Searching for that perfect fixer-upper to call home can be a bit overwhelming, can’t it? As a prospective buyer you’re really forced into some heavy duty priority juggling. Neighborhood, sale price, house features, yard features, cost of improvements and as-is condition are just a few of the big ones.
What about identifying problematic old repairs? What was done? Was it done right? Is something being covered up?
Even if you have a real estate professional on your side, and you should, the decision as to when and where to make an offer falls squarely on your shoulders. Once you’ve made your offer and the seller has accepted it, chances are you’re in for some expenses. Home inspectors, termite tests, surveys and more are usually at the buyer’s expense.
What if you had a little bit of knowledge that could help you narrow the field? What if you could recognize potential problem areas before making the offer and investing in an inspection?
While certainly not a comprehensive list, there are a few things that might alert you to a previous repair.
Wall or Ceiling Texture
Wall and ceiling surfaces can be very hard to match exactly. Look closely at the texture on the walls and ceilings, both within a room and from room to room. If you see a difference, you’ll know that someone did some wall or ceiling replacement somewhere along the line.
Another hard-to-match surface is hardwood floors. Pay close attention to the floors as you walk through a prospective purchase. Look for “lines of demarcation” that show a difference in flooring. Look at the color, the wood grain, width of planks, visible nails, etc. Even a perfectly repaired floor usually leaves some telltale sign.
Newer Electrical Switches and Outlets
Also take a look at components like electrical outlets and switches. Are they different from one room to the next. If so, it’s a sure sign some remodeling or repair work has been done.
Sometimes it pays to have a closer look at things that are seemingly “wonderful upgrades,” such as a new roof, new siding, etc. These are certainly good things in and of themselves, but not if they are merely a Band-Aid atop a more serious problem.
What You Want to Know
You may be wondering what the point of all this is. The bottom line is that these little indications just give you something to ask about. They give you a reason to learn more about the house itself and the work that has been done. The more you know before you make your offer, the less likely you’ll be to get into a contract on a house that you really don’t want.
If there’s been a new roof, ask if there were leaks. Ask to see up in the attic and look for large sections of replaced roof decking. If you see that, look closer for rotten framing or damaged ceilings below.
If a wall or ceiling looks to have been repaired, ask why. What was done? Was there damage repaired or was it a remodel? Was the contractor who performed the repairs licensed and did he or she offer any sort of warranty on the work? Is that warranty transferable to a new owner?
Avoid Putting Sellers on the Defensive
One word of caution: Be careful not to sound like you’re just looking for a problem for the purpose of beating the price down or making trouble. It’s a fine art to ask about these things without putting the seller on the defensive. Once that happens, the deal can go south very quickly.
It’s worth the risk, however, to really know what has gone on and why. So keep your eyes and ears open! Previous repairs and remodels are part of a house's history (if it's more than a few years old), so don’t let your newfound eye for detail turn you away. Just enjoy the process of learning the history of a house.
~Tim Layton, RealEstate.com