Is a Bargain Fixer-Upper Worth the Effort? Ten Signs You May be Getting in Over Your Head
With house prices rising and competition for homes heating up, it’s tempting to jump right in and grab the first real estate bargain you find. A rundown home that’s priced below the market can be irresistible. Fix it up, and you’ll end up with a terrific home that’s worth far more than you paid for it. Sounds good, right? Well, it can be. But underestimate the cost of the renovation, and you’re stuck with a property lemon that sucks your time and money like soil sucks up water.
While you should always get a professional home inspection report before you close, there are some red flags you can look for during the house-hunting process that could identify a property as unworkable from early on. If any of these warning signs are present, proceed with caution.
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Warning Sign #1: Water Stains
Brown stains, peeling wallpaper, bubbling paint and the smell of damp – these are all signs that the property has suffered water ingress. Isolated incidents of water damage – for example, a burst pipe that was quickly remedied – are not a cause for concern. Persistent water damage, caused by a leaking roof, cracked pipes or a faulty foundation can be a huge job to repair, potentially adding thousands of dollars to the purchase price.
Warning Sign #2: Sagging Ceiling
Sagging ceilings are a red flag and should put you on high alert that the house is not structurally sound. Ceilings dip when the structure of the house is not strong enough to support them. The ceiling could collapse at any moment, which is both a major safety hazard and a problem that could cause extensive damage to the home.
Warning sign #3: Roof Damage
When you look at the house from the street, does it appear to be dipping? Are many of the tiles cracked or missing? Examine the gutters – are excessive amounts of shingle present? All of these are signs of advanced wear to the roof. While potentially not a deal breaker, you will need to hire a roofing contractor as soon as possible. The cost will be in the thousands to repair.
Warning sign #4: Cracks and Crevices
If your house is built on sand, some movement of the foundations is not uncommon. In most homes, small shifts in the foundation will only show as hairline crack lines in the paint. This is a cosmetic issue and easy to fix. Deeper and more noticeable cracks in the walls and floors indicate a bigger problem. A home with severe subsidence is structurally unsound and probably not worth the cost or the risk of repair. It will hinder your chances of securing financing, too.
Warning Sign #5: Lead-based paint
Lead based paint was often used in homes built prior to 1978, when the federal government declared the substance unsafe for use in residential properties. Today, sellers must notify the buyer of any lead paint present in the home that he is aware of. In reality, few sellers test for lead paint and few will have any information to share with you. Lead paint is not dangerous if it is intact. However, if it is disturbed in any way – cracked, chipped, worn or scraped – it can pose a major health hazard. Lead paint can only be removed or sealed by a state-certified lead abatement contractor. The process is time-consuming and expensive and you won’t be able to start any other work on the house until the lead is removed.
Warning Sign #6: Asbestos
Asbestos is a fire-retardant insulation material. Older homes may have asbestos as insulation. Some roofing and siding shingle are made of asbestos cement. Like lead paint, asbestos is not a health hazard unless it is disturbed. However, renovating a home will almost certainly disturb the asbestos that is present in the home. Asbestos must be removed by a certified abatement contractor, and you will not be permitted to live in the property or visit it while the work is being carried out. This can set your renovation program back by many weeks, depending on the severity of the problem.
Warning sign #7: Mold
Buying a home with Mold can be dangerous. Mold is a serious health risk that needs urgent attention by mold removal specialists. The cost can be very high, as you will also need to find and eliminate the source of the mold. Things to look out for include clusters of small black spots on the walls, white patches or any form of discoloration – stains may appear orange or pink in color, particularly behind wallpaper. Mold is almost always accompanied by a persistent odor of damp, so put the home through the sniff test.
Warning Sign #8: Rotting Wood
Replacing rotten doors and windows is not a difficult task, but it can add up to a major cost. For structural, health and security reasons, you should fix rotten frames as soon as possible. Rotten floorboards are a more serious problem. Not only will you have to replace all of the damaged floors, but you will need a full inspection to find and eradicate the source of the problem – usually damp or termites. Take a screwdriver with you when you view the house and poke around the windows, door jambs and floorboards. If the wood gives way or crumbles easily, you have a problem.
Warning Sign #9: Pests
Pest extermination is not a DIY task, as store-bought traps and chemicals will not abate a full-blown infestation. This is especially true of termites which, left unchecked, can cause major structural damage to the home. Check for live pests in dark nooks and corners, and be on the lookout for pest droppings, gnaw marks and visible holes in the floors and walls.
Warning Sign #10: The Home Looks Too Good to be True
If the property seems too good to be true, it probably is. Any home that is being sold at rock-bottom price likely has some major problems. Not all problems are visible to the naked eye, however, and not all of them can be fixed. Perhaps the property has terrible neighbors who are pushing the price down? As always, the best advice is do your homework and make sure you know exactly what you are buying before you sign on the dotted line