Top 12 Money Pit Watch Outs When Buying a Home

Top 12 Money Pit Watch Outs When Buying a Home

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Buying a home can be a huge and often scary leap for many people. After all, they make you sign so many documents! You don’t have x-ray vision and can’t see what’s behind those walls! You are probably making the biggest purchase of your life!

Will there be a hole under that rug when they move it?

Why are they lighting so many candles? Are they covering up a smell?

What’s that dark spot under the sink? Is it black mold?

Don’t worry! We’ve got your back! Here are 12 things to look for when you’re house shopping to avoid an unexpected money pit scenario!

1) Structural or Foundational Problems

If you have trouble closing a door, notice large cracks in the walls, ceiling or flooring, you may be dealing with a foundational issue. While these aren’t always a deal breaker, you will need to get a structural engineer to determine the type of damage you’re facing and – more importantly – the cost to fix it.

You can also check for sloping or uneven floors. Many people bring a marble with them to see if the floor is level.

 2) Evidence of an Insect or Pest Problem

If you notice termite wings around the windows, or dust coming out of the trim, make sure to get an inspection done. The most common pests homeowners encounter are termites, powder post beetles and carpenter ants.

Inspections are fairly inexpensive and absolutely worth it if you suspect these uninvited guests are going to be living with you before you sign on the dotted line. After all, you can’t see behind the drywall. There could be a whole colony of termites living it up and chowing down on your framing.

Also, if you’re buying the house through a bank, your title company will insist on a termite policy. However, don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. Read the fine print to determine exactly what they cover.

Look for droppings from larger animals as well. Raccoons often like to hang out in attics (causing expensive remediations of your insulation) and mice and rats will make themselves at home in your kitchen.

These critters can also bring in fleas, which are difficult to eradicate. My foolproof way of checking for fleas is to walk through the house in sandals. They love me and I will always pick up a few if they are there.

3) Random Fresh Paint

Most agents will tell you to paint your house with fresh paint to give buyers an updated look. However, if you see just one place newly painted and the rest of the house has older paint, you may need to dig deeper. It’s possible the seller is trying to cover up a problem.

4) Amateur Workmanship or Repairs

Many local flippers try to do repairs themselves to save money instead of hiring out the work to qualified, licensed contractors. If you come across evidence of a hodgepodge attempt at fixing plumbing, electrical or carpentry work, it’s best to question if this work is worth the risk.

Also, many DIY warriors won’t pull the proper permits or know the codes required for their work. You don’t want to pay for updates that you will have to redo later.

5) Strong Odors: Both Good and Bad

If there is an air freshener plugged into every room and every window is open in the house in the dead of winter, you may want to question if the seller is trying to cover up a bad smell. Smells can indicate mildew, mold or an infestation. They may also have a sewer issue which could cost big bucks to fix.

6) Bad Neighborhood Condition

We always advise people to drive the neighborhoods where they want to buy to get a feel for the overall vibe. If you see a lot of boarded up or vacant homes, or lawns with grass that could swallow a four-year old, you may want to keep looking.

Homes in your neighborhood will determine your property value. Also, don’t forget to check out the crime statistics for the area.

7) Stains on Ceilings or Walls

Stains on walls and ceilings are usually a red flag of water damage. It could indicate a leaky roof or a broken pipe. You need to find out what caused the stain, and if it’s just the tip of the iceberg to a much bigger – and more expensive – issue.

8) Electrical / Plumbing Issues

I realize most homeowners aren’t electricians or plumbers. I’m not either! However, anyone can check to make sure all light switches work and if there are any flickering bulbs. Also, make sure that all outlets work properly. You can also test water faucets and look under sinks for leaks.

The most common electrical issues encountered are improper wiring and issues with the electric riser cable. Plumbing problems are pipes damaged from corrosion, tree roots or freezing.

9) Poor Drainage or Grading

It’s always a good idea to walk around the property after a good rain. If you go into the backyard and encounter an unintended pond complete with ducks, it may be time to reconsider the house. Other things to look for are gutters that overflow, mulch in flower beds that is being carried away by water, or water stains in the basement or foundation cracking.

Drainage issues can be expensive to fix, so it’s better to discover if you want to take on the project now rather than during the next downpour. Also, check to see if your house is in a flood plain, as that will require additional insurance.

10) Mold

While mold may cause an investor to happily snatch up the property at a discount – ever heard the saying, “Mold is gold?” – it is terrifying for any retail buyer without the industry knowledge and team to correctly and safely handle such a big clean up. It’s even worse if they don’t catch it and pay full price!

If the mold is bad enough, you will usually be able to smell it before you find it. Mold will often resemble soot or dirt.

Mold remediation can be very costly. If you find a small amount of mold, it’s also possible that there is more behind the drywall where you can’t see it. While mold can be anywhere, check under sink in kitchens and bathrooms for leaks and pay attention to basement areas.

Mold grows where there is moisture. If the house has flooded in the past, it’s very possible that there is mold growing in areas not yet visible to the homeowner.

If you see any condensation on glass windows or metal pipes, this is also a bad sign of a potential mold issue. If you see rusted indoor pipes, this is a sign that the house has experienced high humidity or condensation and could be harboring mold.

Unless you get a major discount for the mold, bring in a remediation specialist to give you an estimate, and are comfortable with the fact that you may have to spend even more than originally thought once the specialist opens up walls, we advise most retail buyers to pass on moldy houses.

Breathing black mold spores is very bad for your health and can often make a property uninhabitable until it is completely remediated.

11) Roof

Having a sound roof is essential to making a smart buy! After all, it protects everything else inside the house from the weather. You won’t be able to get homeowner’s insurance if your roof is in bad shape. Make sure to look at the roof for signs of wear. You may also see curling shingles or patch jobs.

Ask the homeowner the age of the roof. If they have asphalt singles, you can expect to have to replace them in about 15 to 18 years. Architectural singles last longer and have a lifespan of 24 to 30 years. Metal roofs last the longest, and can give you 40 to 70 years of life.

12) HVAC System

While not a deal breaker, the HVAC unit can be expensive to replace. Ask the age of the current system. If it’s more than 10 years old, you should probably budget to replace it soon as it’s nearing the end of it’s lifespan.


One of the best ways to protect yourself from a bad home purchase is to have a qualified home inspector check out your potential property before you buy. They will be able to alert to you any major issues.

While this isn’t an all-inclusive list, if you keep these twelve items in mind when viewing potential homes, it will increase your chances of not stepping into a money pit shined up to look like a new penny.

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