By Ron McCarthy – A Dubuque Realtor at American Realty
Purchasing a home is a huge investment and a major decision. You want a home that fits your budget and meets the needs of you and your family. You also want to do your best to make sure there aren’t issues with the home that will result in expenses later.
In addition to being a Realtor for five years, I’ve been involved in the construction industry much longer. I owned a roofing company and also worked in the state of Iowa in the soil conservation department.
Over the years I’ve learned to know what to look for when showing a client a home. From the moment I pull into a drive I’m taking in everything – from the roof to the siding and even the homes curb appeal.
Your Realtor will often provide suggestions as you go through a home, but if you’re out going through open houses on a weekend you might be on your own.
When touring a home, you’re not just looking for potential issues, but also trying to get an idea of what homes are like in the price range you’ve set.
The greater the budget, the more you should expect from a home. If your budget is limited, then you can expect some flaws. You just must decide which flaws you can live with.
Here are some suggestions on what to look for when touring a home.
Look at the flooring, whether its carpet, wood, or vinyl, it doesn’t matter. Does it show a lot of wear, meaning it might have to be replaced soon?
Are there cracks in the drywall? Do all the windows and doors open freely? If not, it could be a sign of the house settling, something we’ll talk about more later.
Are the windows original or vinyl replacements? A 20-year-old home with original windows will soon need to have them replaced.
In the kitchen look at the conditions of the appliances. Look at the condition of the counter and cabinets especially. Are they old junk cabinets that just got painted over to put a new face on them or are they quality cabinets?
In each room check the lights. Look at all the receptacles. Are they grounded, meaning they have three holes?
Remember that your home will be inspected before you close, so all of these will be examined by a professional. Yet, it doesn’t hurt knowing in advance of any potential problems, either small or large.
The Living Space
One of the things you have to evaluate on your own is if the home has enough space for your family.
You can put your family in any room, but the seller can only list a room as a bedroom if it has a window that meets the requirement of a conforming window. Its 42 inches off the floor 19 inches tall and 24 inches wide minimum. This is so a fireman can get through with an air tank on. It also must have a closet.
You might consider turning a room such as a den into a bedroom even if it doesn’t meet the requirements. You have that option as a homeowner, but its not something I’d recommend, for safety concerns.
Still you can look at a home and see if it has the potential for another room to be added or for the requirements to be met.
The Basement and the Garage
Going down into the lower levels look at the mechanicals. Look at the electrical box. Is it old fuses, or does it use breakers?
Is there a radon system in place? It’s not required, but it would be beneficial.
Does it smell damp and musty which might indicate water issues? Even though the disclosure might say there is occasional water you can tell by looking at the edges of the walls and the smell to know how serious it really is.
Garages are what you expect. Does the door seal properly when it closes? Does it clatter a lot when the door operates?
There should be a steel fire door between the garage and the house. That is part of the building code. That doesn’t mean you can’t buy a house that doesn’t have one. An inspector will call it out. It’s his recommendation that you fix it, but you can still buy it.
The House Is Settling
In walking in the upstairs rooms, you might have found them to be uneven. Or that doors are hard to close. These could be signs that the house is settling.
You can confirm this by looking around the basement at the posts. Are they metal posts or old wooden ones? You might even see a mixture of each. This tells you there has been some settling and that someone did some work to jack it up to try to straighten it up.
If it’s an old house you can expect some settling. You don’t need to be scared away, but at least be aware of it.
Driveways are the most obvious signs of settling.
During construction, the whole basement is excavated out. Plus 3 or 4 feet on the outside of the walls to set forms and waterproof walls. Unfortunately, that seldom gets backfilled properly. The dirt often just gets pushed back in the trench and it will settle for several years.
When they pour the driveway, it will start to settle away from the garage. That has nothing to do with the quality of the house. It just makes for a nasty bump when you try to pull into the garage.
This can be fixed by getting the concrete pumped up, it’s actually raised. Or it can be removed and replaced.
The settling that is more serious is foundation settling and interior posts settling. There is no minimum or maximum, it’s just basically when it becomes an issue and things aren’t fitting good, then something must be done to get it back to its original state.
The lawn is the lawn and not something you need to give a lot of importance to. The lawn could be great, but if you neglect it after moving in it won’t matter. Likewise, if the lawn isn’t in the best of shape, you can rectify this in a year or two. So, don’t put a lot of importance on the quality of your lawn.
It’s more important to determine the property line. Is that shed on the back corner of the lot completely on the property line or is it on part of your neighbor’s property? If it is, you need to make sure everyone is aware of that. If there’s not an easement you may need to obtain one.
Easements are recorded documents that stay with the property and normally will avoid lawsuits. It’s something to get resolved before closing.
This is especially a problem out in the county, where property lines can sometimes have a tendency to change, due to stream changing and other things.
Trees are another thing to be aware of. Look for ash trees on the property. There is a special form that sellers must fill out on which they report if their property has ash trees. Yet, most homeowners mark this as unknown as they don’t know what types of trees are actually on their property.
Iowa State University reports that the emerald ash bore will kill all the ash trees so if you have one on your property it will have to come down at some point and that will be an expense down the road.
Read Over the Disclosure
When going through an open house, look for the disclosure statement that the Realtor should have sitting out. Read the disclosure carefully and if you have questions, make sure the Realtor really knows the house and answers your questions.
In looking at the disclosure form, wherever there is an unknown checked, read it carefully.
The seller is asked to answer yes or no to a question, or unknown if they’re not sure. This can be a red flag especially if they’ve lived in the home for a while, such as five or more years.
If they check unknown, it indicates they haven’t done any maintenance on it. For example, if they don’t know the age of the furnace and they’ve been there long, then they haven’t replaced it. And you might soon have to.
If they do reveal issues, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It shows they’re aware of their maintenance and taking care of things. They don’t just let things go. If something needs to be replaced they’ve taken care of it.
Rely on Your Home Inspector
When I go through a home I have a lot of experience in what to look for. But I’m not a home inspector. A home inspector will check all the receptacles, the plumbing. Are there handrails where they’re supposed to be?
I’m looking at just the overview of the home to get an idea of the general integrity of the home. Don’t get caught up in looking at all the small things as the inspector will do that. Read carefully the report the inspector provides when the inspection is completed. Your Realtor will help you determine what is reasonable to ask to be fixed or replaced.
You should rely on the professionalism of a Realtor to walk you through the home buying process all the way through closing. Feel free to contact me or any of the experienced Realtors at American Realty to get the help you need to find the home you want and can peacefully live in.
Ron McCarthy is a Realtor with American Realty of Dubuque. He can help with the buying or selling of homes, commercial property as well as agricultural and recreational listings. To read his bio click here.