Buyer's Articles – For the smart consumer

Three Things You Must Know Before Buying a Home
When you buy a home, you are investing in your family’s future. Therefore, just as you would never consider investing your hard-earned money in an unfamiliar company, you need to thoroughly investigate a potential home before you sign a sales agreement.

Statistics show that homebuyers prefer to purchase homes that are not brand new. You must do your research before and during your home search. This holds true for every homebuyer, especially those who are first-time buyers.

Buying a home is similar to buying a used car, in that you must know what types of potential problems to look for. Your realtor can help you learn what to look for when shopping for a new home.

If you plan to relocate, thoroughly investigate the neighborhood where the home located.  This can include, but is not limited to, the school district, tax structure, available public transportation, and the proximity of grocery stores and other businesses.  Most people spend a lot of time researching locations before determining which one is the best fit for their family’s lifestyle.

You realtor can help you with your neighborhood research by gathering essential information that you can use to perform your analysis.

Your research should not end there, however, because there are other key factors to consider when looking at potential homes.  Your realtor can help you identify some of the most obvious concerns with older homes.  He or she has years of experience and a wide base of expertise to place at your disposal.  What you really need is a list of critical areas that require close inspection when visiting any potential new home. 

A home inspection, performed by a certified home inspector, will provide you with valuable information regarding the current state of the property.  Contracting a certified inspector places you in a strong position for contract negotiations with the current owner should the inspection report disclose any critical problems.  However, home inspections are expensive.  You can save money and time if you are familiar with the most common problems and, more importantly, how to spot them quickly.

Environment
A home’s environmental problems can include the presence of lead-based paint or sealants, asbestos in flooring materials, or mold due to past or present water damage.  All these potential problems can be repaired, but you need to know about them before you move your family into a new home. 

These potential environmental hazards usually are not visible to the average person.  Lead and asbestos detection requires a test performed by a professional who owns special equipment and can analyze the results.  Mold is more obvious and is characterized by black or dark green spots, often visible in the corners of the basement or crawl spaces.  However, mold is not limited to the basement, so you need to watch for it in bathrooms and kitchens, too. Similarly, you need to look for the presence (and smell) of mildew in the home.

Environmental hazards are more difficult to identify than other types of critical problems. Contract with an environmental testing service that can perform asbestos, lead, mold and even radon gas inspections.  The investment in environmental testing is often far less than that of a home inspection, and it can help you feel secure in knowing that you are protecting your family’s health.

If a home is heated or cooled by natural gas, view the home only when the gas service is turned on.  This gives you an opportunity to test whether the furnace and air-conditioning unit are functional.

Structure
Structural inadequacies and/or damage can pose a serious risk if they are not properly repaired.  Structural problems can include foundation cracking (particularly alarming when the cracks are horizontal), chimney separation, stair-like cracks in the mortar joints of a brick home and extensive cracking along interior walls.  If you identify any of these problems, share the information with the seller to allow him or her to propose either a price reduction or make the necessary repairs prior to the completion of the sale.

In most cases, the average homebuyer will be able to spot problems whose effects are visible on the exterior of a home.  However, sometimes structural problems appear on the outside of a home only after they have damaged the internal structure.

Again, certified home inspectors are trained to spot critical structural problems that average homebuyers would probably miss.  The examples listed above are only a few of the potential critical structural problems that may be present. They are those that are most obviously visible upon close inspection of a home’s exterior.

Repairing a home’s structural damage is rarely a do-it-yourself project, and contractors specializing in foundation and structural repair tend to be expensive.  If a major structural issue is discovered during a home inspection or listed on the seller’s disclosure sheet and you are not prepared to assume the cost of the requisite repairs, you would be wise to decide to continue your home search elsewhere.

Major Systems

Electrical System
When viewing a home, the real estate agent or homeowner should ensure that it has electrical service.  This will allow you to determine whether any switches, outlets or even circuits are not functioning properly.  You can probably spot only obvious problems with the home’s electrical system.  A home inspector will carefully inspect the type of wiring used, the quality of the system overall, and any problems that need repair.

Heating and Cooling System
If a home is heated or cooled by natural gas, view the home only when the gas service is turned on.  This gives you an opportunity to test whether the furnace and air-conditioning unit are functional.  Common problems with heating and cooling systems include cracked heat exchangers and non-functional air-conditioning compressors.  The air-conditioner compressor is vital in terms of comfort, but a bad heat exchanger can result in harmful carbon monoxide and other gases being circulated throughout the home.  These problems require immediate repair or replacement.

You may be able to determine whether an air conditioner is functional by turning it on. In contrast, it is more difficult for most people to detect whether a furnace has problems.

By knowing about these three areas where critical problems within a home often appear, you could save hundreds or thousands of dollars in the future.  Spotting critical problems in these three areas might allow you to determine, prior to a costly home inspection, that you would prefer to continue searching for your new home.

Keep in mind, however, that if you suspect or discover critical problems within a home, the current owner may be willing to negotiate the price or perform the requisite repairs prior to the sale.  Sometimes sellers are unaware of these problems, so take the time to inform them of your concerns about their home.

Hopefully this information has been useful and educational, and will serve you well in your search for a new home.