Looking at Houses To Buy, What To Look For?

Page 1 of 2  
Hello!
I realize that this question could almost be written off as "duh, use common sense". However, I'm guessing that there are a number of warning signs that defy common sense, or at least "novice home buyer" sense that some seasoned folks would see right away. Maybe stuff that's a little less obvious that the gaping pit of death in the basement that is spewing the lost souls of the afterworld...
The reason I suspect this is because I've done a fair bit of automobile repair and I know what to look for, I know what 'coverups' look like, and I know how to manipulate used cars to make them rear their ugly secrets. I expect houses to harbour tons of monsters as well.
The Missus and I are first-time home buyers, and we have our first round of open houses and showings this weekend. I would appreciate any tips of things to look for and how to gauge whether it's something "minor and can be fixed when you get around to it" or "perhaps more pressing/not DIY". I realize that *every* house is a fixer-upper to some degree, and that's fine.
Any tips are greatly appreciated- about any aspect of buying a house for the first time. When we do buy a house I'll invite you all to the BBQ next spring ;-).
Thanks again!
-phaeton
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
phaeton wrote:

....
....
Depends some on what you're looking at---are you considering houses of any age or restricting to old/new somewhere in between?
For a realtor walk-through, you'll be essentially evaluating whether you want to consider this one or not for further detailed evaluation. I would strongly recommend if you're not particularly familiar w/ such details to hire an independent inpector before making an offer.
What you can see is obvious things like wavy roofs indicating possible problems, signs of water running down sides of chimneys, soffets, etc., cracked foundations/walls indicative of drainage/foundation issues perhaps, windows/doors sagging/binding. Having a marble or similar in your pocket to drop on hard floors to indicate level is useful particularly in older homes.
Obviously, signs of homeowner patched up wiring and/or plumbing are warning signs as are extension cords, etc.
If at all possible look in attic crawl spaces for verificaion of insulation, etc. Many won't want to do this on first showing so may need to either blow it off or use first impression go/no go screening and return if still on the cut list.
That's just a starting point...mostly keep your eyes open looking at details and let swmbo worry about whether she "likes it"... :)
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Have it inspected before you buy, the best cheap insurance against future issues.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Agreed on the inspection. I'm all for that. Prices for inspection vary but we've got an inspector lined up who is recommended to us from many good sources. She's not the cheapest but she's one of the best. You all might remember my fiasco a few months ago with the 100-year old farmhouse (seller is a psychopath, but that's another story). We had that house inspected and I have no qualms laying out another $350 to have it done again.
The houses we're looking at are all over the map agewise, but mostly fall in the 70-30 year old mark. It's just what happens to be available here (midwest). $135K is our max budget, and there appear to be some decent, if not 'slightly cosmetically challenged' homes, along with a few that look like they have been completely refurbished top to bottom.
Duane sez:

Yeah, unfortunately the old farmhouse with the 3 acres is what she really wants. It was a nice place, but I stil think that walking away from that one is best. Heartwrenching. These other houses are in town, no acreage and it feels like she's 'settling' for them but unfortunately I don't think that a farmette is within our means atm. Maybe in 5 to 7 years.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
I should probably also add that this won't be "the house" if you know what I mean. The farmette life is what we ultimately want to get into, so this house is merely a stepping stone. Buy it, fix it, make it beautiful, live in it for a while and put it on the market. Wrong attitude? probably not.
We're specifically looking at 3 bedroom houses, around 1600sq ft. No plans for kids (unless a couple of big goofy dogs count) but we've both got massive amounts of hobbies and would like to have a room or two to dedicate to them.
I'm prepared for the "sweat equity" part. I haven't done a lot of home repair type things, but there's no better way to learn than by studying and doing. A house with 100 minor things to fix would probably prep me for the farm later, i suppose, and by that time I'll have enough tools and skill where I (hopefully) won't get in over my head.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

My wife and I bought our first house with an unfinished basement, it was a newer home with little in need of repairs, the finishing of the basement let me work on my own time table, understand more about the finer points of home ownership/repair, and brought in a decent return on our labour when we sold 2.5 yrs later.
If your thinking of flipping this house in a few years, look for a place with an unfinished room or 2
Dave
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
phaeton wrote:

....
I can relate...while in VA we looked at an early 19th century farmhouse on which was situated within eyeshot of Blue Ridge on remarkably level land (for there) and all that one could desire except...it had been completely done over by the existing occupants and was on the surface just beautiful. Problem was, they had done all the cosmetic stuff, probably spending $50k (in mid 70's $$) but hadn't done anything to repair the failing handlaid stone foundation which was falling down, nor the under girding beams which were rotting and propped up w/ a mishmash of cinder block and sawed off tree limbs, the chimneys which leaned like the tower of Pisa and were separating from the walls, ...
If one could have gotten it at the start for what they had, it could have been a great place, but all their work, for the most part, would have to be torn out and then redone to fix the fundamentals...
I still rue not having that particular location, however, nearly 40 years later... :)
There was another house even older that was a real mansion/plantation house but the owner was farming the land and had split the house off onto a tiny corner that stopped about 10 ft outside the rear of the house and wouldn't consider selling even 10 A to go w/ a 3 story (including the full 9-ft ceiling basement w/ the original kitchens, etc.) house...I guess he eventually dumped it and it became a rental.. :(
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
This house was actually a similar thing, but perhaps a little better yet. The sellers bought it, gutted it, replaced all the wiring and plumbing up to code in 1984 (or 1996- they kept changing their story of when they bought it). It had a stone foundation also, but it seemed alright. It did need some work done on the exterior- it had brand new windows in it, but the wooden windowframes weren't replaced (and were rotten), allowing water to get behind the stone exterior and cause cracking. Fixable, but probably not a first-time DIY project. Also needed some planing of the yard to get water to stop running into the basement, there was an addition on the house that was settling in one end and needed to be jacked up and refooted. It had a whole host of other minor issues but nothing I wasn't comfortable trying a stab at myself.
Beautiful property in Rural Amish Country. Had a barn and a shed. Seller accepted our offer for X amount of land (which had to be approved by the local Red Tape) and a set price, but wasn't motivated to do her part to add the land, kept saying "let's close first and add the land later". Kept trying to create all sorts of handshake deals outside of the contract, refused to amend the contract, ordered services for the property and insisted we pay for them prior to closing. Initially downright refused a home inspection, but later said it would be OK but regardless we can't back out of the contract (another handshake deal). I was firm on that and she finally relented. The house had nothing to hide that I didn't already know. I would have still bought it.
But for the most part, the seller basically broke all the rules and was using nothing but Sucker Sam's Used Car Pushy Sales Tactics 101 to try to force the deal. We had to involve an attorney to explain to her that she blew it and she ought to return the Earnest $ right away.
Unfortunately, now that it's done and over with and everything is back as it was, the seller keeps giving us "updates" such as "the land has been added now! it just needs approval through....." "it was a beautiful day on the farm today- all the trees changing colors, lots of deer and geese and ducks" etc. She's trying to play the heartstrings but I don't want to deal with her anymore, and she would own all the land around it including an easement for a well onto that property. It's very sad because it was such a beautiful place. Calendar beautiful, no less.

I don't know what sort of timeframe, but I do plan on doing some flipping. Maybe not as hardcore as some folks might but who knows. Essentially I want to set us up so that we can buy a beautiful farmette like the one described above but with more land and no hassle or bullshit. I have a slightly better grasp of the big pic vs. the missus but I'm still keeping an eye out for resaleability in houses.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Btw, these houses (the current crop) are in small towns each about 20-30 minutes east and north east of Madison WI. Hopefully that's a good place to buy low and sell high later.
Seems that all the home construction is happening in West Madison (the $350K McMansion subdivisions and condos) but all the warehouse/industrial construction is happening in East Madison. They say that home values are high where there is jobs, so hopefully that will drive up the value of the houses in these little towns in the east when they start getting encroached.
Or it may backfire and drive the cost down? :-(
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
phaeton wrote:

....
In all likelihood, yes. :)
I would only caution that interest rates _are_ going to rise and the present market climate is not going to last indefinitely. At some point there are a lot of folks presently thinking they can "flip" virtually anything going to have an unwelcome surprise. Not saying don't do something, just be prudent.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
"flipping" seems like such a dirty word..heh...
I still take fact in that you typically won't *lose* in buying real estate (and you always have to live SOMEWHERE). I suppose that if some insinuated "housing bubble burst" is about to happen, then we still got into a house and still have a place to live, and it will still gain some value.
Of course, I've heard all sorts of ranting and raving about "bursting bubbles" but no real coherent predicition of when, or what that even means- will housing prices go up, down, what?
Unfortunately, I'm not an economics or real estate major. I hate to admit it but I really don't know what I'm talking about :eek:...
I just want my own kitchen again, and a workshop and a place to keep my beer cold. Also to be able to come home to the kind and beautiful missus every night.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
phaeton wrote:

The first is true the last isn't necessarily so. I don't know what the markets are in the area you're in, but I think many metro areas are dangerously high at the present time.

If anyone knew _exactly_ when, they'd have the proverbial crystal ball.
The symptoms of concern are present--high demand, high prices rapidly escalating combined w/ rising interest rates exacerbated by (unprecedentedly) high energy costs which are _just_ beginning to be seen to have the rippling inflationary effect throughout the rest of the economy coupled w/ the obvious intent of the Federal Reserve to be sure to stay in front of that trend and to (imo) make all the intended rate hikes prior to Greenspan's actual retirement. A large number of current mortgages are of the variable interest type and those folks are going to see some significant jumps in their monthly payments. All of the above simply indicate its time to be cautious and to remember that real estate _doesn't always_ go up...
Choose the area w/ care (remember "location, location, location!"), don't buy cheapest or most expensive in a general neighborhood and remember that schools are important for most purchasers of 2-3 br houses of the size you're speaking of, so don't ignore that even though you don't intend to send the hounds... :)
Again, it's just a time to be prudent and just a little bit cautious imo...
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Thanks Duane... You've probably helped me more than I know.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
phaeton wrote:

Hope so...and happy hunting.
I'm an old-enough old fart to recall times when things weren't so rosy. The oil bubble burst in the 80s in Midland, TX comes especially close to home as it took my brother down w/ it and he was just the new "vitinary" in town at a time when the cheapest thing they could find was nearly $300k. Everybody thought it would go on and that would sell for $400k in less than a year, but instead it sold under repo after they were forced to default for <$100. Ugly!
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Horrible!
http://www.carlfrancis.starkhomes.com/vp/SearchServlet?context=AGENT_PAGE_SEARCH&SITE=STARK&ScreenID=AGENT_SEARCH_LISTING&ListingSearch=true&pres_agent564
If you're mildly interested, take a look at some of the places in the towns of Cambridge, Columbus and Pardeevile. We're going in between $90K and $135K, but as you can see there are a few houses lesser than that (probably total dumps) and some McMansions that go up to the $500K mark. Mind you, these towns are 20 minutes outside of Madison, but are pretty small- 1100 residents for Cambridge, and about 4500 for Columbus. Think this might be typical (such a disparity in home prices in such a small place), or perhaps something to watch out for?
The more I read about housing bubbles, it seems like there is definately something going on in places like Boston, NY and SoCal, but not so much here in Madison. There are some folks that think one is *starting*, i.e. house prices are just starting to show some increasement. If that's the case:
1) Should I buy now 2) Should I wait the 3-5 years for it to go up then back down.
If I do #1 I understand that I can't get too excited about the value of the house increasing steadily at some exhorbitant rate- it's only going to come back down to a more 'sensible' level. My thoughts are that if it goes up, then goes down, it is still going to go up again after that- maybe a bit slower but much more stably. The longer you ride it out the better off you'll be?
Am I wrong?
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
phaeton wrote:

But true...altho I realized I moved a set of numbers up inadvertently...it was only something in the $200k when they bought it, not $300k, but the net result is the same...after the oil bust, they couldn't give it away--the only practical alternative was to let the bank come get it. ...

My slow dialup makes that impractical, but in such a small market there's going to be a range. I was speaking mostly of larger developments where one doesn't want to be the extreme--from the resale standpoint, it makes a place much more difficult to move.

In general, that's true--but how long it might take to recover is anybody's guess and would depend on many things that are impossible to predict.
My personal feeling is if one doesn't over extend on a mortgage and has reasonable expectations of returns, it is still a good time to buy...interest rates are only going to go up for the forseeable future and if one has good credit one should be able to still lock in a good rate. I don't think this is a good time to get snookered in by the low early rates w/ possible higher rates later on unless the limits are quite well defined and you _fully_ understand the conditions and the possible ramifications of any provision that you sign on to.
If, as you seem to think, housing in the area hasn't increased exorbitantly in the area to date, that makes it a better bet at present imo. I don't know much about Madison other than having been there some nearly 30 years ago on recruiting trips for my then employer so I don't know anything about the current economic patterns. If that looks stable for the foreseeable future despite the obvious problems, that's also a good sign. Major university towns tend to have a lot of tech and related stuff that is relatively immune to major problems such as the automakers, but there _can_ be real problems in those places, too.

Do I have a crystal ball? :)
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Buy now. Unless the prices are grossly inflated in your area ($90k to $135k seems reasonable), then the sooner you buy the better the potential for profiting from market increases. Of course, if the market then goes down, then you can do your waiting...
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
That's kind of how I was thinking. And fwiw there were a lot of houses in the area (a couple more on the same street) that were for sale and they were all about the same $$.
Now it's time to find out why everyone's moving out ;)
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Walmart going in down the block? Street being widened? Schools being consolidated with another town?
Real estate agents of the more shady variety won't disclose such things because "they haven't been approved, only proposed."
It's perhaps a good idea to stop by "city hall" and see what you can find out about proposed changes. Public librarians can be helpful too. And of course a good buyer's agent would tell you those things right up front.
I enjoyed your description of the houses. Remember, all that stuff can be fixed for a price. If the house price is low enough, you can get a terrific deal if you don't mind putting up with some construction while you are living there.
--
Doug Boulter

To reply by e-mail, remove the obvious word from the e-mail address
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
well hell... I was starting to dig up data from the EPA and DNR website about possible hazardous material contamination in the area and the missus just flipped the fence and decided on a different house we saw (the small, simple tudor house).
Somehow, that is a relief. *shrugs*
Ahh yes. The small Tudor house. No garage, no basement. Mow the entire lawn with a push mower in about 1 beer (or about 12 minutes). No surprises, no secrets. WYSIWYG. Not a lot of opportunity to change stuff around, but it's small enough that you could almost say, retile the kitchen floor on a whim and then with minimal guilt change it again later on if you don't like it. Older woman selling it because she's getting married and moving in with Mr. Man. The house also has a gas boiler system but I bet it's small enough that a couple of small, modern space heaters would heat it nicely. Hell, we could probably even heat the house with all of our computers. hah!
I hear mixed things about gas boilers and their efficiencies and PITA value.
I might be able to pour a slab and build a porch or sun room on the back. That would be a nice project to attempt in a couple of years or so.
I enjoyed telling the stories about the houses, thanks for listening. I truncated them quite a bit though. I could have rambled on for another dozen pages (i'm like that) ;)
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Related Threads

    HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.