When you're looking for a new car, you usually take it out for a test drive before buying or leasing it. What can you do to test out a house? Unless it's a mobile home, you won't be making any test drives. But there a few things you can and should do before signing those closing papers and taking ownership of a dream house that could just turn into a nightmare.
You've done your own quick inspection and you like what you see. It's got everything you need from the right amount of rooms, to the right size and layout. You even like the colors and plan to keep it painted the way it is. It looks ready to move in, so what's the problem?
Well, you may want to do a deeper dive inspection wise and take someone along who's a professional home inspector and knows what to look for to head off any future problems that could arise that your untrained eye would miss.
If this is your first time buying a home, it's easy to get caught unprepared for all the future repairs that seem to appear as soon as the ink dries on those closing papers. Here then are some tips gathered along the road of leaky roofs, damp basements and crowded highways that seemed so easy to handle on the weekends while you were house hunting. Some of the tips are mine and some come from Money magazine.
Tip 1. Money magazine recommends checking the home's foundation. When you inspected the house did you check the foundation? A home's foundation can be one of most expensive things to repair. This is something you probably shouldn't do yourself. Hire an inspector to go down into the basement with you. He or she will find cracks that you won't because you won't know where to look, especially if the basement is finished. Drywall could cover structural problems. So you need to look for any cracks in the drywall, especially around windows and doors. Since you've hired your own personal inspector, have them inspect the rest of the house as well.
Tip 2. Check the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. This one also comes from Money. So while you're down in the basement, look at the heating and cooling equipment. How old is it? Does it look like it's running properly? Are the vents connected well? These are important questions to answer in order to make your home energy-efficient and ensure that you reduce utility bills. Replacing a home's HVAC system can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but many first-time buyers never give it a second look.
Tip 3. Visit your potential neighbors to the right, left and across the street. This one's mine. You want to know who your neighbors are and the kind of people they are. Do they have children? Are there any issues with the neighborhood you should be aware of? Are your neighbors friendly or private? Most first-time home buyers do this after they've moved in which is way too late if the person next door turns out to be the neighbor from hell.
Tip 4. Look for water damage. Money magazine says that if the house has had problems with water in the past, you're looking at several expensive fixes. First, what happened once, like a leaking basement, can easily happen again. Second, that water damage could have resulted in mold, especially the dangerous black mold. Look for brown or white stains down the side of the basement walls, which would indicate a past leak. If the floor is bare, then look for horizontal stains. Be suspicious if the basement has been freshly painted. Sellers often do this to hide water damage stains. It's also important to check the bathroom, and under the kitchen sink. Look for stains that would indicate mold growth.
Tip 5. Check the electrical. According to Money, if the home you're looking at is pre-1930's, it might still have the old knob and tube wiring. Knob and tube wiring is relatively safe as long as it hasn't been tampered with in any way. For instance, if the house has blown insulation in the attic sitting on top of the knob and tube wiring, this is tampering and it's a serious home fire safety hazard. Most insurance companies consider knob and tube wiring to be unsafe, so you're going to pay more for homeowner's insurance coverage. That's even if they'll insure you. Replacing it means rewiring the entire house, which will cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Tip 6. When you found the house, was it during the week or on the weekend? If you're looking for a place that will be an easy commute you need to see the house during the week and on a day you'll be commuting. Otherwise, you could be in for commuter shock. A friend once bought a townhouse in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, only to find it was nearly impossible to get out of the driveway, let alone the neighborhood, during commuting hours.
Tip 7. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. These days putting an accurate value on a house is difficult because of the housing mess. So you may have to trust your instinct here. If not, trust your bank's instinct because chances are they're not going to give you a mortgage for more than 80% of what they think the home is worth. However, if the home's price is suspiciously low, there's probably a good reason so beware.
Buying a house is a huge decision and investment, especially if it's your first. So follow these seven tips and spare that buyer's remorse.