It was love at first sight…of those matte black finishes and quartz countertops. And the floors! Light gray oak, slightly weathered. This reno has every hallmark of your dream home…so how can you be sure, beyond the inspection, that what’s behind the walls is every bit as pristine as the new paint and appliances? Or that, in three months, things won’t start falling apart? Just because a house looks totally new doesn’t mean that is, which is why we turned to the pros to uncover what warning signs they look for, so you can avoid major headaches down the road.
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When you check out the bathroom, pay close attention to the exhaust fans. Do they exist, and if so, can you turn them on? Bathroom exhausts that aren’t properly vented—or nonfunctioning and “abandoned” in the ceiling, so it looks like an exhaust is there, but it’s really not doing anything—are a red flag.
“This is a very common occurrence. Abandoning things in the attic is often an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality,” explains Michael Humphrey, Sterling Properties founder and Wealth Secrets of Real Estate author. If the seller didn’t bother to have them replaced, it makes you wonder: What other areas did they not really care to fix?
In terms of the exhaust itself, your inspector can make sure it’s the right size and is functioning properly, but it’s something to have on your list and double check when you receive your inspection report.
There’s nothing wrong with reglazing a bathtub; it’s an affordable way to make it look brand new. But it also means that it’s hard to tell exactly how old—or beat up—it was before it was recoated. “You might use it for six months to a year, then the tub starts cracking or falling apart, and you’re left with a $3,000 or $4,000 bill to replace it,” says Christian Fuentes, broker and owner of RE/MAX Top Producers in Diamond Bar, CA. “If you see that, get in the tub and step on it—if it feels soft or moves around too much, especially if it’s an old fiberglass tub, know that you’re probably going to have to replace it soon.”
If you notice that the floors seem to be at different heights throughout the house, take a closer look. Often, it means new floors were simply laid over old ones, instead of having the old ones removed and professionally replaced, explains Alison Malkin, head broker and owner of RE/MAX Essentia in Avon, CT. It makes you wonder: If the seller didn’t care about installing the floors properly, what other—more labor-intensive and big-ticket—projects were neglected as well?
Upgrading all of the electrical work in an older house can be very costly, which is why some investors may upgrade the outlets—say, from two prongs to three-pronged ones—without doing anything else. “You see nice, clean plugs and outlets, but they’re not grounded,” Fuentes says, which means a power surge could destroy your electronics and damage your home.
It’s another reason to hire an inspector, and if you feel like things need a closer look, call in an electrician. “As a first-time buyer, don’t be afraid to bring in a plumber, electrician or foundation specialist to give you more details; sometimes inspector’s reports can be very vague,” he adds. “You’re making a huge investment, so it’s worth a closer look.”