1. Ignoring Leaks
Leaky pipes and weak water pressure aren’t just annoying -- they can signal a major plumbing problem (caused by old age or an amateur plumbing job). Look for S-traps (or s#%t traps, as we like to call them) under the sinks, which are a sign of an amateur plumbing job. Traps should form a “P” -- you know, for “professional.” Also check under sinks, behind toilets and in the basement for leaks, and turn on the faucets to test the water pressure (sputtering water could indicate a leaky or clogged pipe). And beware of water damage, like blotches on walls, paint that’s bubbling up and stains on basement floors. But don’t just go on your eyes alone -- a good inspector will have moisture-detection tools that can determine whether a stain on the ceiling is from an old leak (that may have since been fixed) or a new one (that you’ll have to fix). While some leaks are easy to repair, if the source is an old roof or rusty pipes that need replacing, you could end up having to fork over thousands.
2. Overlooking Electrical Issues
Most buyers don’t even think to worry about a house’s electrical system, but you should! Faulty wiring can spark a fire that turns your big investment into a big pile of ashes. Keep in mind that many older homes (over 50 years old) have severely outdated electrical systems that need to be completely rewired to the tune of several thousands of dollars. But that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear if your home is newer. Amateur wiring is just as dangerous as outdated wiring. Look out for exposed wires in the basement -- a dead giveaway of an amateur job.
3. Fixating on Appearance
Looks can be deceiving. As anyone who’s ever seen pre-fame pics of Jennifer Aniston knows, a little yoga and a good haircut can go a long way. Translation: Don’t let tacky decor, whether it’s shag carpeting, plaid wallpaper or a bad paint job, blind you to a pad’s potential. Cosmetic issues are fairly inexpensive to fix (plus, it’s kind of fun to redecorate). Although you may have to live with puke-green carpets for a few months, in the end you’ll typically save money (even after factoring in the remodeling costs) by buying a home that needs an aesthetic overhaul rather than paying more for a home whose seller has already done the work. Bottom line: Try to ignore the current decor and focus on the things that aren’t as easy to spruce up -- the layout, size and location.
4. Prioritizing Extras
Certain amenities that you considered a must when renting are not nearly as important when you’re buying. Can’t live without a washer/dryer or dishwasher? Both are fairly easy and relatively inexpensive to install. Gotta have a gas stove, but the kitchen comes with an electric one? Installing a gas line to the kitchen isn’t hard or pricey. There are, of course, some exceptions to the rule. For example, if you have to have central air, you’re better off holding out for a home that comes with it -- unless you don’t mind spending a bundle to install it.
5. Being LAM-Phobic
For most buyers, the mere mention of LAM -- lead, asbestos or mold -- sends them running. And with good reason: All three have been linked to serious health issues. But unless you’re moving into a brand-new place, you’re unlikely to find a home that’s completely LAM-free. So weigh the pros and the cons of the situation. A small amount of mold and mildew can easily be bleached away, but a dank-smelling basement or more than 10 square feet of mold could require a professional remediation specialist. Significant amounts of mold can cause respiratory problems for anyone exposed, and mold can grow on almost anything. So any infested tile, insulation, ceilings, wallboards, carpet or wood may need to be replaced. As for lead paint and asbestos (usually found only in homes built before 1978), neither is necessarily immediately dangerous. Lead paint is typically fine unless the walls are actually peeling -- or if it exists on doorjambs or window frames, since the friction could create dust. (Tip: Ask the seller or realtor straight-up if lead paint exists -- they’re required by law to disclose that info.) With asbestos, check out the home’s insulation. If it’s good, you’re good. Worn or disintegrating? Pass on that pad, or ask the seller to deduct the cost of removal (about $1,000 to 3,000) from the selling price.
6. Not Checking the Foundation
If there’s one huge thing you should pay attention to, it’s the foundation. Because guess what? Even minor recession repairs could put you out $15,000 (or $100,000-plus for a major one). Some telltale signs of a faulty foundation: a wavy, uneven floor; significant cracks coming from the corners of walls, doors and windows; out-of-alignment doors and windows; a sinking roof and sloping floors.