1. Any Kind of Damage or Neglect
Every home is going to have some wear and tear. However, what you want to look for are obvious signs of damage or neglect:
- Look carefully at the baseboards, especially in the basement. Any signs of staining or warping can indicate past flooding or burst pipes. Stains on the ceiling can indicate a leaking roof. Pay attention to your nose as you walk through; if a room or area smells musty, it might indicate mold or mildew.
- Open up cabinets under the kitchen and bathroom sinks and look for tiny black spots on the back wall; this indicates the presence of mold. You should also look for black spots in the caulking around tubs and sinks.
- Look at exposed pipes carefully and check for rust or signs of leaking.
- If the home’s hardwood floors are hidden under lots of rugs, the owner might be trying to hide damage to the wood. If you can, discreetly lift up the rugs to check out what’s underneath.
- Look carefully at the windows. If there is any condensation built up inside the glass, it’s a sign they’re leaking and likely need to be replaced. Paint that is flaking or bubbling around the windows might also indicate that moisture is getting in.
- Pay attention to cracks in the ceiling. Small hairline cracks are normal and usually nothing to worry about; they’re just a sign of the home settling. Larger cracks might indicate a problem with the foundation.
- Open and close doors and windows. If they stick or are hard to open, this might be another clue that there are foundation problems.
- Feel around windows, doors, and electrical outlets for any drafts. While drafts can be easily fixed with caulk, they’re also a sign of deferred maintenance.
If this is a home you feel you might want to make an offer on, take pictures of any damage as you walk through each room. You won’t remember everything, and being able to see the damage again can help you craft a better offer.
2. The Neighbors
When you buy a home, you’re also buying neighbors too. Look carefully at the people you might be living next to (this includes any homes that border the backyard as well).
How well do they maintain their house and yard? Do they have any children or pets? Are those pets outside barking right now? Is their trash put away neatly or is it flowing all over the yard? Are there lots of cars in the driveway?
If you think you might make an offer on this home, go for a walk to get a feel for the neighborhood. Knock on a few doors and talk to the neighbors. Ask them how they like living there, what the neighborhood is like, and anything they know about the home you just toured. Is there anything they wish they’d known about the neighborhood before they moved in?
You might uncover some enlightening information by simply talking to the people already living there.
It’s also important to visit the neighborhood on different days, and at and different times, especially weekends. You’ll want to find out beforehand if you’d be living next to a late-night party animal.