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Warning Signs of Underlying Problems

When you fall in love with a house, it’s easy to get swept away in the emotion of it all, imagining summer barbecues in the backyard and holiday celebrations around the hearth.

However, before you begin arranging the furniture, be sure to look for these warning signs that things may not be as perfect as they appear.

  1. Overpowering Scent
    When your Realtor opens the front door to show you a house for sale and your nostrils are immediately accosted by strong smells, from candles to air freshener, be suspicious. It’s one thing to notice a pleasant aroma; it’s another when the smell is strong enough to mask a problem. Pets, mold, smoking and other issues can cause long-term odors.
  2. Gaps in Tile Work
    Poorly executed do-it-yourself remodeling can be problematic for a few reasons. At best, it’s unappealing. At worst, it may indicate this and other work on the house doesn’t meet professional standards. For example, is the tile the only problem, or did the previous owners neglect to remove the dry rot underneath, opting to patch over it instead?
  3. Major Cracks and/or Sticky Doors and Windows
    Most homes have hairline cracks in walls in ceilings, but if you see major cracks, take a closer look. Is the house settling on its foundation, or is the foundation crumbling? Also, pay attention to any doors or windows that are hard to open and close. If you’re concerned, consider hiring a contractor, home inspector or engineer to check things out.

    While foundation problems may be more common on hillsides, flat lots can be unstable, too. I once owned a building on a flat lot. It was a concrete building on a slab floor. What I didn’t know when I bought it was that one corner of the building had been built on an old dumpsite. The landfill underneath began to settle and that corner of the building settled with it. After extensive and expensive testing and renovation, the problem was finally solved, but it was a huge bummer.

  1. Mold
    A few small, black or gray mold spots may seem like no big deal but think again. Mold can cause major health problems, and it may indicate more extensive water damage that isn’t visible during a casual inspection. Look carefully at walls, inside cabinets, under sinks and behind furniture in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, around water heaters, and anywhere else water is commonly used. Keep in mind that problems resulting from mold can be so bad that some insurance companies exclude them from homeowner policies.
  2. Cosmetic Enhancements
    Paint can hide a multitude of problems. While many people put a new coat of paint on the interior and exterior of the house to spruce things up before they sell, others use paint to cover flaws. It’s perfectly okay to ask your Realtor, “Is that new paint covering anything I should know about?”

It’s always better to find problems before escrow closes. Of course, sellers are legally required to disclose problems, but they can only disclose what they know or should reasonably have been expected to know. This is why inspections are so important: home, roof, pest and fungus, heat and air, well, pool and more! Can they get expensive? Sure, but not getting them can be even more expensive. Consider the cost of inspections a down payment on your peace of mind.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.