You are house hunting. This is supposed to be the fun part, right? So many choices, so many possibilities. When you look at a house, it’s easy to limit your evaluation to the most obvious things, like the living spaces.
After years of working with homebuyers, real estate and construction professionals, we can say that even if you don’t know much about construction, there are some key areas to look at and ask questions about that first-time buyers often fail to investigate.
Look at the foundation. Look for cracks and other damage. Look at the floors to see if there are any low spots or high spots, where jacks have been placed.
Check how the doors open and shut. Doors that rub when opening or won’t shut (especially in an old house) are indicators that the house has settled. In a new house, these symptoms might indicate poor construction.
Look in the attic. Look to see if the roof framing is braced properly. Look for sag in the rafters.
Ask about the heating/air conditioning. Older units are a risk. It’s hard to determine how long one might last and they can be expensive to replace; older units are also far more inefficient than new models. If nothing else, older units can be a negotiating point in the process.
Check for termite damage and signs of mold. Most houses built before 1950 will have some termite damage, but you are looking for active infestations. Mold issues can make the house unhealthy.
Ask about the wiring. Especially in an old house, ask your inspector if the wiring has been updated.
Inspect the roof. Is there weather damage? When was it installed? You may not personally want to get on the roof, but the state of the roof should definitely be part of your conversation.
Is the house well insulated? Are the windows, walls and doors insulated?
Issues in any of these places don’t have to be a deal breaker, but they definitely should be part of your evaluation. Some can be expensive to fix and too many issues should probably be a red flag that the house will be expensive to own.
So many choices. To help you better understand the entire home-buying process, we’ve put together an e-book — Tips From a Lender: A Homebuyer's Guide. It’s a great resource for anyone in the market, but especially for first-time home buyers. You can get your own copy here.
Of course, the best way to answer any questions you have about your specific situation is to speak with a mortgage specialist.