First time buyers are some of the most optimistic people that I’ve ever met. Here in the Bay, they pretty much have to be – most will have to battle with cash investors or other first timers for months before they finally get an offer accepted. They learn to look past nasty shag carpet, grease encrusted cabinets and general smelliness because they know that if they are too picky about small things, they might miss an opportunity to avoid the competition. And anyhow, a bit of elbow grease will turn that ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.
Some ugliness isn’t so simple to fix. When most or all of a buyer’s savings will be depleted from a home purchase, they can’t afford to buy a home with expensive problems that must be fixed right away. If left alone, many termite, foundation and roof issues will cause further, more costly, damage over time. For example, a leaky roof that needs replacing could, over time, cause water to get behind stucco and cause a home’s wood framing to rot (this is a termite issue). The structure of the home could become more and more compromised as there is less and less solid framing holding the home up. What started as a $10,000 bid for a roof replacement has turned into a $10,000 bid for a roof replacement and $30,000 to strip the stucco and repair the underlying wood framing.
Unfortunately, many of these issues aren’t apparent to the untrained eye. The last thing a buyer wants to do is to waste time and money inspecting and appraising a home that they are interested in but that they don’t have the money to repair. And just because a buyer has a bit of money left over after closing doesn’t mean that he or she will have money for the big repairs. Moving and the Home Depot/Ikea/Bed Bath and Beyond renovation job required to get rid of the cooties might sap much of his or her remaining funds.
Although I’m not a trained contractor or home inspector, here are some of the things that I look out for when I’m evaluating a home:
-Buckling around the perimeter of the home within a foot or so of the ground. This is a sign that the foundation has shifted or is compromised, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair. If these problems are not addressed, they can lead to further foundation problems which could cost more and more to fix the longer they are left unaddressed. Shifty foundations also tend to cause slopey floors and shifting inside the home, which is also expensive to remedy.
-Slanted wood beams under the house. If you have a chance to look under the home, you should. Check to make sure that all of the beams holding up the house are straight (ie perpendicular to the ground). Slanted beams could be a sign of a serious foundation issue.
-Lots of rotted-appearing wood in key areas of the house. Rotted or pest-infested wood is soft to the touch, splinters off when you jab your keys into it and may have chipping paint over it. When the wood beams under the house, the wood siding, many of the windows, large parts of the interior flooring or the eves under the roof appear to be rotted or very worn, it’s a sign that the house could have a costly foundation, roof or termite problem.
-Major peeling paint or chunks of flaking stucco. Sometimes old, sun-beaten paint peels off wood, which may not indicate that there is a serious issue. Other times, this be an indication of a major termite/pest issue.
-Water staining on the ceiling and walls. This often means that there is a roof problem, so look up!
- Fuses or other old-appearing electrical equipment. Older electrical systems were built when standards were different and before some hard lessons about what causes fires were learned. Furthermore, electrical equipment, just like all building materials, also doesn’t last forever. Be sure to get older or crusty looking electrical equipment checked out. Also look for overloaded electrical panels (ie bunches of wires stuffed into breakers, etc).
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the things that should be looked at when evaluating a house. You should always have a home inspection before purchasing a home.