Use this checklist to spot the good, bad, and expensive before
making an offer
The first walkthrough of a home is when potential owners get
that gut feeling and get a chance to compare a home to their
wishlists. While you’ll know if a potential home meets your basic
requirements—from the number of bedrooms to the availability of
outdoor space, you won’t know every detail of a home the first
time you view it.
Curbed spoke with a home inspector and architects who specialize
in home renovation to find out what you should look out for during
your first walkthrough or an open house. Use their guidelines to
help you make an informed assessment of a home’s condition.
❏ Check the floors
One way to the tell that the plumbing might not be up to par?
Look for floors with unusual sagging or dipping near the bathroom.
“It’s a sign that plumbers may have done some interesting
plumbing underneath the floor,” says Michael Ingui, of the firm
Baxt Ingui Architects.
Sagging floors in other portions of the home mean the structure may
need some work.
❏ Notice cracks in the wall
Spotting a crack in the wall is, unsurprisingly, not good. “A
crack in a brick wall means there’s movement,” which is the
sign of serious structural problems, says David Briggs, founder of
the New York firm Loci
Architecture. Small drywall cracks are probably nothing to
worry about, but larger cracks or ones with discoloration may
indicate structural issues or leaks.
❏ Pay attention to fresh paint
A bad paint job—or 15 layers of paint—is nothing to worry
about. But do take note if it looks like the home hasn’t been
renovated in a while, and you spot fresh paint or sheetrock in the
cellar or basement ceiling. “That likely means that before they
put the house on the market, they fixed something. Or, they’re
covering something up,” Ingui says. Location is crucial, he
notes, because it’s the most likely location for termite or
carpenter ant damage. If you notice any unusual cover-ups, ask why
the work was done.
❏ Look for water in the basement
While you’re in the basement, keep an eye out for water. If
it’s recently been rainy, and the basement looks dry, it’s good
news. If it’s been dry, and the basement appears damp, you should
look for a deeper issue and figure out where the water is coming
❏ Test the windows
“Open and close the windows,” Ingui recommends. “Do they
lock properly? Take into account that people usually replace
windows with cheaper, lower-quality windows.” This shouldn’t be
a huge deal breaker, and won’t be the biggest headache in
improving a home. Still, the cost can add up if you need to replace
them down the line. Cheap or faulty windows are also likely to
drive up heating costs if they’re not replaced.
❏ Assess the roof
Ask when the roof was installed and ask to see the warranty to
back it up. Older homes may have several layers of roofing, some of
which could have asbestos. “At some point, someone will have to
remove all those layers of roofing,” says Ingui, “And the
possibilities of them finding something they have to repair will be
high.” It’ll be hard for a non-expert to know everything about
the roof just by looking at it, so don’t be afraid to ask
questions or follow-up with an expert opinion.
❏ Note the trees outside
“Trees are often overlooked by buyers and even the home
inspector, because they don’t think it’s part of the
inspection,” says Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified
Home Inspectors. However, trees near a home pose all sorts of
risks, like trees catching fire or falling during a storm. Smaller
risks include the gutter filling with leaves, roots getting into
the basement, or an infestation of bugs. Removing large trees down
the road can be costly, especially in dense, urban settings.
❏ Eyeball electrical and plumbing
Electrical and plumbing issues will be hard to decipher with the
naked eye. Ingui says he likes to check how the electrical boxes
are sorted. Is there a lot of exposed wiring? Does it look like it
was installed correctly? Take a look at the electrical panel and
ask if the homeowner experiences regular electricity shorts. Be
very wary if the system hasn’t been replaced in a few
For both electrical and plumbing matters, it’s a good idea to
bring an expert along for a second walk-though. You can also follow
up and test the pipes using a water kit, which you can secure
cheaply, or in some places free through the state. “It’s a way
to check how much lead, or anything else, is in your water,”
❏ Suss out the history
Ingui suggests asking the selling agent how long the home was
under its prior ownership. A quickly flipped house, he says, has
higher potential for oversights. “There may be new tile or
fixtures, but there won’t be any new piping behind them.”
If the owner is present, ask questions! When you’ve got the
seller at hand, “You’ll want to ask them about the history of
repairs, who the repairs are made by, and any warranties,” says
Briggs. Plus, be sure any warranties extend with the house, and not
just the homeowner.
❏ After the walk through, follow up
Check on building violations and permits. If
you’re feeling good after the walk through, get to work
investigating any open violations or permit issues the home may be
saddled with. Check the local building department, fire department,
and historic agencies to make sure the building comes out clear.
“It’s very important the home has a clean bill of health with
local government agencies,” says Briggs. He also recommends
checking if a neighbor has filed complaints with the home—and
follow up with the neighbor, if so. Numerous complaints may signal
that there are problems with the property, or that the home will
come with a sensitive neighbor.
Make sure, too, all work that’s been done in the house was
filed with the local buildings department. “Sometimes you’ve
got home extensions that the town never knew about,” Ingui says.
For example, prior owners may have added a fourth bedroom to the
house, but permits were never filed and it’s getting taxed as a
three bedroom. Be sure to ask the sellers if all the permitting is
in order; if you’re suspicious about shoddy work, a title company
should follow up with due diligence.
If you’re looking at fixer-uppers, bring an
architect. Don’t try to assess a house on your own if
you know that a major renovation is in order. In that case:
consider house hunting with an
architect in tow. “If you know there’s [a firm] you want to
work with, an architect can take a look at things and say that will
be hard to do, there’s something in the way there, there might be
a leak over there,” says Briggs. An expert’s opinion should be
crucial in helping you avoid a renovation that becomes a money
Source: FS – All – Architecture 10
10 things to watch out for the first time you view a home