Subtle Signs That a Property Hasn’t Been Maintained
Shopping for a new home is exciting, but it’s also serious business. It’s the largest single purchase that most people make in their lives, so it’s vital to get it right. Unfortunately, many first-time homebuyers (and even some experienced homeowners) focus on the wrong things when looking at potential properties. It’s easy to be distracted by crown molding, beautiful light fixtures and high-end appliances but overlook serious issues with the property.
Given that you will likely only spend a few minutes inside the home before deciding to make an offer, it’s important to know what to look for in terms of potential issues so as to avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.
Although the home’s disclosures can reveal some issues, not all signs of poor (or no) maintenance are immediately obvious, meaning you need to be observant and do a little detective work on your own. So, what should you look for? Be alert to the following subtle clues that a property hasn’t been well cared for.
Follow Your Nose
Serious sellers will go to great lengths to make sure that the property smells fresh and doesn’t have any unpleasant odors, like cigarettes and pets. That being said, there are some odors that are all but impossible to eliminate and could indicate an issue. The biggest red flag is a musty or damp smell, especially in the basement. This smell will hit you right away and reveals a problem with water somewhere in the home.
Other dead giveaways of a water problem are a dehumidifier in the basement and items not stored on the basement floor. When things need to be raised off the floor, that usually means that there are leaks that haven’t been addressed. Generally, a wet basement will appear in the disclosures, but homeowners may underplay the issue or fail to mention it at all if water hasn’t been a problem for some time, so it’s your job to be alert to subtle signs of an issue.
Check the Gutters
Gutters that are clogged with debris are another sign that a homeowner might not be entirely on top of home maintenance chores. If there are plants growing out of the gutters (it happens) or water is draining improperly, it’s clear that the gutters haven’t been addressed in a while — and other things might not be up to par either.
Look for Yard Debris
Curb appeal is a major selling point to any home, and it’s obvious when a homeowner hasn’t taken care with the exterior of the home. Take a stroll around the yard and check out the condition of the trees, gardens, fencing and exterior doors and windows.
Everything should be healthy and in good condition; trees that are half-dead, for instance, or loose handles on gates reveal that the homeowner hasn’t been paying attention to the details. A yard that could use some landscaping doesn’t necessarily mean that the home is in poor shape, but landscaping that has clearly been ignored is a cause for concern.
Ask for a History Lesson
Anyone who has ever caught an episode of a renovation show on HGTV has seen it happen: The crew starts the project, only to discover that a previous owner poorly executed a project or worse did something major without the proper permits and the damage needs to be undone. When looking at a home, ask questions about previous projects that have been completed, including what was done, why and by whom.
Not everyone is a talented DIYer, and a bad renovation can cause more problems than it solves. The owner of a well-maintained home will be able to provide detailed records about how the home has been changed over the years, including who did the work and when. Some homeowners go so far as to keep detailed binders that include receipts, paint swatches, service records and more, which is a sign of a well-kept home.
Don’t Be Afraid to Open Doors
Some homebuyers feel awkward opening up closet doors and cabinets or looking in drawers while they tour a house. It can feel intrusive to do that in someone else’s home, but it’s important for determining how well a home has been maintained. Check that all of the doors open easily without sticking, that all of the knobs turn and are screwed in tightly and that drawers pull out smoothly and go back in without being forced.
When you’re looking into cabinets, closets and drawers, check for evidence of pests like mice or bugs. A mousetrap under the kitchen sink, for instance, is not a good sign. These may seem like little things, but again, when a homeowner doesn’t take the time to tighten a few screws or call an exterminator, that’s a sign of disrepair elsewhere.
Test the Appliances
When the appliances come with the home, you want to make sure they are in good working order and you aren’t going to be replacing them within a few months of moving in. Test the stove burners, make sure that the oven fires up and take a peek in the dishwasher to make sure there aren’t any odd smells or obvious signs of trouble.
Newer appliances are likely to be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, but if the home has older appliances and systems, consider asking for a home warranty as part of the purchase. The best home warranty offers peace of mind that if something does go wrong with an appliance, you won’t have to shell out big bucks to have it fixed or replaced.
Check the Water
Low water pressure, discolored water and temperature issues are all indicators of potential plumbing issues, so be sure to run faucets and flush the toilets to look for issues. Check sinks and tubs for stains that reveal issues with the plumbing, as well. Although an inspection by a licensed plumber is necessary to uncover all major issues, observing these signs can reveal a homeowner who hasn’t put in the work to keep everything running smoothly.
Not all these signs of lackadaisical maintenance are necessarily deal-breakers. In some cases, they aren’t indicative of a bigger problem and are just something that has been overlooked — and are justification for a lower offer. However, if you notice several of these signs, you may want to dig deeper to avoid buying a property that will be nothing but a money pit and a source of aggravation.