The home inspection: 5 red flags that might be deal breakers

You’ve found the home that perfectly fits your vision and life situation, and you’ve secured loan pre-approval to expedite the purchase. It’s an exciting time for any homebuyer—becoming a homeowner, anticipating a big transition and starting a new phase of life, envisioning future home projects and improvements. Before you sign the dotted line, however, a reputable home inspector needs to give the home a thorough examination to determine its relative health.

It’s often difficult to remain objective and skeptical during this emotional phase of the home purchase because you want the house to be perfect, and you want to make it yours. But try not to get too excited just yet—the home inspection may result in disappointing or discouraging news, causing you to reevaluate your decision.

A handful of inspection red flags require your serious consideration before moving forward and moving in.

A leaky roof is a huge red flag during the home inspection. If rain and snow are coming in, money is flying out. And replacing or repairing the roof is just one aspect of addressing the issue. There’s also the water damage to worry about—mold, mildew and wood rot—which can lead to health hazards and structural weakening. Replacing the roof and eliminating the effects of water can run up a huge bill, so be very wary of any problems in this area.

The plumbing of a house is often called “the guts” for good reason: it’s embedded within the walls, out of sight and hard to access. If the main sewer line or plumbing in your target home is many decades old, a leak or burst pipe is just waiting to happen, effectively acting as a ticking time bomb that can explode in a big financial loss.

Old and outdated electrical wiring can also be a big problem. Not only does it pose a fire hazard, it can compromise other essential home functions. If the electricity goes out, so do the lights, refrigerator, sump pump and temperature control, leaving you vulnerable to any number of disruptions and dangers. Like putting in new plumbing, upgrading the home’s electrical wiring is a costly undertaking that requires opening up and repairing the walls. In short, there’s no easy or inexpensive way to get it done.

Along with the roof, the rest of the house should exhibit full waterproofing against the elements. Moisture in the floor and walls is just as serious as it is in the ceiling. Doors, windows and skylights will probably be the biggest areas of concern, where caulking and weather stripping may be dried out, disintegrated or destroyed. Replacing or resealing windows and doors isn’t typically a big deal; again, it’s the water damage that’s cause for alarm.

Sticking doors, uneven floors and cracks in the wall may indicate defects in the foundation. Some signs of stress are due to normal “settling” of the house, whereas others point to more serious structural concerns. Though your home inspector is trained to know the difference, he or she may call in a specialist to determine the extent of the issue. If the foundation “tipped” or settled unevenly, it could slowly be ripping the frame of the house apart, and you don’t want any part of paying a structural engineer to save your home one day.

If you encounter potential deal breakers during the home inspection, you have three basic choices: 1—concede future financial loss, 2—renegotiate the sale price or 3—terminate the deal altogether. Whatever you decide, make sure to remove emotion from the equation and keep your eyes and options wide open.

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