Why Home Shopping Takes Detective Work (and How to Do It)

what to look for when house hunting

Discovering major problems with a home during the home inspection can be like *stomach drop*. Save yourself some money (and heartache, if you fell hard for the home) by looking more critically at these five key elements when you are out house hunting.

Set Your Eyes on the Site

The site is probably the biggest pain to correct; it is at the very core of what you are buying. Is the site on a busy road? On a critical slope known for slides? Is it a low lot that could have drainage problems? Does the house look well situated on the lot or is the wood frame of the house below grade? Are the rooms dark because of the orientation of the house? Learn to look at the site as you first approach a house.

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Get a Good ‘Read’ on the Roofline

Rooflines are hard to change and critical to the overall look and functionality of a house. Does the roofline look original or does it seem like a series of additions have been scabbed onto the house? Do you see sags or dips in the roofline that could indicate a structural problem? Does the roof shed water well or will it accumulate water or direct it towards a wall of a house? The roofline is a great place to get a quick read on the bones of the house.

Structure: Solid as a Rock?

Structure, a crucial element, can be complex and usually concealed beneath wall and ceiling finishes, so difficult to evaluate. Here are a few techniques home inspectors use when trying to understand how the structure of a building is performing.

  • Outside the house: Again, examine the roofline. Study the foundation for cracks and try to identify the type of foundation. Smart research prior to house shopping is learning the types of foundations that are common in your region and understanding the problems they can create.
  • Inside the house: Look for 45-degree cracks over windows and doors and around masonry chimneys. Try to determine if the floors are level or slope. You can often chase these red flags: Do the doors swing well and fit into their jambs? Do door openings look square or trapezoidal? Do doors seem to have been planed down to fit? Connecting several of these red flags can indicate a structural problem.

Does Water Run Through It?

Chronic moisture problems can be complex to diagnose and repair and result in concealed molds and other water damage.

  • Outside the house: Determine if the house design is generally exposed to the weather or not. Buildings that take a lot of weather and have exposed windows, doors and low-slope roofs and rooftop decks are generally at greater risk for exterior moisture problems.
  • Inside the house: Look for signs of leakage around exposed windows and doors. Also, look for signs of condensation, which can indicate a problem with high relative humidity. Is mold growing around windows and the water storage tanks on toilets? This can indicate other concealed water problems, such as water in the crawl space or mold on the attic sheathing.

Easy Access Is a Must

People seldom consider access to the house critically important, but it is. A walk-up-style house, for instance, may sell at a discount as it requires climbing a set of stairs to access the front door. Other homes may have inaccessible crawl spaces or attics, which can make updates and repairs difficult. Tall houses on hillside lots can be a bear when it comes to home maintenance — where are you going to safely set a ladder? Keep accessibility of elements in mind when viewing a home, as this can be difficult to change.