7 Things to Look for When Buying a New House

Quick ways to look for deal breakers before you decide to make an offer

If you want to find a great home, you’ll need to get your hands dirty. Shopping for a new house means looking past that fresh coat of paint and doing a little digging to see if any big repairs or deal breakers are lurking beneath the surface (or on the roof!)

It’s likely that a few issues will come up during your inspection, but it’s smart to check things out before you put down earnest money. Finding a problem doesn’t mean you can’t buy the house. It just helps you get a better idea of what you can and can’t live with.

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1. Research the roof.

Be sure to read the disclosures and ask the realtor how old the roof is. Do a visual check of the roof by walking around the house. Look for missing shingles, rusted flashing, moss or dirt and any other spots that worry you. If you have concerns, let your realtor know so they can discuss them with the homeowner when they negotiate your offer.

2. Do a temperature check.

You definitely want to check the heating and cooling system to see if it’s in good working order. Ask the age of the system, turn it on and off, take a look at the ductwork if possible and see if the filters fit snugly. Don’t forget to look outside, too. Listen to how your air conditioning and heating units sound when they’re running. Look for rust and dirt on the equipment. If you’re satisfied with your initial look, pay close attention to the inspection report. Your inspector will test the system and can give you more thorough details.

If you think the system might need replacing, your local HVAC dealer can give you a quote for installation, labor and equipment. If you need to replace any equipment, you may be able to get the homeowner to reduce the selling price by the amount of the replacement cost.

3. Examine appliances and electrical outlets.

This is an area where cosmetic repairs might distract you from potential problems, especially in a freshly painted kitchen. Inspect all appliances to make sure they look like they’re in good shape. Go ahead and turn on the stove, run the dishwasher and peek into the refrigerator. Look for grounded GFCI outlets in your kitchen and baths — the ones with the red and black reset buttons. Also, give the circuit breaker a look and flip some breakers. If this is going to be your new home, you want to make sure everything works as it should.

4. Get to the bottom of things.

If you’re serious about buying a house, be sure to check out the foundation. Walk around the exterior, go into the crawlspace or basement and look for cracks and other red flags. Your inspector will also give you a good report on these issues.  

5. Watch for water.

Look for sloping areas in the yard, standing water, french drains, watermarks on the foundation. Check out the basement, garage or crawl space to see if there’s a sump pump. These could all indicate past or future problems with poor water drainage which could lead to flooding. When you’re inside the house, look up for water stains on the ceiling. Check under sinks in the kitchen and bathrooms and test all of the faucets and showers. Even if the water issues aren’t active anymore, it’s good to know past problems and what could pop up in the future.

6. Open the windows.

It’s a simple thing, but check all the windows to make sure they open properly. This is important for fire safety, as well as for comfort on a warm day. Asking the homeowner to get a handyman to fix the windows in easy.

7. Peek around for pests.

You may not see any critters during the day, but look in corners and cabinets for mouse and roach droppings. Again, this is another easy fix. You can ask the homeowner for a pest control treatment as part of your contract.

Once you’ve done a thorough check of the home you’re interested in, it’s up to you to decide if these are deal breakers or repairs that you don’t mind dealing with. You can certainly ask the homeowner to make some fixes or reduce the price. It’s also good to know what you’re willing to handle yourself once you buy the house. If your brother is a plumber, replacing the hot water heater may not be a big deal.