Open House Red Flags

For most home buyers, going to an open house is a fairly passive experience.  The purpose is to just observe the layout of the rooms and look for those always coveted name-brand kitchen appliances.  But, smart buyers know that the things that you should really be looking out for are those that lie beneath the showcase surface.

In today’s competitive market, most open houses are seen after they have been upgraded, deep cleaned and staged, kind of like a first date.  Sure, you’re impressed with the presentation and cleanliness, but then you have to look beyond that first impression and dig deeper to see the bigger picture.  Will you or won’t you want to come back for more?

As you conduct your search for the perfect home and you walk into that next open house, take a moment to really assess the true life, value, and future of the property.  Go in with a positive attitude, just remember to be on the lookout for few red flags that may be trying to cover up a home’s darker past.

Scent:  An open house is supposed to make you feel welcome and comfortable, appealing to all of your senses.  But, don’t let those freshly baked cookies, scented candles or potpourri fool you. The presence of too much scent may not be such a good sign, as it’s likely that the seller is taking extra precautions to mask an offensive odor.  Often, this is meant to cover up things like pet odors, mildew, and even cigarette smoke.

Tiling:  While tiling in kitchens and bathrooms can be a beautifully impressive feature, be sure to take a closer look.  If you notice gaps or uneven tiles, chances are that it was a DIY job. Poor tiling can indicate a quick fix done on the fly, which can lead to potentially costly repairs down the road for the new homeowner.  

Foundation:  Foundation issues are never a good thing nor are they something that most home buyers think about during an open house.  Sure, most homes have hairline cracks from settling, but larger gaps are a sign of much bigger foundation issues. Things like sticking doors and windows can be a sign of these issues, as well as visible cracks around window frames, uneven floors, etc.   

Upkeep:  Always look for signs of deferred maintenance where it’s clear that the current homeowner has just neglected routine upkeep.  Things like burned-out light bulbs, leaky faucets, faded paint, peeling caulk, filthy air filters, and chimneys, an overgrown yard – these are all signs that indicate that the home’s systems weren’t kept in good working order and could lead to problems down the road.    

Mold:  While it may seem like it would be a difficult task to catch mold issues during an open house and without a proper home inspection, there are a few things that you can look for.  While you wander through the home, open bathroom and sink cabinets to take a closer look around the water pipes and drains. If you notice any black or grey spots, there could be a mold issue lurking as well as an indication of improper ventilation.  Look for spots on the ceilings as well.

Water Damage:  While you look for potential mold issues, you should also be on the lookout for water damage.  Even if you don’t see standing water, a musty smell can be an indication of water damage. Look for water lines, and check for rust or stains around exposed pipes.  

Cosmetic Enhancements:  Always double check those cosmetic enhancements that are meant to draw the eye, because sometimes they’re meant to draw the eye away from an underlying issue.  Things like a single, freshly painted wall might be hiding a patch of mold, or an area rug might be hiding stained or damaged flooring.

As you start exploring open houses, don’t be a passive sightseer.  Be smart, and look beneath the surface to detect those issues that could cause you and your wallet major stress down the road.  Avoid these red flags, and you won’t waste any more time on homes that aren’t the right fit for you.

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