Look for red flags when buy­ing a used home

Ottawa Citizen - - HOMES+CONDOS - MIKE HOLMES Watch Mike in his new se­ries, Home Free air­ing Wed­nes­days at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV.

Buy­ing a home is one of the big­gest in­vest­ments most peo­ple will ever make, and you should know what kind of in­vest­ment you’re mak­ing. But I still hear the sto­ries where home buy­ers don’t get a home in­spec­tion be­fore buy­ing a house.

I un­der­stand that in some cities it’s a seller’s mar­ket, and you’re lucky to even buy a house or a condo. But if you buy the wrong one, you will lose it all and you will re­gret it. I’ve seen it hap­pen, over and over again, where cou­ples think they bought the house of their dreams only to dis­cover that it’s a com­plete night­mare.

Too many peo­ple have gone bank­rupt and too many mar­riages have fallen apart be­cause of one bad de­ci­sion: Buy­ing a house that needs a for­tune to make right.

What’s the rush? I’d rather not buy a house than buy the wrong one, and you should too. We all know it’s very easy to make a house look good on the sur­face, and you can hide a world of trou­ble be­hind the walls.

At the end of the day it’s buyer be­ware. Be­lieve me, I get the emails.

Just to­day I saw an email from a dad whose son (only 20 years old) just bought his first house. It was orig­i­nally built in 1963. Once he took pos­ses­sion they started ren­o­vat­ing. Turns out, the plas­ter walls and lam­i­nate floor­ing con­tained as­bestos. Not only is this a huge threat to their health (ma­te­rial con­tain­ing as­bestos should never be dis­turbed), but now they need a pro­fes­sional abate­ment com­pany to come in and re­move the ma­te­ri­als for them, which is very ex­pen­sive.

And some­times peo­ple get a home in­spec­tion and still end up buy­ing a le­mon. Why? Be­cause they didn’t hire the right pro­fes­sional. Just be­cause they call them­selves a home in­spec­tor doesn’t mean they’re any good.

Again, it’s buyer be­ware. Home­own­ers and home buy­ers need to ask the right ques­tions, es­pe­cially when hir­ing a home in­spec­tor. For ex­am­ple, how long have you been in­spect­ing homes? What were you do­ing be­fore home in­spec­tions? (You want some­one with a back­ground in home con­struc­tion.) Are you in­sured? Are you cer­ti­fied? By who and what does that mean?

Ideally, we should be able to rely on the ad­vice of the pros we hire. But some­times it’s dif­fi­cult to know who’s a pro and who’s not, and by the time we find out it’s too late. Then who’s stuck with the bill? You.

So I al­ways tell home­own­ers to ed­u­cate them­selves. Learn what sep­a­rates the pros from the play­ers. Also, learn the red flags. Here are some of the things to look for:

Miss­ing down­spouts or down­spouts that di­rect wa­ter to the roof or foun­da­tion; could lead to leaks

Cracked brick, in­clud­ing around win­dows; could mean mois­ture in­tru­sion and rot

Poor grad­ing; could lead to leaks in the base­ment

Ver­ti­cal foun­da­tion cracks; more than one could mean struc­tural prob­lems, like a cracked foot­ing

Trees next to the foun­da­tion; could get into plumb­ing and in­ter­fere with proper wa­ter drainage around the home

Lights that flicker; could mean some­thing’s wrong with the elec­tri­cal

Miss­ing in­su­la­tion in the at­tic and/or ex­te­rior walls; leads to higher energy bills and po­ten­tially mould

Blocked sof­fit vent­ing; leads to poor air cir­cu­la­tion and pos­si­bly mould

Mouse drop­pings and in­sect wings (could mean ter­mites)

Patch jobs on the walls and ceil­ing; could mean a leak

A musty smell; could mean there’s mould

Another thing home buy­ers should be ask­ing for is per­mits.

If you are look­ing at a house that’s been ren­o­vated, you can go to the city and find the per­mits on it. If there are no per­mits that means they didn’t hire a pro or they did the work them­selves. Ei­ther way, if they didn’t know what they were do­ing you’re stuck with the po­ten­tial risk and the re­pair bill.

Buy­ing a house shouldn’t be like play­ing Rus­sian roulette. You should know that you are mak­ing a smart in­vest­ment.


Home buy­ers should learn the warn­ing signs for big­ger prob­lems hid­ing be­hind the walls of used homes.

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