Four Red Flags to Watch Out for When Buying a House

Look beyond the white picket fence and be sure to ask hard-hitting questions.

There's plenty to look out for when you're shopping for a new home. You not only want to make sure the space can meet all of your family's needs, but you'll also want to be sure that there aren't any hidden expenses or surprises that will pop up after you have signed the bottom line. Here, two real estate professionals share several red flags to watch out for on your house hunt.

home with white picket fence
Getty / Amy Newton-McConnel

Lead in Paint and Pipes

You already know to ask about mold, but did you know there are other unseen issues that could be just as concerning? Asbestos and lead are two other major deal-breakers and both come with costly fixes down the line, says Rachel Lustbader, a broker with Warburg Realty. "Lead poisoning can affect the development of young children's brains and nervous systems," she explains. "And if it is in the pipes, you can't drink the water. You either have to replace the pipes (which could extend to the main pipe under the street) or filter the water." And asbestos? It's a carcinogen. "If you undertake a renovation that involves removing pipes that have asbestos in them, unless that is handled properly, the asbestos spreads," she adds.

Outdated Essentials

Perhaps you have found a home that is in reasonably good shape, but it hasn't been updated in some time. This could pose problems beyond aesthetics—beware the hidden expenses that come along with getting your new home up to current electrical and structural (in addition to style) standards. "I would look at the windows and determine their age and whether they're upgraded thermal-paned windows," Lustbader says. Other expensive updates include HVAC systems, kitchen and bathroom upgrades, and roof replacement.

Messy Spaces

A house that has not been well cared for is typically full of issues. "Unless you are planning a full gut, another red flag is if the house is in disarray and looks neglected. This usually means that things are either broken or will break soon, and that hidden repair costs are around the corner," says Allison Chiaramonte, another real estate agent with Warburg Realty.

Noise Levels

In addition to looking out for problem areas inside the house, Chiaramonte says you need to keep an eye out for red flags in the neighborhood, as well. Proximity to train tracks, airports, and landscaping centers can create extra noise and traffic around the home. "Even if it's quiet when you visit, you need to proceed with caution," she says. "Without spending 24 hours at the property to see if you can handle the noise or disruption, you can't be sure that the home is worth the money."

Bring in Your Own Experts

If you notice any of these concerns, Chiaramonte says you need to be prepared to press your agent and ask difficult questions. "Don't accept half answers or 'I don't knows,' and if that is the best you can get, bring in your own experts—whether it's a home inspector, mold expert, or plumber," she says. "The cost for the visit is a wise investment if you are serious about a purchase, as it can save you lots of money and headaches down the road."

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