Between rising home costs, low inventory, and the prevalence of all-cash offers, potential home buyers will readily tell you: It's rough out there.
So if you're lucky enough to find an affordable house you like, you may feel the pressure to make an offer right away.
Not so fast.
Before you put down that deposit, don't forget to carefully inspect the home — even if it appears to be in good condition. "Looks can be deceiving," says Leslie Piper, a consumer housing specialist for Realtor.com.
Of course, there are some flaws you can ignore, like outdated appliances and misguided paint choices. But there are others that might be true deal breakers. And if you overlook the wrong ones, your new home can quickly become a money pit, says Ilyce Glink, a real estate expert and author of 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask.
Our experts divulge the six most common home-buying deal breakers worth double-checking before you make a bid — plus what to do if something is indeed amiss.
Deal breaker #1: the roof
Well-maintained roofs can last 30 years or more — but a shoddy installation or poor-quality shingles and tiles can mean needing to replace a roof much sooner.
So ask the seller how old the roof is, and inspect the gutters to make sure the drainage systems are in good working order. You also want to be on the lookout for dry rot — often caused by poor ventilation — which can cause sagging and crumbling.
You may be able to see from the ground whether there are cracked or missing shingles. But it pays to get a roofer to do an inspection, either before you make the offer or during the contract phase of the negotiations.
If the seller has already done a home inspection prior to putting the house on the market, ask to review it. Some states also require disclosure forms, mandating that the seller be up-front about any issues with the home. A qualified real estate agent can guide you through the process, providing specific advice for your area.
What it could cost you: If you do have to replace the roof, it can set you back — a lot. According to Piper, a new roof can run anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000, depending on the size of the home.
What to do about it: Just because a roof is old isn't typically grounds for asking the seller to lower the price. But you may have room to negotiate if the roof hasn't been maintained, and if repairs are necessary to fix evident leaks or other major issues.
More often than not, however, you'll be responsible for replacing or repairing the roof. So factor this cost into your overall housing budget.
Deal breaker #2: the flood zone
Just because your dream house isn't next to a beach or river doesn't mean that it isn't at risk of flooding. "With climate change and the increasing unpredictability of rain, flood zones have become increasingly important," Glink says.
Buying a home in a high-risk flood zone can mean a dramatic increase in insurance costs, as well as more difficulty selling the home in the future.
What to look for: Plug the house's address into FEMA's map database, or go to the offices of the local municipality to look up the flood zone maps. Many maps are currently being redrawn, but existing ones can offer some insight into historic risk.
You should also talk to the local authorities about conditions in the area. "People know which streets typically flood and which don't," Glink says. "There are some houses that always have problems." And be sure to ask the seller about any flood prevention measures they've taken, like installing French drains or a sump pump.
What it could cost you: Depending on the flood zone, insurance premiums can vary by hundreds or even thousands of dollars annually. Get more information on what your flood insurance might cost at the National Flood Insurance Program website.
What to do about it: If your dream house is located in a region at increased risk of flooding, assess the pros and cons. You may find that the seller is more willing to negotiate, but you also have to factor in both the increased risk of damage to your belongings and the ongoing extra costs of flood insurance.
Some sewer lines in parts of the country haven't been updated for 100 years, so it's critical to know what you are getting into with the plumbing.
Deal breaker #3: the plumbing
Plumbing systems are the guts of a house, and problems may not be immediately evident — although water stains, sagging floors, and mildew could point to evidence of leaks.
More insidious (and costly) problems, however, might be issues with sewer lines or older septic tanks. Some sewer lines in parts of the country haven't been updated for 100 years, says Piper, so it's critical to know what you are getting into with the plumbing before you purchase a home.
What to look for: When you are in the house, run the water in the kitchen and bathrooms, as well as flush the toilets, to see that they drain properly and have good water pressure. Also check the age, location, and condition of the water heater. A plumber can conduct a sewer inspection to see if there are any cracks or breakage in the pipes.
What it could cost you: Major repairs to a sewer line or a septic tank can run anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000, Piper says.
What to do about it: If a plumber identifies leaks or faulty toilets or sinks, it may be grounds for asking for a price reduction. If a major overhaul is required, you might think twice about making an offer, or at least make sure you can safely cover any extra costs without blowing your budget.
Deal breaker #4: the upgrade factor
You may love the idea of adding on a third bedroom or an attached garage in five or 10 years time, but you first need to know if it's even possible. Local zoning restrictions that govern floor-area ratio–the total square feet of a building as compared to the lot size–might make it impossible to make upgrades in the future.
What to look for: Ask the local municipality about any restrictions that might affect your renovations. "Don't take the homeowner's word for it," Glink warns.
What it could cost you: You don't want to get too far into the process of hiring an architect to design an addition only to find out you have to dramatically scale back or cancel the project altogether. And whatever money you save in being unable to add that extra bedroom, you may lose if you have to move to bigger digs in a few years.
What to do about it: There's no negotiating floor-to-area ratio. If the house doesn't have the right renovation potential, it's probably best to walk away from the deal.
Deal breaker #5: the electrical system
It's not out of the ordinary to encounter outdated or inferior electrical work in older homes — which can cause big problems. "If the electrical system hasn't been updated in a few decades, it could be a fire hazard," Piper says.
And that's often not cheap. Knob and tube wiring or aluminum wiring found in older homes can be very expensive to replace. Poorly executed renovations, bad plumbing repairs, or faulty drywall can come back to bite you — well after the ink is dry on the deed of sale.
What to look for: Check the main fuse box to make sure it's in good working order. Also pay attention to any exposed wiring and wires that don't lead to anything. If you can, get an electrician to do an inspection, although you may have to wait until the contract period.
What it could cost you: Rewiring an entire house can range anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000.
What to do about it: If the work is significant, consider asking for a price reduction, says Piper. Or you might negotiate a credit for closing costs or for the repair work to be paid for by the seller through an escrow account.
Deal breaker #6: the house's history
Poorly executed renovations, bad plumbing repairs, or faulty drywall can come back to bite you — well after the ink is dry on the deed of sale. "Knowing the history of the home is always good information to have," says Piper.
She suggests asking about when repairs were done, whether they were completed by licensed contractors, and why the renovations were done in the first place. You may also want to know about former inhabitants and the surrounding area — some buyers may be less likely to make an offer if a dream home was the site of a crime.
What to look for: The disclosure packet compiled by the sellers will be your best guide to recent renovations and repairs, says Piper. But if the sellers don't get into as much detail as you'd like, probe further.
When it comes to deaths in the house, sellers often don't need to disclose that information if a certain number of years have passed, although that requirement varies by location. You can always instruct your agent to ask on your behalf, or check online crime reports and databases for information on the neighborhood.
What it could cost you: Bad repairs that need to be fixed later can be extremely pricey, depending on what exactly you have to do. Fixing poorly laid shower tiles may just cost a few hundred dollars, but a badly installed driveway, drywall that's made of subpar or toxic materials, or improperly installed electrical wiring can quickly spiral into the thousands.
Added word of warning: If the house looks freshly renovated, it could be a sign that the seller did some sprucing up on the cheap in order to make the house look better to potential buyers.
What to do about it: "Don't be afraid to ask questions," says Piper. "Everything is negotiable — and it just depends on what the buyer and seller are willing to compromise on."
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