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Red flags for home buyers

Sellers don't always disclose the whole truth to potential home buyers, especially if they're eager to sell (or "motivated," in real estate lingo). But you can't afford to get a professional inspection of every house you tour. So before you spring for the pro, narrow your choices by doing your own pre-inspection to spot potential problems.

Mass exodus from the neighborhood

Don't let a home's curb appeal keep you from glancing down the street. Are there several other homes for sale? Are nearby businesses boarded up or vandalized? Get the scoop from the neighbors. If everyone else wants to leave the street, maybe you should, too. Just do it before you're stuck with a bad investment.

Mediocre maintenance

Three layers of roofing and gutters with plants growing in them are signs the owners aren't big on maintaining their home. What else did they neglect?

Foundation failures

Check out the yard grading. If the yard slopes toward the house, it could cause water to run down the foundation walls or into the house, which will be costly to repair. Scour the foundation for damage. Bulges or cracks bigger than one-third of an inch can mean the house has serious structural issues.

Bad smells (inside or outside)

Take a big whiff of the air inside and outside the house. Do you smell anything funky? If you can't smell anything but the huge baskets of potpourri all over the house, this could be a red flag.

Faulty or old wiring

While you're probably not an electrician, make sure all the switches and outlets in the house function properly. Flickering lights, circuits that don't work and warm or hot outlets or faceplates are all symptoms of wiring problems.

Fresh paint on one wall

New paint can really spruce up drab walls, but it can also hide bigger problems, like water damage, mildew or mold. If the room smells strange or if you see stains or saggy walls or ceilings, have an inspector look for mold and leaks.

Locked doors and blockades

Ask about any rooms that are "off limits" during your home tour, and arrange to see them later if you're interested in the house.

Foggy or nonfunctioning windows

Check for water in between double-paned windows and make sure all the windows are functional.

Structural walls that have been removed

Sure you love the open floor plan, but was the house always open, or did the homeowners renovate? If they removed a load-bearing wall without adjusting the framing, it can shift weight to other parts of the house. Hire a structural engineer if you think any renovations are questionable.

Bugs! Or rodents!

No one wants a house with a pest problem, be it roaches, rodents or termites. Be on the lookout for unwelcome creatures as you tour the house. Even if no foes pop out while you're there, consider a separate termite inspection if you're thinking of purchasing the property.

Bottom line

Always get a professional inspection when you select a house. Yeah, it's a little expensive, but it's worth every penny. Skipping a home inspection is not a good way to cut home-buying costs. You'll end up paying more in the long run when problems inevitably arise.

Red flags for home buyers 06/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, June 7, 2013 6:16pm]
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