You’ve spoken to your banker and mortgage lender. A long list of ‘must-haves’ has been drawn up and you’ve narrowed down your search for your new home to no more than 4 towns/cities. There are several open houses this weekend and you are ready to hit them all with vigor.
The enthusiasm that comes with home hunting is wonderful, but often it blinds potential buyers (especially NEW home buyers who don’t know what to look for or how to negotiate) to the glaring issues each property has.
And every property, even new construction, has issues.
Let me start this out by staying that the age of the home does not dictate the quality of the home. I have seen and worked on homes from the late 1600’s that were in far better shape and needing less work than a home built in 2000. There are certain things you do have to keep in mind when looking to purchase either one, but don’t get scared by the sheer age of a property. What you should look for is quality, craftsmanship, materials used and location.
So let’s role this into the top 15 things you should always look for when looking to purchase a new home. Remember, some things will require to check in with your local townhall for the state regulations on some of these as they can be different.
15 THINGS TO LOOK FOR WHEN PURCHASING A NEW HOME
1.) YEAR PROPERTY WAS BUILT.
I know I just said you shouldn’t judge a home by its age, but there are some things you will need to look for if thinking about purchasing an older home. The two major things are LEAD and ABESTOS.
Houses built before 1910/1920 may have lead paint both interior and exterior to the home. Typically speaking this is easily remedied by buying some encapsulation paint (or asking the buyers to remove it) but it can scare lots of potential buyers away. The reality is, unless you’re ignoring your kid long enough for them to peal, consume and digest a large bowl full of the stuff; it’s usually fine. In fact, most of us grew up in homes with lead paint without even knowing it.
It is a hazard that can be troublesome, especially if its flaking (crocodile skin appearance) because it tends to flake into small pieces, so using it has a bargaining chip whether to lower the price of the property or to have the sellers clean it out is a good idea. Hardware stores will sell an encapsulation paint that you simply paint over the lead paint to prevent it from flaking or pealing as well.
The second, and more expensive fix is for asbestos. Houses built between 1920 all the way up into the early 1970’s can have anything from asbestos installation, asbestos tiles (both interior and exterior) and even asbestos paint. Asbestos was great for many things but the health risks with it eventually lead it’s banning in the later 1970’s.
One of the easiest ways to spot asbestos is to check the basement. If you find a white covering on the pipes and furnace, chances are you have asbestos. If there are vinyl like floor tiles inside the house, those may be held down by asbestos glue and exterior tiles outside (sometimes used inside of shingles or vinyl siding) may also contain asbestos.
Unlike lead paint, asbestos is a much more involved process to remove. You will need to contact a legitiment asbestos removable company, who can charge anywhere from 2k to 10k+ to remove it. The removal team with sell off the area, hazmat suits and all, and remove the asbestos for you.
If you find a property that you are interested in, make sure to inquiry on whether the property has been tested for asbestos. If you want to purchase the home where asbestos is present, I would highly recommend having it built into the contract that the seller will handle it, otherwise you will be taking on those cost because asbestos is no joke.
*Note: there are labs in most cities/town that will test a small sample of the substance for a small fee. If ever in doubt, check it out!
2.) BURIED OIL TANK
For some reason this doesn’t always make it to the MLS and there have even been cases where the seller didn’t know, but this is a HUGE hazard that is always best to ask about. You should have a home inspection that will hopefully check on this, but if you’re still in the “looking phase” it’s best to ask.
3.) AGE OF THE WINDOWS
This may be hard for folks who don’t actually know much about homes, but windows are a huge factor in purchasing a home. If the windows are old (older single panel) you can expect to lose a lot of heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. Each window will run you anywhere from 100$ to 700$ dollars, so make sure to check out that glass when you’re doing your walk throughs and ask when they were last replaced if your unsure. Generally, you can tell the age of a window by cracks, the thinest of the glass (try tapping it a bit) and whether there is vinyl or wood holding the panels in.
4.) TOWN SEWER/WATER VS PRIVATE
This should be on the listing before you even go to the property to see it, but some people don’t want the hassle of a septic. Now in most states, unless the property is listed SOLD AS IS, the seller is responsible for fixing any septic issues (such as a failed Title 5.)
Even with a new septic tank installed, you will need to remember that it will require maintenance and pumping every couple of years. Septic is usually found in more rural areas. It also means that you don’t have to worry about paying a tax for town sewer.
If the property is on TOWN SEWER, know you will responsible for paying a tax for that.
The same can be said for Well Water vs Town Water. Well Water will require maintenance and treatment every couple of years. I, personally, have had both growing up and honestly wouldn’t pick one over the other, but make sure you always do your research.
5.) SOUND POLLUTION
Resale. Resale. Resale.
Location is everything but that also includes what you HEAR because of that location. Is the property near an active gun range? An airport? Perhaps a train or use highway? If you don’t see yourself moving in the next 20 years, and you can handle whatever noise fills your house, then you’re fine. If you are thinking about selling said home after a few years, then make sure you check out what is around the property. Just because you can’t hear it the day you went to see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t active other days and sound pollution will lower the resale of the property.
This is something A LOT OF PEOPLE over look and it can get you in trouble. What are the taxes for the property? Make sure you find that out before putting any offers on any property.
You are taxes on land and assessed value of your property. In some instances, you are also taxed if the town recently brought in town gas lines, sewer or water. These taxes can be increased a lot each year to cover the cost. Make sure that once you find out the yearly taxes for the property, you roll that into the monthly mortgage payment you can expect to pay.
7.) BUG DAMAGE
You’ll find this a lot in homes with wooden supports. Make sure to look closely at all the wooden parts of the home, especially in the basement where conditions tend to attract insects. Beatles and terminates can cause some damage to structural sections of a property. Unlike dry rot, bug damage can extend far out of your view in the walls and behind shingles, and the damage could still be going on.
If you find a house you love with minor insect damage (your inspector will be able to get a better idea of the extent of the damage) make sure to ask the seller to replace the damage portions and get a clean bill of pest control.
8.) HEAT ZONE AND AGE OF HEATER
The more zones a house is separated into for heat/cooling, the more money you’ll save in the long run. Whereas having only ONE zone for a typical home, that can run you up a good chunk of change in the winter months by the house trying to continuously run. This being said, make sure you see how old the heater is and the last time it was serviced. A service tag is usually placed on the heater itself with a list of previous inspections.
If you can see any open areas in the walls, try to look in and see if you find either blown in insulation or roll insulation. The basement and attics are key places to look for this. Make sure to look under any additions on a property (if you can access it) to see if they insulated the underside. Any addition without a foundation will need to be properly insulated.
10.) WATER MARKS IN BASEMENT
This may be unavoidable in some areas, especially in properties that are listed on the MLS as requiring flood insurance. If the property is NOT in a flood zone, make sure to check for water marks (sometimes you can smell musk before you see the damage) or signs of water on the ground and walls. Mold isn’t always your first sign of a water issue.
Subpumps and French Drains are a key indicator that the property had water issues at some point, but that doesn’t always mean it was a reoccurring issue either. Water can become an issue when the yards are not graded property, when bulkhead doors are not property installed or lined, basement windows being to low to the ground and when fieldstone or blocks aren’t mortared right. Usually it’s an easy fix but always be on the lookout.
11.) MOLD IN BASEMENT OR ATTIC
This is not unusual in many northern parts of the country, and is probably pretty easy to spot. Black, orange and rusty reds are typical mold colorings you’ll find in plaster and wood.
12.) HORSE HAIR PLASTER
Basically any house built before 1920 probably has some horse hair plaster in it. A lot of horsehair plaster is pretty sturdy and a good form of insulation, until you try to put a nail into it and it starts to crack. Horsehair plaster is a mess to remove (and there are some new laws and regulations as to how it can be removed in some states.) When checking on a house you know is older, make sure to pay attention to the walls. Are there large cracks in the plaster? Is there wallpaper on them? (some wallpapers will tare the plaster when removing it.) Are there any sections where the plaster has actually started to crumble?
When walking through the property, do you notice any slops or divits? Many houses settle and a gently slop from room to room can mean nothing, but always check the basement to see the structural supports of the property. Even newer homes settle. If you haven’t put an offer on the house yet and hired an inspector, some key things to look for before deciding to move forward are:
- are the wooden main supports notched?
- does it have timber supports that are not in good shape?
- are there any temporary metal supports?
- has there been insect damage to the main supports?
14.)PROPERTY VALUE HISTORY
If you have a set area you want to live in and don’t care about resale, then you can skip this step. However, if your someone who doesn’t know if you’ll live in the property for 5 year or 50 years, it’s best to look at the last 10 years of property values in the area.
Have properties in the immediate area shown a dip or rise in assessed value? Is there a pattern in accumulate equity on the property itself? (Such has, has it’s assessed value one up more than 5% in the last 2 years?) It’s always best to pick areas where properties gradually go up in value as opposed to stagnant, or worse, decreased.
15.) DOES THE SELLER HAVE A CONTINGENCY CLAUSE
Some sellers have a contingency on the sale of their house, just as some buyers will as well. These are clauses that basically state that in order to move forward on a deal, the party must have found or sold their own. This may or may not work out in your favor depending on how quickly you are looking to move.
16.) TAKE YOUR TIME
Sometimes the market demands bidding wars but more so than often you can take your time and really examined any properties you are thinking of purchasing. Don’t rush into a property you are not 100% sure about. It’s a big purchase (not investment, more on that in another article) so you want to make sure you’ve calculated your cost correctly and are completely satisfied your inspection and negations.
Also make sure to have REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. The seller doesn’t have to touch a damn thing after the inspection and you don’t have to commit to buying anything. The reality is that no home is perfect. Often the ‘issues’ that are brought up after an inspection are actually small problems that you can tackle yourself. Don’t get scared away from an inspection, you are hiring an inspector TO FIND THINGS WRONG WITH THE PROPERTY, not to find things right.
In that same breath, make sure to research the issues presented to you to see how much of or how little of a hassle they will be. It will help you negotiate easier when you have a better understanding of what needs to get done, what can be held off, and what you can do.