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Be Aware: 20 Things To Look For When Buying a Home (Especially for First-Time Home Buyers)



For most of us, the biggest purchase we will make in our lifetime is a home. Not too many of us will be shopping for a million-dollar yacht or private jet anytime soon. Nonetheless, our home is our castle and as such we need to ensure that when we do splurge our hard-earned money on a house which fits our budget, we do so with care and diligence.

Now, admittedly, there is no such thing as the perfect house or I should say there is no house which has everything perfect in it, but there are some basics which need to be in good order to ensure we are not stuck having to fix them soon after moving in.

Being involved in real estate, I have come across all sorts of situations and cases; some good some poor. From experience I have determined that if we can satisfy (to the best of our ability and with the help of an inspection) most items listed below before finalizing our purchasing decision and submitting an offer, one can end up with a house which should require very little major expenditure over the first few years. Regular maintenance is a given in any property, but what you want to avoid is large surprise expenses soon after we move in.

The pointers below can also help you as the buyer to reach an offer price which is fair and ensures you are not stuck having to fix things the previous owner should have taken care of.

Remember, it’s your hard-earned money, make sure you protect it. Don’t let emotions rule your decision.


1. Check the state of the roof – how old is the house? Has the roof been replaced or fixed? When? Your agent should be able to confirm the age, and the seller can provide the other info. Depending on the size of the house and the style of roof, it can cost anywhere upwards of $5000 to replace a roof. Even missing or damaged shingles can cause leaks which can end up costing thousands to fix (depending on how and where the water damage reaches). I have seen homes, where a small water leak from a bathtub drain (discovered during the inspection) ended up costing the seller over $2000 to fix before the buyer would agree to close the sale.


2. Check the styles of windows, check caulking and moisture build up between panes. This is another area where the costs can add up very quickly and the damage if not cared for, can cost the new owners thousands. Poor caulking on the outside can cause water leaks which can travel through the wall cavities all the way to the foundation of a home. Replacing old windows is not only costly but, in the mean-time can translate into higher energy bills every month.


3. Look for moisture/mold/mildew on walls, behind appliances, underneath sinks (especially if there are cabinets underneath, like vanities) and areas not easily visible. Not only will these fixes cost you money, but they can also be harmful to you and your family’s health. It’s of special concern when you have kids and young children. Inspections do reveal damp walls via infrared technology.


4. Look for any unusual fixes on walls, ceilings for leakages. These things happen in a home and most are not of great concern but inquire the cause. By asking questions, it takes away the guessing game and you stay informed. Answers by sellers also allow you to understand how much care the current owners have taken in maintaining the house and hopefully not just done a temporary patch job for the sale. It also helps during the inspection, since you can request the home inspector to do a thorough check in the area of concern. Remember it’s your money which is on the line here. Protect it. 


5. Check the age of the Furnace, A/C. Energy costs are of huge concern for any homeowner. An old or poorly maintained furnace or a/c can eat away at your dollars. By finding out the age of the house and if the furnace and/or a/c have ever been replaced will give you a pretty decent idea on the remaining life of the equipment. Replacing these things are not cheap.


6. Check all plumbing by flushing all toilets, opening and closing all faucets and ensure if they are correctly installed; hot taps run hot water and cold ones run cold water. Check for any visual leaks, unusual smells or odours. Small things in a house add up and can end up costing you in terms of money and comfort. Some buyers fall so much in love with a house (because it "looks" good) they neglect to look at these things and tend to think they will fix themselves or they can live with it. Far from it. Once you move in (and especially for first time home buyers), it can all add up to a pretty penny to correct. Do you know how much it costs to get in a plumber or a contractor to fix the little things? I assure you it's not small change.


7. Smell and sniff for stuffiness, dampness or anything unpleasant. Check inside cupboards, under sinks, in closets etc. A poorly maintained home can have hidden smells and unpleasant odors. Dampness in closets can cause mold and mildew which are a health concern. Also look for rodent droppings or cavities inside closets.


8. Lease Or Rental? Find out if anything in the house is under lease or rent. Things such as; security, furnace, a/c, hot water tank, appliances etc. If yes, find out the lease/rent amounts and term of the agreement. This may not seem like a big deal but it is. I have come across homeowners who have signed lease contracts for appliances and other equipment for horrible monthly fees and long terms. Make sure you are not caught carrying those costs when you take over the home. Even look into buy out options or have conditions in your offer which requires the seller to pay it off before you close


9. Check floorings. Have someone walk on the floor above and you can listen to the creaks and squeaks below, especially with finished basements. I have always found this annoying, especially when I am settled down to watch a good movie and the person above is walking and I can hear every footstep. Isn’t it frustrating? Additionally, look for any unlevelled floors by walking across (criss-cross) the room and notice anything that feels dramatic. Small variations are normal, but large variations aren't. If you do find anything odd, you can use a marble to visually note the difference.


10. Visually inspect the surrounding land and your neighbours for any water collection areas, if fenced, how well are they built. Do you have to share any walkways, driveways with the adjacent property?


11. Make note of larger than normal cracks in foundation walls, outside and inside (if basement not finished). Some cracks are formed as a house settles, but wider than normal ones should be of concern. Good inspectors will pick up on this, but as a buyer, you need to know.


12. Try out all doors, windows; sliding, screen and closet doors, open and close all windows to ensure none need to be fixed or require repair or even replacement. Just because they look good, doesn’t mean they are working well. 
I had a window in my house which looked perfect but needed repair because it would not open correctly and when it did, I could not close it using the crank. It had to be done manually. So, try them all. Don’t be shy. Even if the seller states everything is fine, don't take their word for it, satisfy yourself.


13. Are Appliances Good? Ask how old they are. If too old, they may need to be replaced in the near future which will indirectly add to your purchase price. Use it as negotiating tool to lower the buying or offer price.


14. Try faucets located on the outside of the house, to ensure they are working correctly. Inspectors even check shut-off valves.


15. Know your Electricity: Electrical is another part that can become costly if there are issues. Know the available amperage and make sure you get your inspector or electrician to check that enough power and amps is available to service all the appliances in the house. Especially if there is an illegal finished basement.
I have been to homes which have issues (
short-circuited) when several heavy duty appliances are running simultaneously. Fixing electrical issues is can become expensive.


16. Be Energy-Conscious; get the insulation in the attic inspected. A well-insulated home can save you thousands over the long haul. In my opinion, all homeowners should be advised to increase the insulation in their attic. Attics should also be inspected for any unwanted critters.


17. Peek At The Thermostat. To get an idea of how well the home is insulated. It may not give you the perfect gauge, but it may give you a rough estimate.


18. Ask Questions. Feel free to ask the listing agent or the owners (if possible) any questions or concerns you may have. They are obligated to provide you the truth. You will be amazed what a conversation will reveal about the house, neighbours, the neighbourhood etc.


19. Your Family's Needs. Most of the requirements to consider when looking for a house are your family’s needs. Perhaps you are partial to a larger backyard. Maybe you need an extra storage room, a big kitchen for entertainment, schools for your kids, parks, shopping etc. Take a careful look at all these factors when deciding on a home.


20. Be Present. It’s my recommendation to all buyers that they are present during a home inspection of the house they intend to purchase, not just be there but accompany the inspector along and ask questions whilst listening to him/her. Good inspectors will educate their clients on the various parts of the home and what they are looking for. Not only will you learn a lot about the house but will know of any potential upcoming costs or areas which need to be fixed or to keep an eye on.


Good agents are also present during an inspection and will relay any critical findings to the buyer (if not present). As a buyer, you can always lean on the real estate salesperson's experience and use him/her as a sounding board for any concerns raised from a home inspection. 

I recently helped a client purchase a home, I attended the inspection as per normal, but the buyers were out of town and couldn’t be there. The inspection revealed items which needed attention. these I relayed to the buyer. Using our findings from the report we had the sellers fix the major issues at their expense.

There have also been situations where buyers have been so infatuated by a home that they have ignored inspection reports and findings only to be forced to fix the issue once they moved in. I always advise buyers to be aware and pay attention to inspection reports. 


Once again remember, buying a house is a huge decision with a lot at stake. Have the right people on your team, who can guide and provide you with all the correct information and who only have YOUR interest in mind.


Feel free to call or email me if you have any questions; Riyaz @ 416-417-8603 or  Riyaz@RealtyNook.ca


Note: The above list is based on my opinion and experience. You must consult with the appropriate professionals for any further guidance and direction.

21 points to look for when buying a house.pdf183.35 KB

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