7 things to watch for when buying a home

It’s easy to fall in love during a showing. You’re on the hunt for a home, the place is perfectly staged, and defects may be hidden. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, troublesome issues are even easier to overlook. Check out these expert tips on what to watch for.


Even in your target neighborhood, be sure you look left, right and across the street. Ask yourself, “Do you like the street/neighborhood? How do you feel about the presence/absence of noise in the area?” said Tracy Flagg Centers, a realtor with Comey & Shepherd West Chester. “These things will probably all contribute to your subconscious overall impression of the place, but by stopping to take notice of them, you will likely be able to narrow in on the type of house or neighborhood that appeals to you.”

Don’t be so blinded with love for a house that you overlook rusted out cars in a neighboring yard. It’s also worth checking to see if nearby homes are rental properties, which have higher occupant turnover and can lower property values.


Remember – the sellers will be taking their furniture with them when they go. Although they probably have it staged beautifully, don’t be too blown away. “Don’t buy based on their furnishings,” cautioned realtor Steven Pemberton with ReMax Alliance in Centerville. “Look at what expensive items are taken care of.”

Remember, too – it will look completely different with your furniture there. Make sure your stuff will fit or that you can afford more items to fill a larger space.


Water damage can be very costly, so make sure to check thoroughly for this one. It “usually will appear as discoloration on basement floors and walls, beneath sinks and on the ceilings,” explained Centers. “Leaks in the basement could be indicators of structural issues, whereas discoloration near pipes and in ceilings probably means there is a need for plumbing or roof repair.”

If a seller is storing all their basement items off the floor, that can be an indication that it is prone to floods, according to Pemberton. He also advised buyers to “look for rust on the furnace or damage to 2x4s in any finished rooms.”

If you love the house, but see some signs of water, don’t be immediately discouraged. Pemberton said, “All basements will have some water at some point, but you don’t want a lake down there.” A professional home inspection will indicate the extent of any damage.


A heating and cooling system is very expensive, so be sure to check how old your potential home’s system is. Furnaces generally have their install date indicated on them. Maybe you don’t mind living with an older furnace, but by the time you sell, the furnace will be even older and could mean a big expense.

“Usually, I tell people to look at what they might put into a home in the next five years,” Pemberton said. “Living there is an investment. A lot of people say they’ll live somewhere forever, but eventually, you will probably move.” He noted that the HVAC system is one of the key elements for a homebuyer to look at.


Another big-ticket item on a home is the roof. “You should look at whether the roof has been replaced recently,” Pemberton said. If you’re not sure how to determine that, your realtor should be able to. One rule of thumb is that newer roofs more than likely have dimensional shingles. You can also check for curling or cracking.

Centers advised checking the shingles for evenness and being sure they lay flat. Of course, you won’t be getting onto the roof during your showing – your home inspector will do that if you decide to move forward with an offer. However, if major roof damage or advanced age is immediately visible, you might want to think twice before buying.


“The age of the windows is maybe not as important [as an HVAC system or roof], but it’s something to look for,” Pemberton said. Not only are new windows expensive, but older windows are not usually as energy efficient. So, even if you don’t replace the windows, they could end up costing you money.

If you check the windows, though, be courteous about it, cautioned Centers. “Don’t open and close windows in the middle of winter on a first showing, especially if the house is old,” she said. “Windows can be finicky, and it’s not polite to leave one wide open in the event that you can’t get it closed again. If and when you make an offer on the house, your inspector should do these kinds of things.”

Centers also advised taking a close look at doors: “Open and close interior and exterior doors. Do they close smoothly or catch in the doorjamb? Again, these may be innocuous (the result of changes in humidity or the house harmlessly settling) or they could be indications of structural damage.”


As the two most expensive rooms in the house to update, the bathroom and kitchen are items you should consider very closely. Pemberton indicated that if you buy a home without an updated kitchen or bath, this is another project you would likely be saddled with when you decide to move out.

Look at what kind of shape the kitchen counters and cabinets are in, along with the age and condition of the bathroom fixtures. “These are the most expensive home remodeling projects there are, so take this into account,” Centers said. “Would they need immediate overhaul, or could you live in the house for a while before taking on these projects?”

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