If you’re considering buying a house that’s more than a few years old, there may be some hidden problems you can discover before you make a purchase offer. Although putting a professional inspection contingency in the contract will help protect you from surprises, doing your own inspection before making an offer could save you considerable time and money.
How can you tell if a property is worth buying? Here’s how to look at the big picture — for structural concerns, major repairs that are needed, appliances that have to be replaced.
Crawl The Walls
Start going to the right when you enter the house, and keep on following to the right. You will check each wall that way. Do the same on every floor. Look for settlement cracks, separating joints, defective plaster or other signs of stress or damage. Check wallpapered areas for crinkling or gathering, which may mean walls are settling or shifting.
Look For Leaks
Loose or wrinkled wallpaper could indicate a water leak somewhere. Look for water stains on the ceiling and walls. You may have to look closely — bring a flashlight — in case they have been painted over or repaired.
Spend time in the bathrooms and in every area with pipes, checking for leaks and drips. Also, run the shower and basin, then flush the toilet to check water pressure. Look for cracked or loose tiles and missing grout or mildew stains on the walls or floor, which could indicate a behind-the-wall leak.
Plug Into The Electrical System
Check every electric socket or outlet. Use a plug-in night light and turn every switch on and off. Look for extension cords and multiple plugs in sockets, which could mean insufficient or poorly placed sockets. Also check every appliance to be sure it works well.
Focus On Condition
Open and close every door and window. Look and listen for squeaking, sticking, or a tendency to close on their own. Check for evidence of shifting or settling around the front stoop, chimney and walks, and places where the driveway and the fence meet the house. Also check the deck for sturdiness and look for rotted wood. Go into the garage and check the walls, floors and doors — inside and out.
Pay Attention To Pests
Look for termites and ants. Especially look along the foundation, around doors and entry points of wiring and pipes. Check the grading of the yard to be sure water runs away from the house.
If everything looks good to you and you decide to purchase the house, be sure to require a home inspection by a professional inspector before settlement. You will want a professional who will crawl into the crawl space, climb onto the roof and poke around with a flashlight in the attic. Your professional should also carefully inspect the major systems — electrical, gas, plumbing and heating/air conditioning.
You can and should insist on a written report detailing what the problems are with the house, how important each one is. You may have to consult a contractor to estimate repair costs on any problems found.
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