How to Evaluate a Home
Curbside appeal. How does the house look when you first see it?
Adjoining residences. Are they in good repair or are they falling down?
Do trees, grass and flowers add to the appeal of a house?
Does the front porch and front door make a good first impression?
Has the house been recently repainted and does the roof look sturdy?
When you first enter the home, take a deep breath through your nose. Do you smell anything like tobacco smoke, sewage, mustiness, etc.?
As you step into the living room or front hallway do you feel comfortable and “at home?”
Ask the realtor to let you wander through the house. Many realtors try to guide visitors, sometimes away from any problem areas. They can tag along, but don’t let them lead you around.
Go from the front room or hallway to the kitchen. Test the water faucet at the sink. Examine the cooktop and oven for cleanliness. If the refrigerator is staying, check the icemaker (if it has one), and look at the freezer compartment for frost rind. Also, check the main compartment for broken shelves and especially check the vegetable bins for damage. Check for cabinet and pantry space. Look at countertops for any damage. Check floors for old vinyl or broken tiles.
Move on to bathrooms, checking faucets, toilets, and showers. It’s okay to flush and turn on faucets and showers. Check the floors for warping; it’s a sign of leaks. Look at shower tiles—are they in good shape or missing grout?
Locate the hot water heater and look at the registration plate for a date of manufacture and capacities. If it’s older than 10 years, it’s going to have to be replaced.
Visit each bedroom with an eye for how your furniture will fit. Look at ceiling heights and it’s best to have measured your tall furniture and kept a note of heights. Be sure to bring a tape measure with you, at least a 25-footer.
It’s okay to open closets and look, but don’t go rifling through belongings, or people will think you’re looking for something to pilfer.
Find the HVAC system and check for date of manufacture on the serial number plate. If it is winter, is the house warm and cozy, cold and drafty or smotheringly hot? If it’s summer are you cool and comfortable or beginning to sweat? Ask the agent if they know how old the system is and if it’s regularly maintained by a professional heating and air-conditioning company. It’s a good idea to find out who the homeowner uses for service and initially retain them to inspect and service the system after you’ve moved in.
Also, ask to be shown the main electrical box. Many older homes still use older boxes with antiquated fuses or switches. Replacing an old box can be very expensive, and can be used as a lever on the home’s price.
As you walk through the home, push down hard with your foot. Do you feel any give to the floors? Do you have the sensation of walking uphill or downhill? It could be a sign of sagging floors. Are carpets relatively new and clean, or has the pile worn down? If the home has hardwood floors are they level or do they show signs of shrinkage and warping?
Cracks in the walls, especially up around the ceiling line, can be a sign of foundation problems or ground shifting caused by either water pooling under the house or dried, crumbling ground. Ask if the home’s foundation is slab or pier and beam. If the homeowner has not recently had the foundation inspected and you suspect problems, either cross the house off your list or ask for a seriously lower price.
Be sure to test all light switches. Also, see if all wall sockets are grounded.
If there are ceiling fans, test to make sure they work.
Check windows from inside to be sure they have latches and aren’t painted shut.
Examine locks on doors leading outside to see if they have deadbolt features.
Sliding glass doors, while providing convenience, are serious flaws in home security. Decide if it’s going to be in your budget to replace them with casement doors.
Take an outside tour of the home’s foundation. Is there a lot of grass growing right up against the foundation? Same for dirt mounds. If so, these conditions can create foundation problems by retaining moisture.
Look at the roof gutters, are they metal or PVC? If they’re metal, you’re going to have to replace them eventually, so use that as a further price lever.
Check patios for levelness, and look for any large cracks or crumbling around corners. If there’s a swimming pool, get a full history, including any problems such as wall cracks or leaks. Check the coping tile for damage and also check the apron around the pool for ground shifting and up thrust tiles. Find out what kind of filtration system it has, and whether it’s been recently serviced.
Look at trees for any signs of disease or stress. In hot climates where drought may have struck, trees shed their leaves frequently and bark can sometimes warp and become fragile. Ask if the homeowner regularly waters and feeds trees.
Examine the garage and test the electric door opener if it has one.
Ask lots of questions about the age of the home, when the roof was last re-done if the electrical wiring is copper or aluminum, if there have been any sewage problems, when it was re-painted, and anything else that comes to mind. It is your prerogative to ask questions since you’re paying your hard-earned cash to purchase the house. If the answers aren’t satisfactory, or you suspect a cover-up of problems, you may want to walk away and look elsewhere.
Also be sure to ask if the homeowner has seller’s insurance to cover repair or replacement of any appliances, plumbing or electrical apparatuses that might fail in the first few weeks after you’ve taken possession. Many sellers have that insurance, but be sure you determine exactly what it covers.
Ask questions about utility costs and determine if they will be in line with the costs you pay at your current residence.