When you’re looking for a new home, there are lots of little things that can tell you a whole lot about what you might be facing down the line.
Of course, if you’re buying a home, you’ll probably hire an inspector before you sign the dotted line, but if you’re a renter, there’s generally just your gut instincts to rely on, and no one wants to move again because they missed the signs.
Some things should sound alarm bells as to where to investigate further. If you’re buying you might even be able to nix a home without the costly price of hiring an inspector to give you the thumbs-down. Bring a flashlight and a measuring tape when you’re viewing spaces, and bust ‘em out when you’re getting serious about that location.
Here are just a few tips for things to keep an eye out for when you’re taking a look at what you hope might be the home of your dreams:
1. Signs of pest control.
Sure, a lot of places have had pest issues over the years, especially when they’re older, but if that pest control is recent, it may just be “controlling” an established issue so they get a sale, and not eliminating it. Places to look are at the back of kitchen cabinets, behind stoves and fridges, and around plumbing pipes.
If you see a caramel-colored gel, sticky traps, or other methods of bug and rodent control at work, this place might just be too buggy for you. Obviously mouse droppings or carcasses of bugs are a glaring sign that things are ongoing. (Of course, most cockroaches, etc., don’t actually decompose so they can be from a while back, but if they’re not even cleaning out bug corpses, that too reveals a lot about your would-be space.)
2. Signs of mold.
There are times when black and pink mold appear because it’s due to poor maintenance and a lack of housekeeping, but there are many times when it’s a result of construction, like faulty ventilation. Either way, taking a risk and assuming it’s because a slob lives there could be the risk that results in you suffering allergies, illness, or worse. Things like mold in crevices of caulking can very well just be poorly-applied caulking and not poor construction, and caulking can be easily reapplied, so keep that in mind.
Where to look for persistent mold or signs of moisture damage is along the ceilings, under water fixtures, along baseboards, anywhere in the bathroom, along window sills, and more. Where there is moisture damage, there’s likely mold behind it. Bust out your trusty flashlight and take as close a look as you can. Do not touch or move suspected mold without proper safety precautions, as airborne particles can get in your lungs and cause serious health issues.
3. Signs of settling.
If your place has baseboards and crown mouldings, keep an eye on these. Are they straight and flush with the wall/ceiling/floor? If there are large gaps, it could mean the structure has settled too much. Unless built on rock, most spaces do settle, so it’s often not an issue, but you’re looking for excessive change.
Other indications can include cracking in walls, cracks in bricks around foundation, doors (including cupboard doors) that don’t close properly because they seem crooked, sagging crossbeams in entrances, falling plaster, and more. These can all indicate that settling has occurred because of foundation damage or even improper load-bearing construction, and it could be a fatal flaw in your space.
4. Floorplan & layout.
If there are too many hallways, you’re sacrificing functional space. If there aren’t enough plugs, you’re looking at a job that can get complicated in a hurry, especially if there’s not enough power behind your panel to take more outlets. If the ceiling’s too low in some areas, it can affect where certain furnishings can go.
5. Consider the windows carefully.
The amount of windows will affect your energy bill no matter how you slice it. More windows, more daylight, less power consumed. More windows, more exposure to the elements, maybe more heat is lost. Ultimately your home plays a part in your mental and physical health, so more windows can be a price worth paying, but have a look to see if they’re single- or double-paned, whether they’re susceptible to moisture due to signs of mold or condensation, and so forth.
It’s best to view spaces on cloudy or rainy days, I find, so you know what the “real” light is like on less-than-perfect days, as opposed to the idyllic sunny day scenario, since it can affect your space’s natural light drastically.
6. Flooring is a big deal.
If there’s carpet, I’ve learned that wearing socks when you’re viewing is the way to go. You can “feel” if there are gaps in the subfloor, if it’s warping or buckling anywhere, whether there are lumps to be concerned about. (The “lumps” in my apartment turned out to be from nails that were popping up out of the subfloor, when screws should’ve been used.
Cost to repair this? Removing the carpet, re-securing the subfloor, re-using or replacing said carpet. A whole lot of work. If it’s laminate flooring, are the seams consistent? If not, they might be buckling from moisture or it may have been poorly installed. Are there multiple chips in tiles? The sealant could be damaged, and their longevity compromised. Look for the details, wear socks, have a good walk around, and be aware of what’s going on under your feet.
That’s just the start
Clearly, when you’re finding a new home, there’s so much to look for and this is just a short, short list, but these are areas that are most likely to be compromised, and it’s important to not dismiss what you think are small details. There’s electrical, plumbing, and other concerns to look out for.
Just remember, if it’s a problem today, it’ll likely be a bigger problem tomorrow. Either you’re willing to live with that, or it’ll eat you up, but knowing both what the extent of the problem is today and what the expected decline is can be very empowering in making your choices.