Looking at Houses To Buy, What To Look For?

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m Ransley wrote:

"... I would strongly recommend if you're not particularly familiar w/ such details to hire an independent inpector before making an offer." :)
It won't be a guarantee, but a competent inspector can help, particularly the uninitiated. Just be sure it's someone not on payroll of the agent or a recommended lender although the latter is less of an issue than the former since they're both after looking out for themselves. In the case of the lender, they're simply wanting to feel comfortable they can get <their> equity back out w/ reasonable confidence which could be a big hit for the buyer. The agent otoh, is trying make a sale and commission.
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On Thu, 20 Oct 2005 11:35:19 -0500, snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (m Ransley) wrote:

Be aware that home inspectors make most of their money from real estate agent's referrals.
If they consistently discover problems that blow the agent's deal they won't get more referrals.
Never go with an inspector recommended by the agent.
Still, even if you find your own inspector he still would LIKE to get future referrals from your agent.
Home inspectors are important and should be used, but don't bet the farm on what they say.
Of course if you have a personal friend who inspects homes you have the best possible situation.
And the inspector will tell you that he has errors and omissions insurance, so if he misses something it will be covered by his policy. WRONG.
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Hire a home inspector. They will know exactly what to look for.

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For what it's worth, when you find something you like and want to make an offer, add a clause about items that can't be checked this time of year. We bought our house last December with a closing date in April of this year. Had a home inspector ( at least that's what his card claims) check out the home end of January, because of snow around and on the house he couldn't check the roof , the exterior foundation, the grade, the deck and it's foundation etc,etc. One thing that couldn't be checked due to the cold weather was the central air conditioning. We moved in at the end of April and 6 weeks later had a heat wave ( it went form 21c to 33c overnight and lasted a week and a half) . when I tried the A/C there was no cooling, had it inspected and found out it had no refrigerant and was told due to the age of the unit , about 18 years old it, was not feasible to try and find the leak to repair it.We're still trying to settle that with the lawyers. If the vendor has nothing to hide or fear they shouldn't object to some sort of " ass covering".
Also don't take the vendor or the selling agent's word for anything. If it's important enough to ask it's important enough to write it down and have them sign off on it.
Just my 2 cents
dave
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" when I tried the A/C there was no cooling, had it inspected and found out it had no refrigerant and was told due to the age of the unit , about 18 years old it, was not feasible to try and find the leak to repair it.We're still trying to settle that with the lawyers. If the vendor has nothing to hide or fear they shouldn't object to some sort of " ass covering".
Let me get this right. You bought a house with a A/C system that is 18 years old, had it inspected in December thought they couldn't run it, with a closing date in April, find out in June that the A/C doesn't work and you want compensation and are wasting time with lawyers? Any home inspector will tell you that an 18 year old A/C system is at the end of it's usefull life, whether it's running or not. Plus anyone could have turned it on during a walk through in April to verify if it runs. So, talk about ass covering, I don't see where the seller owes you anything.
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If the house you are looking at was built in the 80's.... check the siding. Google 'masonite class action' for details on why this is important. (bottom line is masonite made and sold ALOT of bad siding in that decade).
Another thing: Don't trust the house inspector.
I bought a house that was built in '82, had it inspected as part of the process, and 6 months later discovered that the majority of the siding, and the studs behind it (on all sides of the house, primarily the north face) were rotten. The clues were all there for me to see....but when buying a house that you think is 'your dream house' your vision becomes blurred significantly.
Take your time.
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Thanks for the masonite tip. I also learned about Federal Pacific electrical boxes from this ng. The last house we looked at was ok, but I notice that this one (the one my roommates just bought) has not one, but two FP panels in it- One is an old Fuse style from when the house was built in the 1950s, and then there's wiring going from there to another with breakers.
Fortunately I've seen enough things in this house to be wary of others (rotten cloth insulation on all the wiring, everything wired through 3 breakers, a substantial gas leak in the basement and a couple of floors that don't feel 'all too sturdy', along with a lack of fire/smoke/c0 detectors), assuming we can buy a house before this one kills me. When the washing machine is running all the lights in the place 'pulse' with it.
They're both pretty handy, and they knew what they were getting into when they bought it (or so they claim). It's coming around, but i guess my priorities of "what needs to be fixed NOW" are different than theirs. They're just tired of me bitching about the heavy gas smell in the house. Air fresheners fix that. Yup.
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Sounds like you have a good handle on what to look for already. Last time we moved my wife kept looking at all the older houses with charm and character. She saw charm and character, I saw the need for a lot of renovation. We finally found a 3 year old house that was "move in" condition. After 24 years, I'm still in good shape repair wise and kept making small improvements and update. No major plumbing or electrical work needed.
I brink this up because we looked at about 20 houses before buying. Don't get discouraged and don't listen to the sales pitch. Our realtor always brought out the positive things of a house, like how easy it would be to put jacks under the floors of a 100 year old house! Don't sign on the dotted line until you are satisfied the house will fit your needs.
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Well, maybe. I didn't look at this house before they bought it. I kinda wonder if they did either. All the old wiring stuff didn't really rear its ugly head until after they moved in and started to change light bulbs and plug in all their electronics. Seems like every time they move something, they find something else that needs fixing- took the cabinets down to find water damage behind them on the walls, stuff like that. Took down the wall to discover both a leaking roof and some leaking plumbing.

Yeah, I know what you mean. I like character and charm too, but I'm not interested in putting 8 hours of work into a house every day after getting home from work.
Her big thing is that (once again) she wants a farmette with some pets. Couple of dogs, half a dozen goats, some chickens. I can toadilly appreciate that too, but I can't see it happening. There is only *one* place that we can afford that is like that, and my gut feeling is *NO* all the way.
Unfortunately, I think she's rather disenchanted with househunting now, and every place we look at this weekend will be measured against "the farmhouse" and will (obviously) fall short.
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You might classify which houses are more suitable for solar house heating. People don't seem to put any premium on that yet, eg on which way a house faces, shading, age, existing heating system, and so on. An ideal house might
1. Have a long south wall (or SE or SW.)
2. With few windows on that south wall (so a sunspace won't block them.)
3. With the south wall facing the back yard, vs the road.
4. With no significant shading on the south wall.
5. With no significant other projecting features from the south wall, like decks, swimming pools, stairways, and so on, ie a "plain flat south wall."
6. With electric resistance forced-air heat, which is expensive to use, so the house would tend to sell for a lower price, altho it might also have more insulation than usual, to make up for the expensive fuel. Also, the non-recurring cost of electric heat is low compared to other systems, and that tends to lower the price of such a house. And forced-air can be more suitable for sunspace heating than hydronic systems, eg baseboard radiators or hydronic floors.
7. Recently built, with lots of insulation and airtightness. An "Energy Star" house with a blower door test might be a good candidate...
Nick
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Go live in a heated doghouse.
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Water in the basement or crawlspace. Don't trust a real estate agent. Don't tell them what you earn unless you are in a state that has special laws which require the buyer's agent to work for the buyer even though he might get paid from money from the seller. Pay for a home inspection and use one not recommended by your agent who wants the sale to go thru. Put in any offer "this contract is subject to approval by my attorney" and have an attorney look at the contract. If you live in a state with termites, that is something else to worry about. If your gut doesn't like a house, stay away from it. Think about resale.

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To add one more thing, I would stay away from brick unless you know a mason who can tell you it was put up properly. Most brick veneer construction is missing flashing or has inadequate brick ties.

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I think one of the biggest things to look for are cracks in the drywall above doors and windows, and/or doors that don't seem to fit properly. Settling is very expensive to fix. If you don't trust your own judgment about home condition, you'd be a lot better off finding a friend in the construction business than hiring an inspector out of the phone book. Inspectors are often recommended by real-estate agents, and they don't want to tick one off by saying to much; also their liability is often quite limited in their contract. Don't get in a hurry or fall in love with a house, there will be others.
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You've asked the question in a way that focuses everyone on the mechanical status of the house. That's fine, but there's nothing mechanical that can't be fixed at some cost.
There are, however, things that can never be fixed, and before you buy, you need to know what you're getting into.
1) Quality of the local schools. If the schools are bad, that means your house will be worth less, and there will be fewer interested buyers. And if you have kids, it will mean $$ for private schools.
2) Quality of the neighborhood. Drive (or better, walk) around during weekends, the day, at night, during rush hour. Does it seem safe? Nice neighbors? Well-kept houses? No dogs barking all night? Check on the crime rate (police can tell you this). Neighborhood association exists? Traffic?
Remember, real estate agents may bypass bad parts of the neighborhood when getting you to the house to give you a favorable impression.
3) Commute. Drive your route to work in the morning and drive home in the evening. If you have to wait 20 minutes just to get out of your neighborhood, or 5 minutes to get out of your driveway, you'd better love long commutes.
--
Doug Boulter

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Doug Boulter wrote:

Yes, and true. And I've got a mixed bag of data in that regard. We looked at 7 properties this weekend, and made a point to drive around the neighbourhood (would have walked, but it was cold and pouring rain, and I've come down with some walking death hack in the last couple of days). Three places were fair, one was 'interestingly odd', one made us run screaming from and two have made us consider putting an offer on.
One is a small "Swiss Tudor" style house that is in a small town called Cambridge. Cambridge seems to be a relatively upscale area- UW Madison is about 30 minutes away and a goodly lot of the college *graduates* that stay in WI tend to settle in Cambridge. Not wild college kids, but the graduates that are ready to start careers and families. It is on a quiet street and the houses around it seem to be about the same caliber. Nice area. The house itself is about 1100 sq ft- very open and very 'simple'. Minimal yard, no garage, no basement (all three bummers) but it has a brand new gas water heater and boiler. Small, clean, and afaik completely solid and nothing at all wrong with it other than some minor cosmetics. It's about 20 years old.
The other is an older house that has been completely remodeled on the inside. Everything was new and included. There were two other houses for sale on the same street (two of which were next door to each other). They're all about the same cost but this one was the gem. There were a lot of other houses for sale in this town. I expected to see brand new toxic waste dump or nuclear test ground somewhere near by, but there was none. Asked one of the realtors why everyone was moving out of town. She says "houses here don't sell quite as fast as they do in Madison or Deforest, so they will sit on the market for 4 or 5 months and they tend to pile up." That could be good news or bad news, i take it.
In this house, All the floors were level and solid. Still not much of a yard to speak of, but a single car garage. Has an unfinished but clean and tidy basement with a slightly low ceiling. New roof on the house itself, but not on either the front nor rear porch. Saw some water stains in the front porch, and both porches have sank a little bit. They haven't pulled away from the house afaict but I'm curious to see what the home inspector says about how hard it would be to jack them up and refoot them. One section of the basement didn't appear to have working lighting (yeah, shame on me for not bringing a flashlight) so I couldn't see the wiring panel nor the water heater and gas boiler (this one also has the oldschool radiators in every room). The realtor says he's pretty sure that they were all new but I'd still like to see them or have our home inspector tell me that they are. All in all a very liveable place. Too bad it has no yard. I'm actually surprised that the missus liked this house (she didn't even want to look at it, i set up the showing behind her back).
The other two on this street were about the same, except one was remodeled by the owner (with some interesting choices) and it was a pretty good sized house with a decent floor plan. The other was slightly smaller with more old woodwork, but it just didn't do anything for us. Both of them (they were next door to each other) had an electrical substation up against the back yard. I could hear it hum from inside the house, and had no interest in being anywhere near that thing. They were also right next to the tracks and we got to witness a coal train and an amtrak fly by. bleh.
Another place was neat, but it listed two things on the data sheet that probably should have tipped me off- one is that it has an artesian well on the property, and that sometimes with heavy rains you might see "some water in the basement". When we actually got to the place, the first thing I looked for was a bilge pump in the basement, and there was one, about a foot off the floor- brand new, in fact. But then I looked at the walls and support posts and the watermark was about waist high, and looked like it got hit frequently. Yikes. Too bad too, it was a nice house also with brand new everything- stove, fridge, dishwasher, central air and heat, washer, dryer, two new bathrooms all less than a year old.
The one we ran away screaming from actually gave me a bad feeling the minute I walked into the door. Floors all sank to the middle of the house, none of the doors fit, most of the windows looked trapezoidal and none of them would budge. All the walls were covered in something hideous and the basement was a total nightmare. Knob and tube wiring that looked like it had been patched, bypassed, reworked or otherwise butchered a thousand times over and sealed up with duct tape, masking tape, twine or sometimes just left bare. Also, in the basement it was very apparent that the house was indeed caving in on itself. And never mind all the junk and trash all in it, the horrible smell, and the pile of dead ducks in the garage.
The final house was, "interesting". Word on the street was that the owner was an elderly lady, about a thousand years old. Her husband (now dead) built the house, and later went insane. My guess is that he was well on the way when building the house. It was neat though- all kinds of secret passages and hidden rooms throughout. It was billed as a "3 bdrm house with a 2bdrm apt". It could have been recombined or left separate. It was huge, about 3030 sq feet and the tour of it reminded me of The Shining when they were going through the resort lodge. I was not prepared for the massiveness of this house. We went through room after room, each of them grand and spacious, then the 2bdrm apartment on the other side, also quite luxurious. Then we went through the basement. Yet another labrynth of rooms, passageways and halls. There must have been about 8 more finished rooms down there. 10 foot ceiling all through the basement. Two oil furnaces, a gas water heater and an oil water heater. Never seen one of those before. I was already overwhelmed and thinking to myself "this place rocks, but it's just way too much house to maintain".
Federal Pacific fuse panel. Yep- fuses. No wonder most of the electrical outlets in the house were 2-prong. Lots of intricate plumbing that looked about 5 years away from failure, some had already blown up and been fixed. One basement room had a bit of damage from a water heater explosion. And it had other issues- seemed like the whole house was gradually leaning to one side, and the basement of all things seemed to slope in all sorts of directions. Either the house was built a piece at a time and there were many slabs under the basement flooring, or it was all one big slab that was cracking and sinking. I had already written the place off by then but it was still a bummer to see that it was probably all going to come down soon one way or another.
One end of the basement was under the garage, with a concrete ceiling and beams. Underneath it was easily enough room to put 2 more cars, and it looked like they had closed up a garage door down there.
Oh well. It was a fun experience, that last house. So odd, but in a neat way. It was like taking a tour of a fortress or something. If it didn't make me guilty wasting the realtor's time, I would almost ask for a second showing just to see it again.
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