How to Spot Issues With a Home on the First Tour: What to Look For

Published on September 6, 2022 under How-To

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The housing market today is a hot one. Even cooling from the recent frenzy, there are still more buyers than available homes and sellers have their choice of bids in most neighborhood markets. One of the side-effects of a hot market is a reduced chance to inspect a house for defects before you bid or before you close on the home.

This means that your initial walkthrough when touring a home is vital - one of your few chances to identify problems before committing to the home purchase. A sharp eye can help you identify issues ahead of time and either avoid a "lemon" or plan and negotiate with post-purchase renovations in mind. Whether you are a first-time home buyer or just looking to improve your game before your next home purchase; here's what to look out for when touring homes on your house-hunt:

  1. The home's age
  2. The utilities, fixtures, and outlets
  3. Structural or water damage issues

The Home's Age

First, learn how old your house is and how old each of the essential features may be. Your roof and appliances each have individual lifespans and replacement schedules.

  • The Year the Home was Built
    What year was the home built? This will tell you the age of the timbers, drywall, windows, plumbing, and wiring. Recent or rarely maintained homes may also still have their original roof and major appliances.
  • The Year of the Last Major Renovation
    When was the last major renovation? Many homes include a list of recent updates like a kitchen renovation, a master bath rebuild, or a deck addition as selling points. Recent maintenance and upgrades will mean newer features and a more comfortable or reliable home.
  • The Age of the Roof and Appliances
    Know how old your roof and major appliances are. Appliances should be replaced every 10 years, and your roof replaced every 15-30 years. A newer water heater and HVAC will be more energy-efficient, while a newer kitchen speaks for itself.

Test the Utilities

Make sure all the utilities work and are in good condition.

  • Run Every Faucet (And Watch Every Drain)
    Run every tap in the house. Turn the faucets and test them in your hand. Look at the finish and see if it's flaky or new. Test to see how fast each room can run hot water from the tap, and if the water is clear or has little fleck in it. Then watch and listen to the drain to see if you can detect early problems. Flush every toilet and test the backyard and laundry taps as well. Don't forget to peek under the fixtures to detect heavily corroded plumbing junctures or stuck valves.
  • Toggle the Light Switches and Check the Light Fixtures
    Check every light fixture. Look for flaking finishes, exposed wires, or precarious hanging. Toggle the light switches to make sure they are responsive (and don't spark) and look at the switch plate covers for age or signs of scorching.
  • Test the Outlets
    Check out the outlets in every room. We suggest bringing a small two-prong device like a lamp or mini fan just to make sure every outlet provides power. Test the GFCI outlet in the bathroom and make sure it switches on. Take a look at your outlets and ensure A) plenty have three prongs, B) they are properly secured, and C) they don't show signs of scorching.

Structural Integrity

Homes go through a lot over the years, and older homes may not be as structurally sound or damage-free as you would hope. Watch for signs of damage, rot, decay, or mold as you walk through.

  • Check the Ceiling, Walls, and Baseboards
    Look at the ceilings for signs of water damage, and the walls for cracks. Check the baseboards for cleanliness and signs of rot.
  • Visit the Attic and/or Basement
    Be sure to go into the storage spaces like the attic or basement, whichever each home has. This is often where signs of damage to the home are not covered up by fresh paint or where issues will show most clearly.
  • Look for Signs of Wear, Rot, or Water Damage
    Trust your nose to detect mold and rot. Look for an eaten away or soft appearance to wood beams. Look for dark spots that indicate past leaks and water damage.
  • Watch for Cracks and Uneven Doorways
    One of the most serious types of home damage is cracked and shifting foundation. You can detect this in cracks or uneven lines in the house. Crooked doorways or cracks running up walls, over ceilings, and in the basement are the biggest signs.

Due Diligence Inspection Options

No matter how little time you have to walk through the house, always stick to due diligence - which is ensuring you are buying a home of good quality no matter how beautiful it may be. Here are a few options to ensure you get as much information on a home's quality as possible:

  • Don't Rely on Photography or Virtual Tours
    Photos can sometimes reveal issues, but they can also hide them. Don't count on what is effectively "promotional material" for due diligence inspections.
  • Seek Homes with Pre-Listing Inspections
    If a home shares a pre-inspection report, the inspector's reputation is on the line - so you can usually count on its integrity.
  • Walk-and-Talk Inspection Showings
    Some inspectors will agree to tour homes with you and point out those little details that we've suggested you watch for. However, this is not a fully detailed inspection (you need seller's permission for that) and so your inspector is only able to offer an unofficial opinion.
  • Inspection Contingency Clauses
    Even in a competitive housing market, don't wave your inspection contingency without solid alternative information.

Secure Your Next Home with First Savings Mortgage

What should you look for when touring old and new homes? Make sure you buy a home of good quality and without any lurking maintenance issues with these tips and techniques. To increase your chance of making the winning bid, First Savings Mortgage can help you get a pre-approved mortgage that you can show to sellers to strengthen your bid.

Contact us today to learn more.

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