If you’re new to buying a house or just starting on your home shopping journey, let me tell you the top six things to look for that can cost tons of money to repair or replace. Of course you’ll want to get a professional home inspection, but there are some things you can look out for well before paying for an inspection.
1. How old is the roof? Your Realtor can find that out by looking for roofing permits. Often it is mentioned in the listing description as a selling point if it has been replaced in recent years. The threat of hurricanes makes it imperative to have a good quality roof. Look at the ceilings for any evidence of stains from a leaking roof. If the roof is in need of replacement, an FHA loan won’t fly and homeowners insurance will be at a higher premium until you replace it. Roof replacement costs vary depending on materials used and the size of the house. Figure about an average of $6-10,000 installed.
2. How old is the A/C? Same as above, your Realtor can find out or it should be disclosed by the seller. You can’t live for very long without A/C in Florida, especially in summer. When you replace the A/C you really need to replace both the outside unit and the inside unit. Prices vary with the size of the unit and brand. Some larger houses will need two or more units. Again, you can’t buy a house with a non-working A/C if you’re planning on using an FHA loan. Replacement cost varies by size and brand. Figure about $4-6000 installed per full unit.
3. Is there aluminum wiring? This is something that’s asked on the seller’s disclosure but often sellers don’t even know. Aluminum was used widely in the late ’60s and early ’70s. An inspector will tell you but if there’s any way you can see the wiring, like if there’s a missing switch plate at a light switch or the panel is removed from the electrical panel so you can see the wires, look for the color of the wires. If the wires are silver you have aluminum wiring. If they are brownish you have copper wiring. Many insurance agencies won’t provide insurance on aluminum wiring because it’s a fire hazard. Same with if you have a Federal Pacific electrical box — that needs to be replaced. Replacing electrical boxes is much cheaper than rewiring a whole house. I’ve seen estimates of about $10,000 to rewire a whole house and that doesn’t include the drywall repair and painting needed after holes have been cut in the walls.
4. Are there polybutylene pipes? A quick way to check that is to look at the color of the pipes coming out of the wall under sinks or going to the hot water heater. If they are a light grey in color, chances are good that it’s poly. They tend to leak and thus insurance companies don’t want to cover them. A whole house can be re-plumbed for about $3500.
5. Are there cracks in the walls? Some cracks that are thin are just from normal settling or even just from the quality of paint used. Look for stair step cracks running along the concrete blocks in the walls. A little bit is no big deal but if the cracks are starting to get 1/4 inch or more apart you might have foundation issues. Your inspector will be able to advise whether or not the cracks need further investigation by an engineer specializing in foundation work. If your foundation needs work that could run into a very expensive repair, like $10-20,000. If a sinkhole is to blame, you better pass on that house.
6. Is that mold I smell? When houses sit empty on the market for a while they can take on a weird smell but it doesn’t necessarily smell like mold. A good cleaning can take care of most strange smells, but mold is pretty distinctive and if it’s pervasive you can usually see it. It can be serious health hazard and if mold is known to be present it will likely be disclosed by the seller and listing agent. I’ve even showed houses where we had to sign a waiver to go in it because there was so much mold. Mold can be remedied but, depending on how pervasive it is and what type of mold, the remodeling can be very extensive. I’ve seen homes that were taken down to the studs and everything on the inside had to be replaced. A special mold test needs to be performed to find out what level of remediation needs to be performed.
So, keep these things in mind when you’re house shopping. Of course prices vary, so use the above numbers as a rough estimate. If all the above checks out, the rest is largely cosmetic! If I may be of assistance in showing you houses to buy for yourself or investment, please call me at 407-236-6559.