Has your mom ever told you, “Looks aren’t everything?” Of course, what she wanted to make sure you understood is that you need to know a lot more about a person than just their physical attributes before you start or avoid a relationship. It turns out that moms give great advice, and that advice holds true for more than just people. When it comes to buying a house, looks definitely aren’t everything.
Now, we know that curb appeal is especially important. Part of our job at 1SlickHome.com and The Geoff Slick Team is making sure a house is staged to make people want to buy it. As a buyer though, you have to do a lot more than just picture yourself living in the home you’re walking through. You need to make sure that it’s a good home to live in for the long haul. That means it has to be structurally sound, up to date, and up to code. We have to go beyond the way the house looks and find out how it actually functions before you make a 30-year commitment to it.
The official home inspection will take place after the seller accepts an offer. But there are many ways for you to do a pre-inspection before you have your real estate agent write that offer. We came up with 5 critical things to self-inspect before you make an offer.
1. Inspect the Roof
Look at the seller’s disclosure to determine the age of the roof, and look at the style of shingles. Drive around the neighborhood to get a relative sense of how old other roofs are. Inside the home, inspect the ceilings for water damage, and check the crawl space or attic for leaks. If you’re buying in a newer neighborhood, the roof may have been installed by the homebuilder, which can sometimes be of a lesser quality material or workmanship than is provided by a professional roofing company.
If your real estate agent has a great relationship with a roofing company, that company may be willing to provide an assessment. At 1SlickHome.com and The Geoff Slick Team, if we are concerned about the roof, we’ll often make a phone call to a trusted roofing contact on behalf of the client so that they know what to expect in replacement costs.
2. Inspect the Air Conditioning Unit
If the home has a central air unit, review the seller’s disclosure to find out how old it is and what kind of refrigerant it uses. Your realtor should also be able to help you discover the unit’s service history. If the sellers added an addition or finished living space to the home, it’s important to find out how they handled cooling for the new space and whether it was done professionally.
If the air conditioning system is using the older R22 refrigerant, consider that this type is being phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency. Your unit will need to be converted to R410A refrigerant, which is more environmentally friendly.
3. Inspect the Heating System
Once again, the seller’s disclosure is your starting point for self-inspection. What type of heater does the home use, and how long has the unit been there? Furthermore, what is the heat distribution system to the home? Does it use radiators, baseboards, or a forced air system? This will impact your energy bills and furniture placement once you’re in the home, so take note of where the heat source is in each room.
A boiler or furnace will have different lifespans, and there are different things to consider with oil, gas, propane, and electric heat. Do some research regarding prices of all of these energy types for the home’s location to get a sense of energy costs. Also take a look at the unit to see if the service history is recorded. While you’re at it, take a look at the water heater to see how old it is. That’s another replacement cost you may want to anticipate.
4. Inspect the Foundation
It’s hard to determine the condition of a home’s foundation without proper training, but everyone can make an initial assessment with the right information. As you explore the basement, look for cracks in the walls and floor. Cracks that are no wider than your pinky finger are normal and no cause for concern. Any larger or long horizontal cracks may be a problem. Look along the basement walls for signs of water and mold, as well. If water is getting in, then the foundation may have issues. Look at the basement floor for unnatural slopes, or heaving (cracks with sections raised), which can be a sign that water is affecting the foundation.
Walk the property and surrounding area to determine if the house is at the bottom of any kind of slopes. Houses are sometimes built without regard for how water is draining towards them from other areas. If the house is at a low point in the landscape, referred to as negative grading, water will pool around the edge of the home. If you see water, mold, or mineral deposits around the foundation of the home, it may be situated in negative grading.
5. Inspect the Electrical System
Depending on the age of the home, it might have an outdated and inefficient electrical system. Inspect this during your walk through to see if the home uses breakers or fuses. You’ll also want to know if the house is using older style knob and tube wiring or more modern romex. Your real estate agent should be able to help you find out more about the home’s electrical system.
If you’re looking at an older home, consider contacting your agent’s trusted electrician or home inspector to give an assessment during a showing. Rewiring the house may be a worthwhile investment in the right property. It’s important to know that GFCI outlets, the type you usually see near water sources in the home, do need to be replaced every decade or so. You can test and reset these on your own with a lamp to see if replacing them will be part of a rewiring project.
Beyond the Home Inspection: Check Out the Neighborhood
Never underestimate the knowledge of the neighbors in your self-inspection. If you can speak to a few other homeowners, you’ll be able to find out information about roof replacements, water trends, and system updates that the current homeowners may have performed. Since most houses in a neighborhood are built around the same time, most things get updated in waves.
By working with a real estate agent who knows how to read seller disclosures and has close contacts in the housing trades, you’ll realize the benefits of having an advocate who knows exactly what questions to ask. While you’re focused on room dimensions, kitchen amenities, and the school district, your agent is doing the background work to make sure you’re buying the right home that will make you happy for years to come.
At 1SlickHome.com and The Geoff Slick Team, we represent both buyers and sellers with exceptional, personalized service. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you achieve your real estate goals. We serve the western Philadelphia suburbs, including Souderton Area School District, North Penn School District, Quakertown School District, Pennridge School District, Central Bucks School District, and more!