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Red Flags To Look For Prior To Making A Purchase Offer

Pre-purchase Offer Checklist

Almost all homebuyers hire a professional home inspector to examine the home they have contracted to purchase. But unless you have ample cash flow, it isn't financially feasible to hire a home inspector every time you find a house you are considering to make an offer on. Thus, it's likely you'll make an offer before a home inspector steps in. Fortunately, you can protect your investment by training your eyes to detect possible home weaknesses. And then you can base your offer on any future maintenance or renovation costs. Below are several red flags to look for prior to making a purchase offer, that could spell home distress. Of course, all of these problems can be fixed but for a price. Though this should in no way be considered as a substitute for a professional home inspection, it can at least assist with the fundamental question – “should I or should I not make a purchase offer?”


Brown stains on the ceiling. A possible indication of a past or current leak. Water travels; so don't assume that the source of the leak is directly above the stain. Water could be coming in from the roof.

Warped wood floorboards, peeling floor tile or cracked floor tiles. Warped floorboards point to water damage. If floor tile is peeling, the underlayment could have soaked, expanded and then destroyed the glue holding the floor together. Cracked ceramic tile could be a sign of water damage also.

Mildew smell in certain areas. A sign of plumbing issues or water intrusion.

Brown stains on walls. Another sign of past or current water damage.

Chipped paint around the windows. Wood sills could be damaged and need to be replaced.

Failed caulk around window edges. At best, an air leak; at worst, a water leak.

Two layers of roof. Look around the edge of the house. If there are two layers of roofing on the house, you will need to pull them off when it's time to re-roof the house-an additional expense to regular roofing costs. Having two layers in itself is a potential issue.

Poor grading. If the ground surrounding the house doesn't slope away from the house, it could be causing water to run down the foundation walls, or wick into siding materials.

Knob and tube wiring. Typically, these parts are about 100 years old. While they may function, if you decide to renovate or expand the house, you'll need to upgrade the electrical system to comply with local building code. More importantly, you will never find an insurance company willing to write a policy.

Old windows and storms. If you have old windows, chances are a significant amount of air is leaking into the home. If the storm windows are old, they may not provide much insulation. To replace windows is extremely expensive, but plan on spending a few dollars for caulk and new storm windows.

Only one area has been repainted. If you see that certain walls are freshly painted but no other area has been, it's possible the seller doesn't want you to see something-like stains from leakage or flooding.

Furniture, boxes and other items piled up in one room or corner of the house. The sellers could be moving items around, or they could be hiding something. Try to move enough of the stuff so you can see everything.

Bad smells. If a house smells foul to you, it could have a serious mold problem behind freshly painted walls. Removing mold could cost thousands of dollars. Removing pet odors is less expensive, but it could take a long time to refresh the smell of a house-that is, if you ever can.

Appliances that don't work or that the seller tells you "Don't turn that on." The most obvious red flag: If the seller doesn't want you to do something, or go somewhere in the house.

Cracks in the foundation. If the foundation areas have significant cracking, it could be a structural problem that will be expensive to fix.

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