9 things to look for when buying a house

April 03, 2019

By Katie Pins

9 things to look for when buying a house

A realtor advises a home buying of what to look for when buying a house.

An open house or tour is an essential step to buying a home. You can get a feel for the home and its neighborhood. You begin to imagine our new life and the potential memories you’ll create. But before you go too far into dreaming about your future, you should take a step back and really think about the significance of this upcoming purchase. A new home can be a dream, but it can also be a nightmare if there are significant problems that arise after purchase.

Doing your own evaluation before a home inspection can help you decide whether this is the home for you. It can also help you negotiate a great price. We’ve created a checklist of the things to look for when buying a house. In each section, we explain what to look for when buying a house, why it’s important, how to detect an issue, and how homeowners could be trying to cover up something.

1. Uneven floors

An uneven floor can be incredibly expensive to fix and may be an indication of additional problems. If you are looking at uneven hardwood floors, the entire floor will need to be taken up, leveled, and then put back together with new wood or a combination of your old floor and matching wood. If you are looking at a basement floor, self-leveling concrete is an easier fix to the leveling issue but won’t solve a potential foundation concern.

You can spot a bad floor by bringing a marble with you. If the marble rolls, there may be an issue. The marble can let you know where you should look next. Most likely, if there is an issue, it’s rolled to a wall. Look at where the wall meets the floor. Are there gaps or cracks between the wall and the floor? If there isn’t a gap, take a look to see if there is any new molding in some places.

In a previous home search, I saw a place where the molding gradually got larger along a wall. It was something I definitely didn’t notice at first, but my discreet use of a marble helped me spot the issue.

If there is an uneven floor, you don’t necessarily need to panic. Check with the owner or condo association if a problem was resolved throughout the history of the home. Alert your home inspector as well, and they can investigate further.

2. Damaged floors

Damaged hardwood floors could be fixed with a weekend of sanding or replacing a few floorboards. Carpet can also be replaced pretty easily, but those fixes can eat into your budget. If you’re able to spot a cracked tile or stain, you may have some additional negotiating power.

We love our pets but if you see a litter box or dog toy, do an extra thorough check of the floors. A homeowner could cover up some damage with a conveniently placed carpet. Feel free to lift up a runner or area rug and look for any pet stains or scratches.

You also want to watch out for paint splatter, odd patch jobs or furniture scratches. It may be embarrassing to lift a carpet at an open house, so if you’re serious about the place, see if you can take a look at the place privately.

You can also spot a bad floor if it’s bouncy. If you take a step and feel some extra resistance, something isn’t right. It could be that something wasn’t installed correctly, the house has shifted, or there’s water damage. No matter the reason, you’ll have to budget for a fix.

3. Water damage

Visible water damage can clue you in on potential leaks, foundational issues or mold hiding behind your walls. It’s often hard to cover up water damage unless a wall or ceiling tile is replaced. If you see water damage, check if you can find the source of the leak. A leak can be coming from an old pipe or a gap in the wall. Good places to double check include under and around windows, bathrooms and basements.

Water damage can come from a humid room as well. You’ll want to look for bubbling, water stains or discoloration on walls, ceilings and floors. Bubbling or cracking of paint or wallpaper can also alert you of potential wall damage. Water can also cause a warped or bulged wall.

In addition to observing wall damage, touch the walls to see if they feel damp. Notice if there is a dehumidifier working hard in the room as well. It could indicate a chronic issue.

If you notice water damage, have a conversation with the realtor or homeowner about the issue. They may be able to explain the problem better. Also, as always, let your inspector know about your concern.

4. Mold

A home full of mold can be dangerous and hard to eradicate. According to the CDC, mold can cause dizziness, headaches and even memory loss. Because mold is a health problem and can make you feel awful in your own home, it’s very important that you spend the time to check for it.

Mold loves damp areas, so you’ll want to pay extra attention to bathrooms, basements and kitchens. There are many ways to notices mold. If you notice a wall or surface looks dirty, take a closer look. That dirt could actually be mold.

In a bathroom, you’ll most likely see mold around the shower. Check all the corners, walls and grout. In a basement, you’ll want to check any baseboards, underneath any windows, and all the walls. 

If you’re prone to seasonal allergies, you could finally benefit from being sensitive to mold. Notice how you feel in the home, especially the basement. It’s best if you spend some time in an area to notice if you are feeling stuffy or foggy. You could buy some time by striking up a conversation with the realtor in the basement.

A homeowner or realtor could be hiding a musty smell with extra air fresheners or candles. If you notice a lot of fragrance and you’re serious about purchasing a house, see if you can come back when there isn’t too much extra scent. Fresh paint could also cover up mold and make it harder to detect, which is why it’s important to notice a musty smell or how you feel in the home.

Mold can be eradicated by replacing the surface, whether it is grout or drywall. It would be important to fix the problem so you don’t get mold again. Consider the cost of hiring a professional if you are concerned about mold.

5. DIY projects

YouTube instructional videos and home improvement shows have motivated thousands to renovate their own kitchens and bathrooms. It’s a great sense of accomplishment when you do-it-yourself, but that doesn’t mean it was done well. When touring a house, notice any inexpensive fixes or patch jobs. If you catch these beginner fixes during an open house, chances are you’ll find many more when you move in.

The majority of homes probably have something that was patched together or installed incorrectly. Take your time going through the home and really look at anything that seems especially new.

It’s important to view these renovations with a critical eye. Why were they done and where were they done? Was it an attempt to fix a more serious problem?

Reflect on whether or not you can live with the DIY projects or if you’ll need to redo it. Notify your inspector of any concerns so they’ll take an extra look at things that may not be up to code.

6. Foundation Issues

Even a relatively newer home can encounter foundational issues. No matter the age of the home, it will be important to look for foundational issues when buying a house. A shifted foundation can be a huge expense, especially for a new homeowner. Not only will you need to repair the foundation, but you may also need to level out floors and fix cracked drywalls in the process.

You’ll see signs of foundational issues in uneven floors or cracks in walls and brick.  You’ll also need to do more investigating. Don’t be afraid to open and close doors and windows. If you’re having trouble, something may be wrong.

Take a look at the frames around those doors and windows. Are they sagging or warped? Head outside and check the chimney and the walls around it. A chimney is a great indicator of foundation issues, but it isn’t the only clue.

When looking at a crack, inside or outside, notice if it is more than one-eighth of an inch wide, if it is horizontal or at a 45-degree angle, and if it is wide at one end and narrow at another. Bricks can create a “stair-step crack” between the brick. This is also a good indication of a shift.

Homeowners can cover cracks with spackle, so check for any surface change.  A change could just be a repair after the foundation is fixed. Also, there may be some old signs that there was a previous issue. Knowing the history of the home will help you make a decision.

7. Encroaching nature

We’re now going to walk outside of the home and take a look at your surrounding landscape. Are you at the bottom of a hill or close to a river? You’ll want to make sure you’re home isn’t prone to flooding and taking a look outside is a great way to check. Even look for gentle slopes in the yard. If you’re the lowest home on the block, your basement could flood first.

Is there any erosion near the home? I would love to wake up on a mountain or a beach with a spectacular view. However, I don’t want my backyard to slowly erode away. Take a walk around the home and the neighborhood to make sure there hasn’t been any major shifting.

It’s nice to go outside and enjoy nature, but it’s not fun when nature comes inside. Knowing whether or not a home is in an area that’s prone to flooding, erosion or even forest fires can help you make a decision on purchasing the home. It can also prepare you for any extra homeowners insurance costs!

8. An old and worn out roof

A good roof should last 20-25 years, according to Lowe’s blog, Resolve. If it’s an older home, ask when the roof was last repaired or replaced. Replacing a roof is certainly going to be an extra expense, and the size of the home will determine just how expensive.

Since the roof is one of the most important aspects of a safe home, it’s important to check how durable it is. You can make some of your own observations from the ground to determine whether or not the roof is in good shape.

The roof may potentially need to be replaced if the shingles are curving upwards, if you see moss, or if the roof just looks worn. If you get close enough, you may notice that granules are missing (the shingles are wearing away) or that the shingles are cracked.

Finally, another way to tell if the roof may need to be replaced is whether or not the neighbors have a newer roof. Often, neighborhoods are built at the same time, so if the house next door had to replace its roof, your potential new home probably will too.

9. Traffic and noise

Nearby traffic can create a lot of noise and hassle around your new home. In addition to a quiet street, you may also want a safe street for children. Before you purchase a home, there are ways to check if you’ll have a ton of traffic on your potential new street.

First, spend time on the street. How much traffic is going through? Is this street a shortcut people tend to take? Notice any schools or businesses that may use this street.

If there is a lot of traffic on your street, could the city expand the street to make new lanes? You don’t want to worry about losing some of your front or backyard.

Also, walk around the neighborhood and notice any highways or foot traffic that can cause a disturbance. If quiet and safety are a concern, then the extra time you spend walking around can help.

If there is some noise outside and you don’t mind, it’s a good idea to check inside as well. It’s best to check for noise when you’re alone. During an open house, the people and possible music could mask any disturbing sounds. Ask for music or fans to be turned off and spend some extra time making sure you don’t hear your neighbors or the noise outside.

If you’re buying a condo or townhome, the shared walls could be a problem, so spend time in rooms that have shared walls. Do you hear a dog or music? Do you mind the noise? It’s up to you how important extra sound will be.


Looking out for these nine things will help you make a decision on buying a home. No matter what, when you buy a home you could eventually encounter something that will go wrong, and that’s OK! If you follow this list, you may have a better idea of what you’re getting into, and that is comforting. Before purchasing a home, seek some help and advice from professionals, friends and family.

Check out more of our home buying tips:

Katie Pins is a marketer fascinated with finance. Whether the topic is about the psychology of money, investment strategies or simply how to spend better, Katie enjoys diving in and sharing all the details with family, friends and Money Mentor readers. Money management needs to be simplified and Katie hopes she accomplishes that for our readers. The saying goes, "Knowledge is Power", and she hopes you feel empowered after reading Money Mentor.

Sign up for our newsletter

Get even more personal finance info, tips and tricks delivered right to your inbox each month.