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Real Estate Red Flags: What to Look Out for When Buying a House


on March 1, 2021


WARNING: House hunting may cause tunnel vision.

The timing of your move and the local housing market can easily turn a casual homebuying process into a mad dash for your dream home. You spend all your free time browsing listings and going to open houses, expending all your energy toward this singular goal.

When you’re laser-focused on what you want, it’s easy to overlook some common red flags that can signal that the house you love is actually one you want to avoid. 

5 Things to Look Out for When Buying a Home

You likely have a long list of must-haves for your perfect home. And when you finally find a house that checks all the boxes, you’re bubbling with excitement. But it’s important to make sure everything is as it seems. 

Sellers go to great lengths to cover up the blemishes and make their home more appealing. These updates make a home more move-in ready and can lower your home improvement costs later on. But sometimes they’re just cosmetic updates that cover up a potential problem. Watch out for these red flags during your homebuying process so you don’t waste your time — or money — on a house that’s not worth the investment.

1. Poor Craftsmanship or Style

Not every remodel or renovation is the same. Budgets force every homeowner to prioritize how and where they choose to make improvements. And one homeowner’s love for DIY remodeling can take years to correct. Take stock of each room — especially the ones that were most recently updated — looking for:

  • Uneven window and door frames
  • Gaps or unlevel appearance of tiling, hardwood, cabinetry and countertops
  • Outdated or ill-fitting finishes, flooring and furnishings

This is something you might even be able to spot in photos. As you scan pictures of the home, make note of the look and style in each room. If flipping through photos feels like you’re switching styles, eras or homes, it may not even be worth the visit.

2. “For Sale” Signs Up and Down the Street

An all-out exodus from the neighborhood is never a good sign. While there may be nothing wrong with the home itself, there are likely larger issues at play. There could be a rise in crime in the area, a nearby source of noise pollution, redrawn school district lines or an upcoming development that will sap property values.

Your real estate agent may have the answers, so start your inquiry there. Sometimes uncovering the underlying issues takes much more investigation. If the home is not worth that time and effort, it might be best to walk away. 

3. Worn and Weathered Windows and Doors

Take a closer look at the windows, front door and patio doors. You might just pull back the curtain on costly repairs or full-on replacements. Window and door replacements may not be projects you can afford to take on right after purchasing a new home. To avoid an unpleasant surprise, look out for:

Even homes that advertise “new windows” can be problematic. In an effort to cut down on costs before the sale, the homeowner could have opted against professional installation. Improperly installed windows have a shorter lifespan, which means you’re not getting the “new” windows you once thought. 

4. Neglected Property Maintenance

Worn windows and doors may also be signs of long-ignored maintenance. Other signs, like burned-out lightbulbs, leaky faucets, water stains, faded or chipped paint and overgrown landscaping, may mean that the home isn’t in great condition. 

That’s all fine if you don’t mind a fixer-upper. But as you’ve seen on any home repair show, there are often bigger, costlier problems the deeper you look. A good home inspection helps spot these issues, giving you the leverage to negotiate a better price, ask the seller to make the fixes or move on to a more move-in ready home.

5. Signs of Mold or Moisture in the House

If you detect a musty odor when you enter the home, there might be some mold hiding inside. Or at least wetness that can lead to mold or signal some sort of water damage. On the flip side, overly pleasant aromas may be covering up mold and other smells, like smoke, mildew or strong pet odors.

Follow your nose to the source of the scent. A candle, plug-in or other scent enhancer may be strategically placed in the area where the smell is strongest. It could be a stench that’s impossible to erase or requires a large project to remove. Look at the walls, ceilings and floors for spots, stains and bubbled or peeling paint, which may mean there’s a moisture issue in the drywall. 

What to Do When You Spot a Real Estate Red Flag

No home is perfect. Even a new construction can leave you with a few items on your home improvement list. While you want to be wary of anything that portends a major expense, you could also miss out on getting a home you love if you turn your back at every red flag. 

Before making any decision, gather as much information as you can from:

  • Real estate agents – Talk to your own agent, and the seller’s (if you can), to get to the bottom of any issue.
  • Sellers – Motivated sellers are willing to chat and negotiate. Ask questions about the home, certain projects and the neighborhood to get a deeper understanding without directly calling attention to the red flag.
  • Friends and family – Bring anyone you trust with you to an open house to get a second opinion — especially if they have experience or expertise in the home or construction industry. 
  • Home inspectors – A qualified home inspector is your last line of defense. Discuss things you noticed with them in advance so that they can take a closer look during the inspection. With their expertise, you can identify the problem, get an idea of the cost to fix it and gain the leverage to negotiate the home price or repairs.

If a red flag is a dealbreaker — or you find that it’s much more than you’ve bargained for — move onto the next house and don’t look back. You’ll be much happier with a home that meets your needs but doesn’t have too many needs of its own.

Schedule a free consultation to find windows and doors for your home.