It goes without saying that a house is most likely one of, if not the single biggest investment of your life. When buying a house, some of the first things you look for are the number of bedrooms, the size of the kitchen, maintenance costs, and perhaps a few other things. However, none of these aspects matters much if the house has certain defects, especially those the seller has omitted from the standard listing disclosure.

In some cases, the seller may be unaware of the defects within their house. Therefore, as a homebuyer, it is up to you to look out for some of the most common red flags when buying a house.

This article will cover a total of 20 red flags when buying a house so that a home seller doesn’t give you the runaround to buy a house that has defects that you didn’t know about. So, let’s get into it!

1. Doors that Won’t Close

If you find that there are doors that won’t close all the way during your inspection of the house, this is a typical indication that the frame has been shifted and that the door frame is out of square. In other cases, the door may close, but it may be because the current homeowners have trimmed off a little of the door from the top or the bottom.

So, beware of doors that won’t close all the way when buying a new house, as it usually indicates an underlying problem that has caused the framing to shift.

2. Moldy Smell

The first two problems with mold are that one, it smells, and two, it might be toxic. Inhaling some types of mold spores has been proven to lead to respiratory issues, persistent headaches and other illnesses.  However, aside from this, mold or a moldy smell is one of the top red flags for home buyers as it usually indicates a problem with the house.

If you experience a moldy smell in the house, check the most likely areas to have mold to confirm its location. This includes, beneath sinks, in basements and crawl spaces, around windows, and areas prone to leaks. Notably, if there is a persistent leak in the house causing the mold, this comes with its own set of problems. At the very least, you will have to replace some wood members, drywall and carpeting.

3. Foundation Cracks

One of the biggest red flags when buying a house is the presence of foundation cracks. While all poured concrete foundations will crack at some point, if you notice hair-line or stair-step cracks in the foundation, especially those wider than half an inch, you will want to get a foundation contractor to examine the house and the surrounding area.

Only a foundation contractor will tell you whether the foundation cracks present in the house are a cause for concern. Therefore, you should consider this a red flag until you get them to inspect the area and get their opinion on the matter.

4. Insect Infestations

It isn’t an uncommon scenario for active insect infestations in a house, especially termites, to throw a house contract under the bus. Therefore, it literally pays to notice the tell-tale signs of an active insect infestation in the house.

One indication of an active termite infestation is the presence of tiny brown droppings at the base of a wall or on the floor near a wall. Another sign is the presence of mud tubes on a wall foundation, while yet another sign is a hollow sound when knocking on a wooden surface.

Termite infestations are a definite red flag for home buyers and, hence, you should be on the lookout for this potential problem when buying a house.

5. Saggy Ceiling

No matter how much you love the house, the optimal size of the kitchen or the open-floor plan is not enough to make up for saggy ceilings. Saggy ceilings are a red flag when buying a home because even a slightly sagging ceiling is a sign of roof leaks. However, roof leaks are quite possibly the most innocent problem that could potentially be causing the ceiling to sag.

Another reason for sagging ceilings is structural movements or shifts in the house that could be causing the drywall on the ceiling to come loose from the ceiling joists. It might even be caused by an insect infestation that is eating away at the ceiling joists. However, no matter the specific cause, sagging ceilings are a definite red flag for home buyers.

6. Water Stains

Water stains are another one of the many red flags when buying a house. The reason is simple: water does not mix with construction materials. Trickling water from a window or a leaky roof can rot structural wood members over time if neglected.

Even more importantly, if the water stains in the house have a yellowish-brown tinge, this is likely an indication of a plumbing problem somewhere in the house. Therefore, you should not make any offer for the house until you know exactly where a specific water stain or leak is coming from and how much damage it has already caused.

7. Fresh Paint

A freshly painted wall is not in itself a red flag. Homeowners often paint their walls when they put them up for listing. However, when fresh paint seems somewhat out of place, such as the case where only one wall in a single room of the house has been painted, you should question its authenticity.

Painting a single wall of a room is known as spot painting and is usually done by homeowners to cover up a defect on the wall, usually a wall stain. Therefore, this makes fresh paint a red flag that you should look out for. If you notice a single freshly painted wall in the house, ask the homeowner directly whether there is any defect on the wall that you should know about.

8. DIY Repairs or Additions

DIY repairs and additions in a house sit squarely within the red flag category. This is not to say that many homeowners cannot make lasting DIY repairs or additions to their homes. However, before buying a house with DIY repairs or additions, you need to be certain that the repairs in question have been constructed with sufficient knowledge to meet relevant building codes.

It is possible that the homeowner made DIY repairs or additions without any consultation or oversight from the local authorities. In this case, the DIY repairs could have structural defects which might cause problems over time.

9. Strong Air Fresheners

While there is nothing inherently wrong with making your house smell good through the use of diffusers and air fresheners, if you notice that air fresheners and diffusers are steaming away in almost every room of the house, this is certainly a red flag for home buyers.

Too much effort to make a house smell good could be part of an effort by the homeowner to cover up a lingering smell within their home. This could be anything from carpeting saturated with pet urine to mold growing away beneath the kitchen sink. If you are interested in such a house, ask the homeowner not to use any air fresheners or diffusers on your second visit.

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10. Lots of Home Sellers in the Area

Any real estate agent worth their salt will tell you that the most important thing to look for when buying a new house is the location. Therefore, a huge red flag for home buyers is visiting a house and noticing an abundance of ‘for sale signs in the neighborhood.

If many homeowners in the area are selling, this is most likely an indication that there is some problem with the location itself. This could be anything from rising crime rates, a nearby landfill, or a propensity to flood during the rainy season. Therefore, scoping the neighborhood should be a regular part of house-hunting to give you a better sense of the location’s viability.

11. Standing Water in the Yard

Standing water in the house’s yard is an indication that there is a drainage problem. In fact, this is one of the most important red flags to look out for when buying a house. If you visited the house during a dry week and didn’t get a chance to see if the yard has a propensity for standing water, try driving by the house after a rainy night or day to make sure.

If there is standing water in the yard, you should probably not buy the house. Standing water can be a real cause for concern, especially if it occurs near the house’s foundation. Puddles along the foundation can cause water to drain into the basement through the smallest cracks. Over time, if left neglected, this could lead to foundation problems like foundation heave.

12. Electrical System Issues

Inadequate electrical systems or issues with the electrical outputs or wiring need to be viewed as one of the top red flags for home buyers. Older homes often have older electrical panels which use fuses, and some of them may even have the old knob and tube wiring.

Old or inadequate wiring or other issues with the electrical system are significant causes for concern. You can check for this by inspecting for flickering lights or burned out outlets. If you are unsure of the state of the electrical system in a home you would like to buy, have an electrician come with you on your next visit to test out all the outputs and inspect the electrical panels.

13. Foggy or Non-Functioning Windows

It is essential to check the condition of all the double-paned windows in the house during your inspection. If you find that some of the windows are foggy or have water trapped inside them, this indicates a non-functioning window.

A non-functioning window is something you will want to bring to the attention of the homeowner. If left neglected, this could cause your HVAC system to work extra hard to maintain the right conditions within the home, thereby driving up your electricity bill.

14. Removal of Structural Walls

Many people love a house with an open floor plan, and often this can be enough to seal the deal. However, if the house you are looking at has an open floor plan, make sure that you are well-informed about whether it always used to be this way or whether a structural wall was removed during past renovations.

If the homeowners removed a structural (read: load-bearing) wall, ensure they also adjusted the framing during renovations. If the framing was left unadjusted, this could result in the weight of the house being shifted to other areas, thereby bringing the overall structural foundation of the house into question.

If you are unsure about this factor, hire a structural engineer to perform a brief inspection of the house. They will be able to tell you whether or not the open floor plan you love so much is actually a red flag.

15. Aging HVAC System

The average HVAC system in a house lasts for between approximately 12 and 18 years. Importantly, as HVAC systems reach the end of their life, they become more and more of a red flag for home buyers. An aging HVAC system runs quite inefficiently, thereby driving up the utility cost to run it even though it doesn’t heat or cool the house very effectively.

Therefore, think twice about buying a house with an aging HVAC system. If the system gives out after you have purchased the house, you will have to incur the cost of replacing it.

16. Inadequate Attic Ventilation

Adequate attic ventilation is one of the most important features of a house. Yet, it is also commonly overlooked. To check whether the house’s attic has adequate ventilation, inspect the underside of the roof from outside the house. From here, you should ideally be able to see one or more vents called intake vents.

Intake vents are installed to properly ventilate an attic, especially during the summer months when the attic can get very hot. Over time, this can lead to roof damage. Therefore, inadequate ventilation is a red flag for home buyers that you need to be on the lookout for.

17. Shingle Problems

You may not be surprised to know that it literally pays to carefully check out the roof of a home you are interested in buying. A new roof can cost anywhere between $6000 and $20,000, and so you should make sure that the roof is in good condition before making an offer.

Signs of a roof that needs replacement are shingles that curl up at the corners, missing shingles, cracked shingles, or exposed nail heads. Be on the lookout for these signs so that you don’t end up buying a house only to have to replace the roof a few months later.

18. House Has Been on the Market for a Long Time

According to various expert sources, the average time for a listing to close is approximately 68 days. Therefore, a potential red flag to look out for when buying a house is whether or not the house has been on the market much longer than this.

If the house has been on the market for a long time, this could indicate that other potential buyers have consistently turned down the offer due to some problems or defects with the house. Usually, any such problems are expensive to repair and could indicate that you need to look elsewhere for your new home.

19. Sloping Floors

Sloping floors are one of the most important red flags when buying a house. If the slope is easily noticeable, it could be directly linked to a foundational problem such as rotten support beams or broken floor joists.

Problems like these are known as structural issues and can be very expensive to repair. Therefore, if you notice sloping floors in a house you are interested in buying, have a structural engineer perform an inspection so that you can be well-informed about the cause and extent of the problem. The last thing you want is to invest in floor replacement a few months after moving in.

20. The House is For Sale by Owner

Many home buyers love the idea of saving a few thousand dollars in agent commissions by buying a house that is for sale by the owner. However, be warned. If you buy a house for sale by the owner, this could lead to more problems than you might have initially expected.

Without a real estate agent to guide you through the process, you could potentially end up buying a house that has some serious problems that are expensive to repair.

Final Words

Buying a house can be a lengthy and exhaustive process because there are so many important factors to be on the lookout for. The 20 red flags for home buyers we have outlined in this article are some of the most important aspects of a house to look out for, as it could literally pay to notice them or not before making an offer.

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