Catching home buyers at the end of their house hunting journey is where I usually find myself. And quite often, by the time I get to them, they’re fallen so in love with the house we’re inspecting that there’s just very little I can do to change their mind if it really ISN’T the right home for them.
Often times we leave our choice in home up to things like the feeling it evokes. Once we fall in love with a house, it can be hard to use reasoning or logic to change our minds. But if we went into house hunting with this logical approach rather than a purely emotional approach, a lot of heartache could be avoided.
House hunting is such an exciting time, but can be completely overwhelming if you don’t go into it with some logical thinking. As someone who gets to walk through and dig deep into a home, I know that there are things often missed during a walk through before an offer is put in. In the same breathe, I think arming yourself with an idea of exactly what you’re looking for prior to making an offer is the key to making a good decision.
Afterall, houses are more than just their “bones” or their location. The house as a whole is an intricate system of many parts working together to create an environment that both protects us and keeps us comfortable. So often the things people look at in a home come down to the cosmetic beauty, rather than the functionality or health. And although the way a home makes you feel can be an important factor, it shouldn’t be the sole deciding factor when it comes to putting in an offer on a home.
So before you or someone you know goes house hunting, use the list below to know exactly what to pay attention to BEFORE you fall in love with the wrong house.
And don’t miss downloading my free guide to bring with you (or realtors — print out for your buyers!):
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HOUSE HUNTING THE LOCATION & DIRECTION
The location of your house, for obvious reasons is at the top of this list. But it’s more than just where on a map your potential home is. Are there business nearby that manufacture various products and materials? Is the home near a landfill of some kind? These are all things you want to look at when it comes to the environment around your house.
Something else you might be interested in is the amount of time it takes you to get to places of importance like school, work or church. If the drive is a long one, you’ll start to notice it after a while or when there is road construction or winter weather on the roads.
You’ll also want to pay attention to the direction the home faces. If you live in a climate where it snows and there is ice during the winter, a driveway that faces north might mean the snow never really melts off until spring.
If you live in a hot, southern state and the driveway is blacktop, but faces south, you might notice more wear and tear and near for replacement. A home with a lot of windows on the south side will retain heat in the winter and be more efficient during the heating season. A home with few windows on the south side will stay cooler year-round.
Depending on where you live and what your climate is like, you’ll want to pay attention to which direction the majority of the home’s windows face in order to help you with your heating and cooling costs.
SIGNS OF WATER DAMAGE
Knowing the signs of water damage can be incredibly helpful and can help you rule out a house when you’re seeing it for the first time. It can be really heartbreaking to fall in love with a house only to find out it has water damage that will be a huge expense to repair.
Look for staining on drywall and ceilings, as this is a tell-tale sign that something has leaked. It often looks like yellow-ish, brown rings, but it can also just be a different texture on the wall or ceiling if it has been painted over.
If you push gently on the different texture of wall and it is soft, that tells us there may still be a leak somewhere within the wall that needs to be addressed.
You can also feel around the corners of carpet to make sure it’s dry and not damp at all.
Water damage often means there was or is a leak somewhere from plumbing or from the exterior. Most leaks are repaired as soon as they are noticed, however if the drywall has not had a chance to dry out within 48 hours, the potential for mold growth within the panel increases.
Checking with the seller about any water damage you notice can be extremely helpful as they are required to disclose any known water leaks in the home. Finding out what kind of leak it was (from plumbing or exterior) and how the area was cleaned up is the best way to decide if it really is a large issue preventing you from buying the home.
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If the home you’re house hunting and find a recent build within the last thirty years or so, there likely has not been a lot of updating to the electrical system. This is usually completely fine and as long as there hasn’t been a lot of DIY work around the electrical, you probably won’t have major issues with it.
If you’re looking at an older home, hopefully the electrical has been updated at some point. If you’re walking through the home and seeing a lot of older style “two prong” outlets without the grounding plug, the home’s electrical may not have been completely updated.
If you see an electrical panel and it contains, fuses you can know right off the bat that there is probably a pretty hefty electrical update that needs to happen. This definitely doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, but if you’re looking to move right in, most of the time you’ll need to have electrical service that is at least 100 amps (Some older homes have only 60 amp service) and you’ll want to make sure your home has circuit breakers rather than fuse boxes.
Another thing to watch for is where electrical panels, junction boxes and appliances back up to. Reducing EMFs in sleeping areas is an important part of creating a healthy home. Make sure appliances and other electrical components like panels and meters are not on shared walls with bedroom spaces.
NUMBER OF PREVIOUS OWNERS
The home that still has the original owner living there has generally speaking, been well-cared for. While this doesn’t mean this happens in every single case when you’re house hunting, as a general rule of thumb, those with fewer owners during their lifetime, the more cared for they are.
When more and more owners line the list of past occupants, there also tends to be a bit of noticeable DIY changes to the home as each person tried to make it their own. While this isn’t bad, sometimes it can mean changes were made unnecessarily, compromising the systems or structure at some point.
If you find a home that has the original owner, and they have a lot of pride in their home, you’ve hit the jackpot. These are the best homes to find as they have someone living there who loves the home and cares for it in a great way.
This isn’t to say that a home who has had new owners every 3 years is a dud. It just means to walk with caution and make sure you’re being diligent as your realtor shows you this home. Keep an eye out for evidence of a homeowner who DIY’d the home to be their own.
TYPE OF FINISHES
When you’re house hunting, notice that there are some finishes that are just a higher quality than others. And understand that generally, higher quality materials area actually lower in toxins too. Cheaper construction usually contains more plywood, which emits VOCs and contains formaldehyde, while hardwood finishes are usually a safer option.
Looking at a home with this in mind can help you spot a real gem and avoid something that uses cheap finishes you’ll likely need to replace.
First look at the interior doors. Doors that are hollow core are generally the cheaper, builder-grade option. In contrast, a home with six-panel solid wood doors, shows that a homeowner really cared about the finishes inside its home.
Flooring is another spot to inspect when you’re house hunting. Higher quality finishes like solid hardwood or tile are great choices as they generally last for a long time and have fewer toxins. Watch out for old vinyl flooring, which can emit high levels of VOCs as well as carpet, which can not only contain PFOAs and flame retardants, but also hold onto toxic house dust. (This post gives you some really good ideas about what flooring is actually healthy).
Other high quality items you can watch for are cabinets made of solid wood and trim that is solid wood rather than composite or fiberboard.
Obviously, you could change any of these elements of a home to be of higher quality at any time. The problem becomes you’ll be spending a lot of your budget on finishes rather than on other systems within the home.
When you walk down into the basement of the potential home, you might get an overwhelming scent of musty basement smell. Many basements have some time of odor, but some have an overpowering odor of wetness or damp carpet. If a basement smells damp and musty, it usually is, even if it’s under carpet or behind walls.
Notice the smell as you walk down and pay attention to if it feels damp as well. You can also be on the look out for a dehumidifier somewhere in the lowest level. This is a tell-tale sign that the basement gets damp often and the current homeowner uses the dehumidifier to reduce moisture inside.
You can also look at areas of concrete, either on the floor or on the foundation wall itself. If there is evidence of wetness, or it looks damp, it’s likely pulling moisture in from the exterior, which is why the home feels so damp in the basement. Sometimes a home may have a moisture barrier painted on the concrete walls in the basement, which helps the damp feeling, but it may be peeling or becoming worn.
The reason to watch for a damp basement, is because a basement that’s very damp can house mold or mildew and can also have a compromised foundation due to the high levels of moisture surrounding it.
It’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but it could mean more cost to you in the end if it’s the home you choose. It may mean installing gutters or a drain tile system around the home and that can add up rather quickly.
CONSIDER ENVIRONMENTAL TESTING BEYOND HOUSE HUNTING
As you’re house hunting, know that you have the power to choose to do environmental testing to make sure your home is safe and healthy.
Radon testing is the first test I almost ALWAYS recommend. Especially if you live in an area where radon levels can potentially be higher, this is extremely important. Another factor to consider is if you will have a bedroom, office or living space in a room below ground. Because radon is heavier than air, it tends to pool in the lowest levels, which is where someone will run a short test.
You can also have mold testing done in a short time frame while you’re in the contingency period. If you’re sensitive to mold or you’ve got any reason to believe there was past moisture damage in the home, a mold test is the BEST thing to do to get peace of mind and assurance that your home is healthy.
And if the home you’re considering purchasing is older, you may even want to do lead testing or asbestos testing on surfaces to ensure there is no potential for these dangerous toxins to get into the air in your home.
These are tests that you’d likely do AFTER you put in an offer as they can take a few days to come back with results. But it wouldn’t hurt to perform your own tests at home after you’ve moved in if there are no immediate concerns.
Here are some options for at-home tests:
If and when you or someone you know will be out and about house hunting, make sure you’re armed with these items to watch for. A home isn’t all about just how you feel when you see it or the fact that you love the look of it. A home is also an investment for you and your family and by choosing the right home, you’ll be guaranteeing your investment doesn’t become a money pit.
Be sure to download my free house hunting guide and check out my free video to help you create a healthier home once you move in: