Buyer Beware

Red Flags You Should Look For

By SaleCore on 3/12/2021

Whether you’re looking to purchase your first home, second home or even a vacation home, buying a house is one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make. For this reason, buyers need to be extremely vigilant throughout the house-hunting process. It can be a very exciting time, and while it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion, buyers must remember to stay mindful, to look beyond beauty, and examine the integrity of the elements that make up the home. Sellers don't always disclose the whole truth to potential homebuyers, especially if they're motivated to sell, so it’s crucial to know what you’re getting into before making a commitment. To save you time, money, and heartache, be sure to look closely at any prospective home with a fine tooth comb. Keep these common red flags in mind, use your senses, and think twice before you buy, no matter how incredible the house may seem.


As you begin the house-hunting journey, there are many red flags you can research before even stepping foot into the home.

Concept photo with an arm holding up a red flag with the work STOP printed on it
  • Below Market-Value List Price: A house priced below market value usually indicates that the sellers are extra-motivated. While it’s possible they need to sell quickly for financial reasons, personal reasons or job relocation, it’s also possible that the home is not in good condition. So, before getting too excited at the idea of a lower mortgage payment, be sure uncover any hidden problems.
  • Short-Term Residents: Due to numerous online real estate marketplaces, buyers can easily learn about a property’s buy and sell history. If the sellers have only been living in the house for two (or less) years, it is perfectly reasonable to question their short tenure. If the home has had many owners in the past, this could be another red flag.
  • Scarce Listing Photos: If a listing lacks high-quality photos of the primary areas of the home, or there are only exterior photos, make sure to find out why. Sellers typically want to present their home in the best light possible, so lack of interior photos can indicate that the home isn’t in great condition.
  • Lengthy Market Time: Many factors can affect the amount of time a house is on the market, but in general, beware of a home that’s been on the market for months, or even years. It could very well have hidden problems that could be expensive to repair.
  • Sudden Return to Market: If a home is suddenly back on the market after being under contract, this could signal that something went awry with the home inspection. There are a number of other reasons why a house can be taken off the market and then re-listed, but in any case, you should ask why.
  • As-Is Condition: If a home is being sold “as-is”, it is being sold in current condition and the seller will not be required to make repairs or improvements. It’s extremely important that you do your due diligence before agreeing to purchase an “as-is” property. Consider consulting with a real estate attorney and have the home inspected by a professional to identify any potential issues the home may have before closing.
  • For Sale by Owner: The prospect of saving a few thousand dollars in agent commissions by buying a for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) home is enticing, but you could end up with more trouble than you bargained for. Real estate transactions are complex, and without an agent to guide you through the steps, you could end up with a house that has serious problems.

When you begin to tour homes in-person, it is very important to pay close attention to the details, to use your senses as you go through each home.

Sight

Macro focused on a womans blue eye

What you see when visiting homes is going to be the most obvious indicators of possible red flags.

  • Multiple Homes for Sale in the Neighborhood: If you see many nearby homes up for sale, this could indicate that something is amiss with the location, maybe a spike in crime. It could be a coincidence, but do the research.
  • Pest Problems: Be on the lookout for signs of unwelcome creatures as you tour the house. No one wants a home with a pest problem, be it roaches, mice or, worst of all, termites.
  • Rotted Wood: Inspect wood in the kitchen and the bathroom, including the areas surrounding the tub, toilet, countertop, and flooring. These spots are especially vulnerable to moisture, and can rot if exposed over time. Be sure to check the exterior of the home, including the deck, eaves, and trim, for signs of rotting.
  • Foundation Failures: Large cracks can indicate an unstable foundation.
  • Fresh Paint: Not all fresh paint indicates a problem, as sellers will often put a new coat of paint on drab walls before listing their home. However, question fresh paint if it seems out of place; and, spot painting could indicate that the seller is trying to cover up a defect on the wall, such as a water stain.
  • Water Stains: Keep an eye out for yellowish or brownish water stains on the ceilings, or down interior walls, as they may be evidence of a plumbing issue on an upper floor.
  • DIY Additions or Renovations: Many homeowners are reasonably capable of making simple repairs, but few have sufficient knowledge and skills to construct an addition or renovation that must meet building codes, and could contain structural, wiring, and plumbing defects.
  • Roofing Issues: Check thoroughly for old or damaged shingles. Make sure the attic is properly ventilated allowing the intense heat of the sun to escape from the attic space, and promoting evaporation of moisture that would otherwise damage interior walls and structural elements. Saggy ceilings can be the result of roof leaks or structural movement.

Smell

A young man with his hand squeezing his nose

As you walk into a home (or a room), unpleasant odors can be an indication of many things you won’t want to deal with as a new homeowner. Don’t be fooled by overly-scented areas, as that could signal there’s an odor the seller is trying to mask. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Mold
  • Pests
  • Water Damage or Plumbing Issues
  • Fumes, indicating possible HVAC or electrical Issues

Sound

A small dog with his paw on his right ear

As you tour the homes, listen for any loud or strange noises that you can hear from both inside and outside of the home. Is there abnormal clanking of the pipes or creaking throughout the home? The last thing you want is to move into your new home only to realize that there are issues with the plumbing, furnace or roof, or that there are annoying sounds from nearby construction sites or train tracks.

Touch

Even through touch, you will be able to spot some possible red flags.

  • Doors: Do all the doors close properly? If not, this could indicate that there’s an issue with the foundation, and that the home has shifted and the door frame is now out of alignment.
  • Plumbing: The pipes under a sink can be made of incompatible materials that lead to dripping faucets, leaking fixtures, and slow drains. Feel the piping to ensure it is not wet.
  • Electrical Safety Issues: Do all the light switches and outlets work? Flickering lights, circuits that don't work, and warm or hot outlets or faceplates are all symptoms of wiring problems. Dated or insufficient electrical systems can cause breaker tripping or, worse, a fire.

Always Get a Home Inspection

Home inspection report on the table next to keys, flashlight, tape measure

Regardless of whether you spot these red flags or not, it’s crucial that you never waive a professional home inspection. These certified inspectors will know what to look for and will provide a written report detailing the condition of the home, making buyers aware of any and all issues. Buyers will then be able to decide whether these issues need to be addressed before a deal can be made. Sellers are not required to make these repairs, but is the best bet for discovering these defects and making a smart buying decision.

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