Home Buyers: What to Look For!

home inspectionSpring is right around the proverbial corner and many online sites are offering lists of items buyers should be looking at when sizing up a potential home.  In an attempt to merge several lists into one, I offer you this information. Select the information most important to you.  In addition to this information, it is important for you to do your own research prior to hitting the first open house and continuing to research until you sign on the dotted line.  Know what you are buying.

Remember that one of the most important steps in purchasing a home is inspecting it to learn about its condition.  It is imperative to know what you’re buying before you sign on the dotted line.  An excellent and thorough home inspector will provide you with a detailed home report that might help you know more about the physical condition of the home than the current owner does.  The detailed report will cover all parts of the home, from the roof to basement floor, and can also ensure that the foundation is solid and the wiring is up to code.  Be sure to hire the best in your area and be prepared to pay for your own inspections.  The best scenario is when the home inspector works for you, not the seller.  Ask for a Home Warranty and remember you can ask the Seller to either pay or purchase for one.  After all, you are getting ready to spend at least six figures on a purchase.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides great information about the buying process.

Make sure to bring along a camera (or your cell), a notebook and tape measure.  Remember that there are some good apps for your cell phone that can help with the measurements and documentation!



If possible, check out the attic for water problems inside the home.  Look for evidence of water leakage and damage at the ceiling and walls, and the insulation.  The insulation should be sufficient for the geographical location of the house.  Use your nose to detect musty and damp odors.  Be sure that the kitchen and bathrooms vent directly outside, and not to the attic, where the moisture can cause problems.


Check the basement floors and ceiling carefully for water marks and other signs of a leaky basement.  Once water begins to leak into a basement it is usually better to add a system to remove it rather than trying to stop it from coming in.  Check for signs of leaking around the foundation of the house, also checking for evidence of rotting wood in exposed beams in the basement.  Look for cracks in the interior basement walls. Plumbing systems in the basement should be checked for leakage and proper working order.

If the house has a crawl space, inspect it for moisture, mild, cracks in the foundation, and rotting in any exposed wood.


Check the bathrooms for rot and mildew, particularly along the baseboards by the tub and the ceiling above the shower. Look for cracks and leaks in the sink and toilet.  Are the pipes leaking?  Find the access panel (typically behind the tub) and if possible look at the ceiling directly below the bathroom. Turn on every faucet to access the water pressure and check the speed that water drains down sinks and tubs.  Toilets should be inspected for pressure and leaks.


Look in the closets. Are they empty (a sign that the seller has probably vacated the property?)  If so, the seller/s may be in a hurry to sell.


Find the fuse box or the main breaker box in the home.  This box must be easy to access and it should be in good condition.  Note the number of electrical outlets – are they sufficient?  Check outlets in the kitchen, bathroom, and areas around sinks for ground fault circuit interrupters – GFCI – which can prevent severe shocks from occurring.

Fireplace and Chimney

Examine fireplaces and chimneys carefully.  Check the mortar to ensure it is not crumbling and loose.  Look for a rain cap on the chimney.  Examine the chimney’s exterior for evidence of smoke and creosote staining.  You may want to have it inspected and cleaned.

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

Remember that old heating and air conditioning systems can be a big expense because they can be expensive to replace and expensive to operate.  Furnaces can last 20 years or more, but some models will begin to break down after 10 years or more.  Check the capacity and models to ensure they’re the appropriate size for the house.  Be sure to examine these units and the area surrounding them.  Consider hiring an expert to examine and inspect these systems to ensure they are in proper working order.


Take a good look at the cabinets.  Are they painted, stained, solid wood, particle board?  Examine the water pipes underneath the sink.  Is there water damage, mold or leaks?  While looking under the sink, check to see if the electrical wiring for the disposal and dishwasher is in a conduit.  Are the kitchen’s counters laminate or a solid surface?  What type of flooring?  Laminate is the least expensive and most common kitchen flooring.  Tile is durable but the tiles can crack and the grout can be a pain to keep clean and sealed.  Wood is a nice touch, but it scratches and can be damaged by water.  Are the appliances new?  Are they built in?  Remember that refrigerators can be the most expensive kitchen appliance and that the newest models are sometimes the most energy efficient.

More Interior!

Don’t be put off by the color of current paint.  Focus on structural issues such as dangling wires.  On the same note, if the house was built pre-1978, you will want a completed lead based paint disclosure form from the seller.  Examine all ceilings, walls, and floors looking for evidence of leaking or water damage.  Look closely for cracks in walls and ceilings which could indicate structural damage to the home.  Walk over all floor surfaces to notice any spongy or weak areas in the floor and check the floors to see if they slope at an angle in any rooms (one or two marbles work great!).  Lift a corner of the carpet by the heating vent to check for hardwood floors.  Take stock of the storage space.  Another great hint – turn off any music playing in the home so you can gauge road noise and airplane traffic.  Keep an eye open for possible asbestos and wiring that needs to be replaced.  Do you smell sewage, gas, or anything equally unpleasant?  Sewage systems in older homes can sometimes get clogged or damaged by tree roots.  Some sewer or plumbing companies can send a camera through the pipes to detect any breaks or blockages.  If there are discrepancies in the square footage, bedrooms or bathrooms, look for evidence of a remodel since the last sale.  Also worth noting:  pet odors, cigarettes, and mildew.


Look closely at the windows.  Are they double-paned and energy efficient?  If they are double-paned, take a minute to check the seals to ensure they are not broken.  Remember that when replacing windows quality is the key and it usually comes at a high price.


Driveways and Walkways

Check to see if the driveway and walkway are even and not cracking, crumbling or have sunken areas.


Check the interior and exterior of the garage.  Check the garage flooring for stains or cracks.  Open and close the garage doors to ensure they work property.  Check the connection of the garage to the house to ensure it is settling in the same way the house is settling, or is it pulling away from the house.  Is there proper drainage around the foundation of the garage?  Soil should slope away from the garage like it slopes away from the house foundation.

The Lot

What is the lot grade or the steepness of the lot?  Will it impact any future yard renovations?  Could the surrounding land around the lot be prone to flooding, wildfires, landslides or land “movement” issues?  Is the driveway shared with another property?  If there are fences, have they been built properly?  How much sunlight does the house get?  Keep in mind that the south and west direction receives more sun than the other two sides.  Are there shade trees?  The south-facing wall gets the most sun; the north-facing is the most damp.  Keep an eye out for wavy or discolored wood siding on the exterior.

On Site Wastewater Systems (Septic Tanks) (Idaho)

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality website offers information about septic tanks that buyers should familiarize themselves with when considering purchasing property utilizing a septic tank.  You will note that documents related to the property should give information about the last time the septic tanks was pumped out along with a copy of the receipt.  Please refer to the State’s website for more information.

Private Wells (Idaho)

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Water Resources offer a plethora of information regarding the testing of well water, the well owner’s responsibilities, well driller reports, septic tank information and more, and is your best resource.  Beyond the State, a professional well inspector is your best source for specific well information.

Radon (Idaho)

Before you buy a house, you should consider having the home tested for radon.  The most common procedure for testing during a real estate transaction is for the potential buyer to request the radon test as part of the overall home inspection.  More information can be found at Health and Welfare – Radon.


Before going inside, take a look at the roof.  Is it caving in or have a gaping hole in it?  Does it look new?  That could be a money saver for the buyer as a homeowner insurance rate or a potential claim, in addition to lasting 20 – 30 years.  Make sure shingles are present and in good condition.  Make sure water spouts drain away from the house – water gushing from the roof may cause water damage in the foundation.


Melanie Pinola, author of “Five Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Bought a House,” writes:

The last bit of information is simple:  Don’t be afraid to walk away – you don’t have to buy a house!  Watch out for emotional attachment, one of the biggest problems homebuyers confront.  After grueling, energy sapping months of home shopping, hoping, planning, re-planning, monetary, and time investments including a hefty down payment, it’s easy to consider the house you finally decide on, your home.  You’ve become emotionally attached throughout the buying process.  Don’t become so invested that a sense of reality becomes clouded over.

You Don’t Have to Buy a House!

Don’t buy a home because that’s what you’ve been told you’re “supposed” to do.
Don’t buy a home because that’s what you think you’re “supposed” to do.
Don’t buy a home because it’s a good investment for the future. It’s really not all that great of an investment.
Don’t buy a home because you might get married and have kids someday and you need the space for this hypothetical future.
Don’t buy a home because you think it will lead you to some sort of idealized suburban life. A home won’t change who you are.
Don’t buy a home because you’re trying to “keep up” with someone in your life. It’ll make you fall further behind in the long run.

Buy a home because you it truly makes sense financially and you’re ready (and excited) to deal with the challenges of homeownership.

Buy a home because it’s better for your housing dollar than the other options available to you.