You’ve found the perfect house, located right near that cool new shopping area and the best schools. It even has the right number of bathrooms! Swoon. It's time to sign the paperwork and move in ... or is it?
Up until now, you’ve likely been blinded by the sparkling granite counters and the hardwood floors in every room. (Squee!) But before you blindly forge ahead, you'll want to get a home inspection—and before that, you'll want to check the house yourself for any red flags that might make an inspector tell you this particular piece of real estate could be more trouble than it's worth. Check out these warning signs —and what they may take to fix (brace yourself).
1. Sewer issues
What to look for: You don’t have to tell us twice that a sewer issue can quickly turn into a stinky situation. Standing water in the yard, signs of flooding in the basement, and heaved walkways are telltale signs of a blockage or break in the underground sewer line that connects to the sewer main in the front of a home, says Bill Erickson, real estate agent and national director of National Property Inspections.
The cost: Repairing sewer pipes can cost up to $100 a foot, says Erickson, citing a recent situation where a disconnected pipe resulted in an estimate for $10,000.
2. Faulty electrical system
What to look for: If the home that’s caught your eye was built before the ‘70s, you might have more than lingering shag carpet and wood paneling to worry about. Hazardous electrical wiring such as knob and tube wiringand aluminum branch circuit wiring are two of the biggest offenders that could put your home at risk of fire.
Numerous extension cords can be a big tipoff that your electrical system is stuck in the disco era, says Kathleen Kuhn, president of national home inspection franchise HouseMaster. Another sign is a lack of ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) circuits near a water source, such as in the kitchen or bathroom. These are designed to protect you from electrical shock because they monitor electricity flowing in a circuit and sense a loss of current.
The cost: If you need to upgrade the electrical panel to make your system more efficient, expect to spend about $1,000 to $3,000, depending on your area and the size of the panel, Kuhn says. Each additional outlet will cost $150-plus each, she says. Rewiring the home will run about $10,000 and up.
3. Foundation cracks
What to look for: Don’t worry about every little hairline or corner crack, says Erickson, since for the most part they are caused by normal settling and are relatively easy to repair. But be aware of cracks that are a quarter-inch wide anywhere on the foundation or horizontal cracks, which generally result from hydrostatic pressure against the home’s foundation, says Kuhn.
In fact, this one is such a big deal that ”usually only flippers, developers, and people considering demolishing a house will consider a property with foundation damage,” says William Fastow, associate broker with TTR Sotheby’s International Realty in Washington, DC.
The cost: Foundation repairs can vary dramatically depending on the cause and remedy, but rarely is the repair under several thousand dollars, Kuhn says. A localized repair can possibly be achieved for as little as $1,500 to $5,000, but varying foundation types and significant or widespread issues can easily exceed $10,000, especially if excavation is needed.
4. Worn roofing
What to look for: The best way to confirm roof life is to go up on a ladder to check it out, of course, but there are ways you can speculate about a faulty roof by staying on solid ground.
“Water stains on the ceiling could indicate a leaky roof, and freshly painted ceilings could be a sign that the sellers are attempting to cover up the problem,” warns Erickson. Also look for excessive vegetation outside, which could be hiding roof damage, as well as curling, buckling, or missing shingles.
The cost: A new roof can range from $2,000 to $10,000 and up, Erickson says. You’ll want to note if it’s a single or double roof, as that will determine the cost. With a single layer of shingles, another can go right over the first layer; but if it’s a double layer, code requires both layers to be removed, leaving you to start from scratch.
5. Old pipes
What to look for: Turn on the faucet to see if the water pressure is low and to listen for gurgling: Either could indicate that your house has older galvanized piping or inadequate piping, Kuhn says. You also should check exposed pipes for signs of corrosion (e.g., discoloration and flaking).
If your house was built between 1978 and 1995, it might have polybutylene water supply pipes, which were part of a class-action lawsuit in the 2000s that found the pipes degrade and break down, causing leaks, says Scott Brown, owner of Brightside Home Inspections in Syracuse, NY.
“They will eventually fail, so homeowners risk flooding their home if they don’t replace these faulty pipes,” he warns.
The cost: Full replacement with a more modern product like PEX will cost $5,000 and up, or double that for copper pipes, Brown estimates.