Top 10 red flags to look for when buying a house

Buying a home is a big decision, and definitely not one to be taken lightly. Before you pick a new apartment or house to make your own, make sure you’ve run through a checklist of qualities you’re hoping to find, and ensure that there are no property ‘red flags’ in sight.

Top 10 red flags to look for when buying a house

1. Neighbourhood

Even if you’ve found the property of your dreams, make sure you take a wander up and down the street before buying a house. Are there many other houses for sale in this area? If everyone seems be trying to sell up and leave, there might be something wrong with the area or the local council that is driving people away. Equally look out for vacant properties that haven’t sold or for boarded up shops that suggest the area isn’t a viable investment.

2. Structural issues

It can be hard to pick out structural issues in a first or second viewing, but there are small signs you can look out for. Take a look at the basement for any cracks in the foundations: small cracks may just be signs of ‘settling’ but larger cracks can indicate problems. Equally keep an eye out for any doors that have trouble shutting or that seem off-kilter, as this could show signs of structural shifting.

3. Damp and leaks

When viewing a property, don’t be afraid to crouch down to look under kitchen cabinets and sideboards and check behind the furniture. A discolouration on the walls or an odd smell could mean damp, mould or a recent leak in the piping, while pungent odours outdoors could hint at drainage problems. During an open house viewing, many home owners take the time to put candles in each room and open the windows, but this can sometimes mean they might be hiding something.

4. Electrical issues

You don’t have to be an electrician to do a quick spot-check for faulty electrics. Check that a few of the light switches and plug sockets work, and take note if any of the lights flicker or if the outlets overheat. Older houses are more likely to have out-of-date electrical systems but this shouldn’t put you off buying a more antiquated property: a full survey should reveal any extensive issues that you might need to consider.

5. Rushed DIY

While it’s perfectly normal to give your interiors a fresh coat of paint before viewings, look out for single patches of fresh paint when you’re buying a house. A recent bit of rushed DIY may have been quickly applied to hide a problem, so be sure to investigate.

6. Signs of ageing

If you’re searching for an older property, make sure you enquire after the age of the roof, the central heating and the hot water boiler. If the windows have original frames, take a closer look at their condition to avoid any unexpected leaks or flashing in wet weather. These shouldn’t mean you have to abandon this particular house, but you might need to factor the extra costs involved into your calculations.

7. Off-limits

If there are any areas ‘off limit’ during an open house viewing, make sure you bring it up with the owners or the real estate agent. Locked doors to off-limit rooms, attics, inbuilt cupboards or basements may be preventing you from seeing any leaks, damage or undesirable features that you need to take into account.

8. Windows

Check for water between the panes in the windows, and also make sure you assess the condition of the surrounding frames and sealant. Any issues may turn out to be relatively easy to fix, but any major problems could mean spending time and money on new windows at a later date.

9. Natural problems

Sweeping views of the sea or a verdant countryside complete with a stream at the end of your garden may seem desirable, but they could also come with problems. Do some research into the area to check for flood zones, natural subsidence or even tsunami or earthquake warnings. It’s worth doing a speculative insurance check on the property: if insurers are wary, this is a red flag. Other areas may come with a natural pest problem, so if you suspect anything, enlist the help of a pest specialist to survey the area before you settle.

10. Structural changes

A lovely open plan living arrangement can be attractive, but was it always open plan? The owners may have converted the property themselves, and if a load-bearing wall has been removed, this may have shifted the weight of the property. If you think any of the renovations are questionable – whether it’s an attic extension or a conservatory – hire a structural engineer to take a look.

Whatever their approach to buying a home, most would agree that research is key – as shown by a survey explored in another of our articles. However you approach your decision, our experienced and friendly estate agents at Engel & Völkers will be there to guide you through every step.

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