECAP

**Curb Appeal-or appeal ability
**A Place to park
**Landscaping issues
**Gardening Area and Sun Direction
**Wood issues-debris and construction
**Drainage issues-Sloping and construction-Gutters and Downspouts-Stairwell Drains
**Sump Pumps - Good if they work and drain out in the right place in the yard
**Radon Remediation-Good, but is it one that works-get model name & # contractors name-check
**Concrete Cracking... driveway or just old sidewalks of slate and brick lacking mortor and sand
**Brick mortar?- will it need pointing up(refilling in places) There are supposed to be some weepholes in certain types of brick walls but they look like weepholes
**Roof-what layer is it?.. Is it curling or the surface sluffing off or are there shingles missing
If it is slate... Slates cracked or missing?... Get estimate... need big budget
**Check the Chiminey mortar and cap.... Chimneys are expensive to repair and you need a good chimney to use the fireplace

Hazards on The Exterior of Housing

Asbestos Shingles on Siding or Roof - Not to be torn off except by professionals-Incapsulate
Lead Paint on Exterior, on Metal(railings), Flaked and on the ground to wash into water supply or to be dissolved in vegetable garden for you to consume.
Mold on Exterior- of building and decks and concrete.
Arsenic Treated Old Deck wood
- wear shoes, don't let bare skin come into contact
Keep the wood stained and sealed.
Magnetic Fields from Power Lines - read EPA guidelines and you decide
Chiminey and flu malfunctioning- Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide poisoning...use your binoculars... also vines tend to grow up and break apart the mortar....why we fall asleep by the fireplace....not just the heat-the fire burns up the oxygen without the proper venting can emit small damaging particles....



My Third-Fourth and Fifth house

The top was raised and Dutch roof added to give room for master bedroom walkin closet and expand bathroom
The top was raised and Dutch roof added to give room for master bedroom walkin closet and expand bathroom | Source
The two car garage was added by matching the exact brick to make it look as if it was built originally
The two car garage was added by matching the exact brick to make it look as if it was built originally | Source
# 4 was built after visiting Williamsburg... 5 fireplaces... beamed ceiling in 40 ft kitchen with brick floor and beautiful brick floor front porch- swings or bench at every end both porches-3 car garage
# 4 was built after visiting Williamsburg... 5 fireplaces... beamed ceiling in 40 ft kitchen with brick floor and beautiful brick floor front porch- swings or bench at every end both porches-3 car garage | Source
I replaced everything in this house... I have now downsized to non homeownership.  These windows were beautiful casements with beveled edge diamond shapes cut in them.
I replaced everything in this house... I have now downsized to non homeownership. These windows were beautiful casements with beveled edge diamond shapes cut in them. | Source

And now we start again - Over Sixty

So, I lost everything because I couldn't keep up the high powered 24 hour days I was working. I was doing 3 jobs, all sub contracting or working for myself and then trying to keep up the house and gardens ... all on my own... didn't make it.. Still plugging... I have moved 5 times in 2 years, if you wonder what happens to people when they lose their house read my next article.. No home, no job, nobody but me and ?.... Well we are never totally alone. Keep the faith even and mostly when all seems hopeless.

I finally burned out and that is another article altogether about the process of losing everything, but keeping centered on what is important.

I will post pictures of the temporary places I stayed and how I fixed them up.

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