PhotoWe are well into the spring home shopping season and in many markets, would-be buyers are having to compete for properties. Inventories of available homes remain tight in many metros.

So when you come across the cute “mid-century” rancher in a good neighborhood at an attractive price you may be ready to pounce. But before you do, there are four parts of the home you should closely examine. They can be the difference between a good deal and a money pit.

They are, in order of importance, the roof, the basement or crawlspace, the heating and cooling system (HVAC) and the electrical service.


The roof protects the integrity of the structure. If it leaks, moisture is getting inside and causing all sorts of damage.

If shingles are missing or are cracked and peeling, the roof may already be leaking. If the shingles are intact but are curling or torn, they are on their way to failing.

Discolored shingles can be a sign of mold or algae growth on the roof. That holds moisture and can cause rapid deterioration.

Inside, water spots on the ceiling can be a telltale sign of a leaky roof. That may be reason enough to walk away. The cost of replacing a roof will be several thousand dollars and that doesn’t cover the repairs to any damage that may have already occured.

If the house is going to need a roof replacement soon after you move in, that cost should be reflected in your offer. On the other hand, if the roof has recently been replaced, that’s a big checkmark in the house’s favor.

Crawlspace or basement

Just as moisture invading your home from above, an invasion from below is just as damaging. Water can get under the structure any number of ways. Sometimes the contour of the lot allows rain water to collect next to the foundation, but more often than not the water comes from the roof, by virtue of overflowing gutters or downspouts.

Subterranean water is easier to spot in a basement because of easier access. In addition to the musty odor you can detect water marks on walls where water has entered. If basement walls have recently been painted it may be reason enough to suspect a water problem.

Water is harder to hide in a crawlspace, but may require crawling into a dark, cramped space with a flashlight. Moisture can usually be detected by the musty smell. If water is present, there is a chance of mold and insect damage as well.

Whether it’s a basement or a crawlspace, addressing water issues is usually a costly home repair and to be avoided, if possible.


HVAC systems keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Furnaces tend to last a lot longer than air conditioners but you still want to pay attention to the furnace’s age. The same is especially true for air conditioners.

Window units that cool specific parts of the home, are relatively inexpensive and easily replaced. Not so with central air units. According to the experts at This Old House, central air conditioning units last 10 to 15 years, heat pumps about 16.

A home with a newer cooling system is a big plus. One with an older system will likely need replacing soon, at a cost of several thousand dollars.

Electric service

All homes have electricity but some have more of it than others. Many older homes are still powered by 100 amp service, which was the standard when they were built. Modern homes have 200 amp service and are able to handle today’s greater electricity demands.

For example, a home may need a 200 amp service to handle a large load HVAC system or other large appliances. If a home doesn’t have it, it can cost several thousand dollars to add and should be considered before making any offer.

Home shoppers often get fixated on granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Before considering the cosmetics, better focus on structural basics like roof, foundation, HVAC and electric service.

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