House Knowledge

6 Things to Consider Before you Buy a Home

Posted by John on March 7th, 2014

One thing I’d like to do more often on our blog is general home improvement discussions.  They can be a little less exciting than some project posts, but they can end up providing WAY more value to casual readers and our newsletter subscribers alike.

In today’s post, I want to share with you some of my advice as it pertains to purchasing a home.  How old?  Well, generally a home of any age including new construction, but it applies especially well to older homes.

So, let’s assume you’re in the market for a home.  You know your budget.  You know the neighborhood and school system you want to live in.  You found a few homes you want to view.  Maybe you are trying to decide if the home you really like at the moment is worth the investment.  Is it a money pit?  Are there hidden costs down the road?  What do you absolutely need to know about the house before you make an offer?

Here are 6 Things to Consider BEFORE you Buy a Home.  They largely pertain to the material condition of the house and can help you make a more informed decision about a potential purchase.

before you buy a home

1. The Roof.  Not necessarily the biggest expense, but a costly one nonetheless.  When we are talking about roofs, we’re generally talking about the shingles, especially if it’s an angled, single home roof.  Flat roofs also have a similar covering and also suffer from the same type of wear over time.  Shingles range in quality and expected lifetime, but you can expect to see a manufacturer offer warranties in the 30 to 50 year range.  If the home you’re looking doesn’t have a new roof and it’s near the end of the warranty, then you can expect to have to replace it while you own the home.  You may want to have a roofer give you a rough estimate to see what the costs would be even if you don’t have to replace it for several years.

You also definitely want to take a hard look at all the ceilings in the house.  If there is discoloration on any ceiling, it can be a result of a roof leak.  It’s either that or a leak from a bathroom.  If the leak is terrible, or if the house is older than 30-50 years, there may be multiple layers of shingles and damage to the plywood beneath the shingles.  That sort of repair is more costly, but not necessarily a deal-breaker.

2. The Furnace.  This one is a biggie.  There are oil furnaces, gas furnaces, propane furnaces, hot water baseboard, steam radiators, electric baseboards.  Age is not necessarily a factor quite as much with furnaces.  Functionality and maintainability are more the concern with heaters.  Get the manufacturer’s name and the part number during your walk thru and then you can Google it to determine how much it costs on average to maintain.  You may want to call an HVAC contractor to determine both how often they need to repair those units and a rough replacement cost.  Also take a look at whether or not the unit has an air conditioner attached to the heater, especially if it’s forced air heat or “central air”.  Often times, the forced air heat furnaces can be upgraded to a full heat/AC system.  If you do need to replace the furnace, depending upon the configuration, it can set you back anywhere from $5k-$15k on average.

3. The Foundation.  The foundation is not one of those areas where you want to take risks, in my opinion.  If the home has a basement, especially if it’s unfinished, you should check for deep cracks in the wall and water intrusion issues.  Most water intrusion issues can be fixed fairly reasonably with caulk or hydraulic cement.  Some settling will occur over time, so it’s not unusual to see cracks in drywall a few years after the house was built.  You want to look for the big things, like an addition pulling away from the main house or loose and crumbling foundation stone or concrete.  If you have major reservations, have a concrete contractor that specializes in pouring foundations come take a look at it.  To keep the contractor honest, you can pay him a flat fee just to inspect it and let him know upfront that if any major work is indeed required, that you’ll be hiring someone else.  That way there is no motivation for the contractor to embellish the required repair to get more work.

4. The Utilities.  This one is enormously important.  When we prepared to start looking at houses, we were very fixated on monthly mortgages, interest rates and taxes.  When it comes to utilities though, we just assumed that the heat and electric would be $200-$300 a month on average.  That was because we based our assumptions on using natural gas and keeping the house at a certain temperature throughout the year.  If we looked at a home that used propane instead, that monthly heating bill could go up to $1000 a month, not including electric.  Before you decide to purchase a home, make sure you have a clear understanding of what the utility bills will be like each month and include a warm and cold weather average.

5. The Septic or Sewer.  Our first home had access to the city sewer and our current home has a septic tank.  We haven’t noticed much difference between either yet in terms of performance.  The only day to day concern is the garbage disposal and the toilet paper.  You’re not supposed to use a garbage disposal with a septic tank system.  Not exactly sure why, but something about it affecting the bacteria balance within the tank.  It could cause it to back up or fail if you use it too frequently.  We’ll be composting soon enough though, so we should be cutting down on our trash.  So just be aware of that requirement.  Some people have said you can use certain disposals, but in my opinion, its better not to risk it.  You also can’t clean out paint brushes or roller trays.  Latex paint forms a film that if passed through your septic system can clog your leech field requiring an enormously expensive repair.  So wash your brushes out in a bucket and don’t flush the water down the drain.  You also need to use toilet paper that is septic safe.  Not a big increase in price or aggravation, but you do need to be aware of it.  This change may no be a big deal to you, but for some people it’s a deal breaker.

6. Any HAZMAT.  Particularly of concern in older homes, there can be a lot of hazardous materials present in older homes.  There can be asbestos in siding shingles, furnace or pipe insulation, flooring glue and flooring materials as well as some types of plaster.  You may find lead paint on older trim work.  If you have grand visions of buying an older home, gutting it and then refinishing it for a reasonable price, those dreams become significantly more expensive if the plaster you wanted to demo contain asbestos, or if the siding or flooring contain asbestos.  You need professional service teams to do that removal for you and it’s not cheap.  It’s also not worth the risk to your health that removing it yourself will cause.  You may be able to get a small sample of the plaster or vinyl flooring tested at a local lab for asbestos before you purchase the home or ask the current owner or seller to perform that test for you.

I hope you found this list both helpful and insightful.  If you enjoyed it, please share it.  Also, please consider signing up for our free e-newsletter so you can be the first to know when content like this is available.

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