Homebuyer’s Red Flags Checklist

by on July 13, 2012Shannon O'Brien

homebuyer's red flag checklistAfter looking at so many homes, when you finally fall in love with one, it’s way too easy to be wowed by the stuff that doesn’t matter: pretty-colored paint, a winding staircase, granite countertops and gorgeous flooring. This is where an old “momily” comes into play: “Pretty is as pretty does.”

Wipe the stars from your eyes, put on your big-kid glasses, and get ready to see just what this dream house “does.” Your friends at RealEstate.com have put together a handy checklist to take with you to the home. Use this checklist immediately after making the offer to purchase and before you call out the home inspector. This way, you can supply him or her with an extra set of “eyes” for problems that may be of concern to you.

Before you hop in the car, Mr. or Ms. Holmes, here are a few items to add to your investigator’s bag:

  • Binoculars
  • Measuring tape (to ensure the rooms have enough square footage for your belongings)
  • Awl or screwdriver
  • Camera (still or video to record any concerns)
  • Flashlight (for inspecting dark places, such as under a sink)
  • Small can (hairspray, cat food, vegetables, etc.)

Exterior Visual Inspection

  • Use the binoculars to inspect the roof. Look for missing or damaged tiles or shingles. While you are looking up there, check the chimney for signs of cracks or separation.
  • Inspect all paved areas for cracks or uneven areas.
  • Are there cracks in the foundation?
  • Is there a woodpile touching the home? Woodpiles are attractive to termites and should never touch the exterior of the home. If this is the case, use the awl to gently poke into the home where the woodpile is touching it. If it inserts easily, the home may be infested with termites. Make a note to either hire a pest inspector or have the inspector look for signs of a termite infestation.
  • Check stairs or steps for signs of cracking, breakage and loose railings.
  • Inspect deck railings and check that the deck isn’t pulling away from the house.
  • Is the siding in good condition?
  • Is there evidence of a room addition?
  • Pay close attention to the landscaping. Ensure that the earth gently slopes away from the house.
  • Inspect fences for signs of rotting.
  • Look for cracks in the swimming pool and spa, as well as loose tiles and damaged decking.
  • Run the irrigation system and check for broken and inoperable lines.

Check the Home’s Interior


  • Check the windows for signs of mold. Is there condensation in dual-paned windows?
  • Look for signs of water intrusion under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, around the toilet, refrigerator, water heater and washer/dryer.
  • Pay attention to musty odors and make a note of which rooms contain the strongest smells.
  • Inspect the basement for signs of water intrusion.

Walls, Ceilings, Floors, Doors and Windows

  • Inspect the ceilings for cracks and water stains.
  • Do the walls have cracks, holes or stains? Pay close attention to the walls in the basement. Do you notice a white powdery substance?
  • Ensure that all windows are operable, that the glass and frames are not cracked or broken, and that they contain no evidence of mold.
  • Do the floors seem uneven or sloped? If you’re unsure, dig out the can you brought along with you and lay it on the floor. If it rolls, the floor is sloping.
  • Check wood and tile floors for cracks and other damage.
  • Do the doorframes have cracks or have they pulled away from the door? Do the locks operate? Do they swing open or shut when they should remain stationary?

Bathrooms and Kitchens

  • Press your foot around the base of the toilet. If the floor feels spongy or soft, there could be a leak. Make note of this for your home inspector.
  • Look for missing grout and stained or cracked tile.
  • Identify any leaking or dripping faucets, toilets and pipes under the sinks. Ensure the stoppers in sinks and tubs are operable.

Major Systems


  • Look for exposed wires.
  • Are there any broken light fixtures?
  • Do the ceiling fans operate?

Tip: Don’t attempt to check the power box or wiring unless you are an electrical contractor. Leave that task up to your home inspector.


  • Is the water heater strapped properly? Is it large enough to accommodate your needs? Look for signs of leaking and rust on and around the water heater.
  • Does the garbage disposer operate?
  • Is there noise in the pipes when you run the water?
  • Are the pipes wrapped properly to protect them from freezing?
  • Turn on the shower to ensure adequate water pressure.
  • Flush the toilets. The bowls should empty and fill back to the original level.

Miscellaneous Interior Inspections

  • Does the house contain an adequate number of smoke alarms, and are they properly located? Your home inspector will investigate their operability.
  • Inspect the fireplace for broken bricks, cracks and separation from the wall. Is it screened adequately? If it’s a gas fireplace, make a note to remind your home inspector to check the valve to ensure it works.
  • Wiggle the railings on stairways. Are they secure?

Additional Considerations for an Older House

While you’ll most likely never know what type of maintenance, if any, has been routinely performed on an older house, it is important to perform your due diligence with regard to lead in the home. Lead-based paint and lead pipes are common in older homes, they are considered environmental toxins and can lead to health problems.

If the home was built before 1986, it bears additional scrutiny, especially if you have children. Ask your home inspector for more information and request that he or she check the home for these hazards.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Ralph Levy February 6, 2015 at 7:34 am

Check oil tank in the basement for wetness on bottom of tank or have a oil tank inspector go threw a battery of tests on tank before you buy.


John B. January 21, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Thank you for the excellent list Eileen. If I had known this before I bought my first house I would not have had to sue my inspection company. They overlooked two major rotted beams in the bath room & bedroom. People said that while showering, I could’ve fallen through the floor at any time. BTW, I sued them and won.


Mark January 8, 2015 at 5:39 pm

What’s the small can (hairspray, cat food, vegetables) for?


Kelli January 16, 2015 at 11:41 pm

To set on the floor or counters to test if the floors are slanted :-)


John B. January 21, 2015 at 2:18 pm

No, it’s to pour whiskey and drink from the can… because you just placed an offer on a house possessing several serious problems that you might have to pay for.


Jose Santamaria December 17, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Great stuff, keep up the great work.
Can we post this to my blog and share this with others.


eileen December 24, 2014 at 8:30 am

Absolutely. Love to share.


Mel from Kent,CT October 15, 2014 at 6:06 pm

you have to be EXTREMELY retarded & very very very… LIGHTWEIGHT INTELLECT to use this list! my list is:
#1.check for buried oil tanks (run away if + …costs could run $100,000 +++ for leakage ..uh… brownfields …comes to mind … duh..duh …duh.. ; TEFRA Laws will follow ALL OWNERS …DOWN THE LIST FOREVER!!!) … which is why this is “made ” by realtors !!! (you will need an “ALL CLEAR ” certificate/letter by the state !!! if remediation was done in the past !!!)… or —- just RUN !!!! home owner’s insurance will NOT COVER IT !!! this !@@@#!*&!!!!
#2. check for Bats in the attic ..( they are and can be In most states, as in most places in the world, these unique critters are both endangered and protected !!!) … so RUN !! AWAY from the house or be like that family on tv that LIVED with them & their 6 year old got bit & got RABIES ( 1 of 7 people in the year !!! in the WHOLE USA …YUP …Oh & free tv advertisement for your family !! … hello world !!! ) they had to live with them for a VERY VERY LONG TIME !!! years I think!! biting… flying etc. wow !!!
#3. check for BEDBUGS …if + … RUN!!! or have a blank check ready !!! for $20,000 +++ to remediate it if you bought it ALREADY !!! #4. check for FRIABLE ASBESTOS ( easily crumbled & reduced to powder type asbestos …= uh… can become…”AIRBORNE” ( …especially in the exterior if you bought a HOUSE near wetlands…) … or NON-FRIABLE ASBESTOS (more tightly bound fibers/ or with another material attached to it cannot easily be airborne … unless cut or sawed ..you can encapsulate it with a spray on etc… but it can do more damage if the fibers / materials are DETERIORATED ..etc.)
#5. Septic Tank breach near WETLANDS/ waterways/ river/ creeks/flood plains etc.) #6. really really … Check “WATER PRESSURE” 50 to 60 pounds of pressure …( & water fill).. if you have a well water system.
#7. check the septic …( for drainage = get a “VISUAL” septic dye test = $75)… if flunk you get a “DESTRUCTIVE” septic inspection = $600 (or less in cheaper areas … (?) …)
#8. check for MODERATE/ or ANY serious TERMITE DAMAGE …put it in the clause that you can RUN AWAY after ANY FLAWS in these ” issues” according to your “right of FIRST REFUSAL AT ANYTIME BEFORE CLOSING & UP TO THE MINUTE”


eileen December 24, 2014 at 8:29 am

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. My checklist is a suggested list for common items, before entering into the expense of hiring a home inspector. It is easy to be rude and condescending when you are a faceless entity on the internet. However, I prefer to be professional and respectful, regardless of the communication medium.


Bob April 23, 2014 at 10:49 am

Wow! What a list! A great list to jog the memory of various items to at least be aware of. Its all about expectations.


paleo diet April 18, 2013 at 9:26 am

Nice. Thanks for posting that. I’ll definitely come to your site to find out more and recommend my people about your website.


Ohio First Time Homebuyer July 13, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Great article. Certainly a must read for First Time Homebuyers and experienced homebuyers. Will probably print this out and give to my clients in the future. Thanks.


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