Open House Red Flags: What to Look For

As you embark on your tour de open houses this spring real estate season, this guide will provide you with red flags to look out for along the way. We enlisted top real estate agents to share insider secrets on what to hone in on during open houses.

Separate structural eyesores from aesthetic dislikes: Jud Whitehorn, Logan Realty, advises buyers to identify high-dollar money pit items that don’t immediately meet the eye: a crack in a foundation could lead to large expenses and major disruption down the road, while an unkempt lawn is an eyesore that is not that difficult to replace.

Inspect the structure, not the décor: While the house may be staged catalog-perfect, separate the structural integrity from the décor. Kevin Smits, Century 21, said, many times buyers are drawn in by how well the house is staged, and overlook structural issues, location and room size. Katie Wethman, Keller Williams stresses to pay particular attention to the things that are difficult and expensive to change: floor plans, views, and availability of natural light.

Ask for the history on the addition: Notice the bedrooms, sunrooms, and other areas that are built on a different level from the rest of the house, said Whitehorn. If you have to step down into the master bedroom, it’s possible you are entering an addition. While some additions are done perfectly, others are done by novices, without a permit, or without consideration of the added stress on the air conditioning/heating system. In warm climates, termites may appear if the original house was built out of brick and the addition was frame construction.

Look for peeling paint and water stains: The peeling paint around the windows might be more than just an old paint job, said Francesca Gianaris, RE/MAX Metropolitan Realty. This can be a sign of dry rot, meaning the wood needs to be replaced. Stains on the walls or baseboards could be signs of moisture penetration, an indicator of foundation issues.

Review sinks, doorways, and corners: Are there water stains under the sinks? Are there cracks in the doorways and corners? How about nail pops in the drywall? Do the doors close and latch? Smits said, if the seller’s property disclosures are not available at the open house, it is a big red flag! Wethman said, don’t be afraid to raise blinds which may be hiding an ugly view, or ask the agent to turn down the radio that may be masking road noise.

Be aware of the smells: How does the home smell? Strong sweet home fragrances may be covering up a defect, cautions Gianaris. Take a deep breath in the basement, advises Wethman. Water problems can be painted over, but the musty smell is almost impossible to completely cover.

Examine the exterior: Walk around the outside of the home and look for puddles. Does the ground feel squishy? What time of the year is it? Should it be soft? This could indicate settling issues, said Smits. Check the slope of the lot and review the overall gardening and landscaping, to make sure it drains well, said Gianaris.

Check the roof: Step away from the home to look at the roof. Missing or worn shingles may indicate a shabby roof condition and will become your responsibility to replace, said Gianaris. Whitehorn advises, pay particular attention to the materials used on the roof. Repairing a concrete roof will cost much more than asphalt shingles. If home is located in a community with a homeowner’s association, check the HOA covenants and bylaws. Some communities require homeowners to use concrete, which replacing a concrete roof with a less expensive alternative will not be an option.

Inspect the pool and water quality: Don’t let the aqua water fool you. Closely inspect the pool to assess the maintenance and condition. Pool damage can be very expensive, said Chantay Bridges, Los Angeles Real Estate Now.

Rust stains on the sides of the house or the fences could be signs of well water, says Whitehorn. Also check the labels on water heaters and air conditioning units to find the manufacture dates.

Beware of nasty neighbors: You’re not just buying a home you’re buying a lifestyle. This includes the community, so drive it at different times of the day and on different days of the week, said Gianaris. Wethmam encourages you to tour the neighborhood. Pay close attention to the upkeep of the neighbors’ homes.

When attending urban open houses: If you are condo shopping in the city, check for common area cleanliness and maintenance when you enter, said Jennifer A. Chiongbian, Rutenberg Realty NYC. This can be indicative of both the quality of building ownership and current residents.

Best of luck home shopping this spring real estate season!

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