We’ll take a break from looking at the real estate market, and look instead at some easy things you can do when you’re ready to make an offer on that dream home; especially if it’s an older one.
Generally speaking, people enjoy going to Open Houses during warm weather. While the houses are shown at their best during these warm months, it’s important to consider how comfortable that wonderful Victorian, or Bungalow, will be to live in during the fall and winter months.
If you’re a first-time homebuyer, these older homes – that may be below the median price – may seem like a great deal, but they can easily cost nearly half the purchase price in additional renovations just to get it up completely up to code.
Here are ten easy steps you can take to avoid the pitfalls of investing in a home that may be a summer dream, but can quickly turn into a soggy winter nightmare:
Pay for a home inspection.
Because we’ve had this home since 1925, we’ve never had to bother with a full inspection; though we’ve had plenty come through once the home renovations began. However, if I were a home buyer and brought an inspector out to look at this house before making an offer, I’d soon find that this wasn’t a DIY project. There’s so much wrong in this picture alone that any inspector would have been left shaking their head. From questionable electrical wiring, old roofing, and sub-par insulation, this house was lucky to last as many winters as it has. (I wouldn’t have made an offer.)
If you’re buying a home with a backyard, check the drainage.
My home has a lovely backyard. Over the 8 years of renovation, it’s been an enjoyable drive up in the warmer months to check on progress and relax in the sun. What I never bothered looking at – even knowing the wet winters Sonoma County gets – is what was happening to my newly landscaped yard during the rainy season. This latest storm showed me. Now we have an entire (improperly routed) drainage system to dig up and replace. This would be an unhappy expense for someone who just closed escrow on a new home.
Check the windows to make sure they’re dual paned.
Upgrading one or two windows is easy, but trying to update an entire house gets really expensive, really fast. Sure, you’re looking at this house in the warmer months, and everything seems comfortable – who cares about winter storms, it can’t be that bad, right? Oh. It is. I’m typing this with a North Face jacket and moccasins on.
Pay attention to the thresholds on doors.
During cold weather, a good threshold will block the cold air from coming in, and keep the warm air in. While this is a relatively inexpensive fix, if you hadn’t noticed you needed new ones, the expense and inconvenience of doing so in freezing weather will put a damper on the joy you may have been feeling about being a new homeowner. It will also give you huge energy bills in the winter from how often you need to turn up the heater.
Ask when the roof was replaced: get up and check the roof.
If you’re looking at older homes, the roof will be one of the biggest expenses you’ll face. If you’re lucky, the previous homeowner will have maintained the house nicely and you won’t be out tens of thousands of dollars. If not, get ready to add it to your home renovation budget.
Test the heater, make sure it’s up to the recommended BTUs.
Older heaters may not be sufficient to heat the entire home, and if you’re planning on using the house as a rental property, you may be required to update the whole system. As a new homeowner, you may not be concerned with a chill in the air during the spring, but you’ll definitely notice it on a foggy winter morning.
Ask about flooding. Has it happened, does it happen often? Is the house in a flood zone?
Pay close attention to things like water stained sheetrock or mold – even in the summer months. While your potential new home may not technically be in a flood zone, areas of the home may be situated lower than the main house, or be affected by faulty drainage. Our minimum overhaul for this lovely mess starts at $50,000, and may top $100,000. You don’t want to add that amount to the new house you’re ready to put a big down payment on.
Make sure all outlets work/look for loose wiring.
While this is the brand new modem jack, what it used to be was a stripped wire sticking out of the wall. The wiring throughout the home needed to be completely replaced – we had dead outlets and stripped wires everywhere. Besides being an expensive fix, it’s a dangerous one to ignore. You don’t want naked wires sparking a fire in the insulation. Check the light switches and ask about outlets before making that offer.
Inspect the ceiling tiles closely. Loose tiles and water stains can be a sign that the roof is leaking.
These weren’t our ceiling tiles, but they’re close enough. The stains and the loose tiles signified that the roof had a leak…one that eventually came crashing down into the living room. This overlooked issue caused enough damage so that the roof, ceiling, and floors all needed to be replaced. I guarantee there’s not a homebuyer out there who wants to add $50,000 to their home’s price.
Test the fireplace.
I was absolutely thrilled to take on this home when I saw the fireplace – imagining comfortable evenings by the crackling flames. Nothing could have prepared me for the fact that this fireplace was not only unusable, but that the entire chimney needed replacing, and a gas insert was installed instead. I have my winter fire, but all I can see are the stacks of money that are getting burnt up on cold evenings. Don’t get thrown off your budget by getting sidelined by this unexpected cost – always ask questions.