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Protect Yourself … RED FLAGS When Viewing a Home

Jeff Scott - February 9, 2018

Every Seattle area real estate agent has either had or heard of a home buyer who, after a long search, falls in love with a house and on an emotional reaction overlooks key issues that may cost them the deal. In this hyper-competitive market, the buyer rushes to place an offer after only a cursory tour of the house. Just days later, the buyer learns that the inspection has turned up a lot of pricey and much-needed repairs.

The buyer’s options are to walk away and lose money, proceed with the purchase and swallow the cost of the issues, or try to renegotiate their initial offer on the property. Had the buyer (and their agent) looked a bit closer, it’s possible they might have seen some red flags and proceeded with caution. This article is and should be used as advice only and does not take the place of a good inspection.


Here are some things you can do when touring a house before making an offer:

  1. Cracks: Here on the West Coast, it’s not unusual to see some settling evidenced by a few minor hairline cracks in home’s sheetrock or, in the case of an older house, plaster walls. However, if there are a lot of cracks or large ones, you could be looking at serious foundation issues which can be very expensive to address. Other evidence of problems with the foundation can be doors which stick or uneven floors.
  2. Odors: Some homeowners try to mask problem odors or diminish any dog or cat smells by heavily perfuming a room. However, if the scent is overpowering, it could be a red flag. The owners could be trying to disguise something more serious such as mildew, dampness, or cigarette or cigar smoke. These types of smells can be a sign of mold or water incursion somewhere, and smoker’s odors are notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate.
  3. Maintenance: Does the home look well maintained and in good shape? A poorly maintained house can mean more serious issues lurking beneath a pretty shell. For example, cracked caulking around a bathtub allows water to seep behind the tile which in turn can mean mold and wood rot. Dirty air filters put more stress on an HVAC unit potentially decreasing its lifespan. As you walk through the house, look carefully for any evidence of poor maintenance.
  4. Quality work: Look for evidence of a DIY job. An intrepid homeowner might have undertaken a significant repair job themselves. And, while that’s commendable, it could spell disaster if they completed the work without a permit or proper expertise. This can be a huge red flag if not done to code.
  5. Water: Does the house smell moldy, stuffy, or damp? Any of these can be a sign of mold which is a nasty monster her in the Northwest. Look at the back and bottoms of kitchen and bathroom cabinets and up at ceilings for any evidence of moisture or unusual spotting. Is there a body of water close-by such as a pond or lake which could flood the home? Is there any evidence of standing water near the home’s foundation?
  6. Fresh paint: Newly painted walls can be an enhancement or a camouflage. Look carefully at the condition of walls and moldings for evidence of any sheetrock repair.
  7. Exterior: It’s always a good idea to walk around outside and along the property’s perimeter. Look for cracks in exterior walls and foundation, a roof in need of repair, look at gutters, garage doors, and proper drainage away from the house. Is the landscape well maintained and trimmed? Check the condition of any hardscape, patios, or arbors. What about a fence?
  8. Attics and basements: Peer into any easily accessible attic or basement spaces. How does the insulation look? Any evidence of moisture evidence or unwanted critters? Also, a cursory look at HVAC systems can give you a hint of its age.

Lastly, have a home inspection done if you make an offer! Never purchase a house without having a reputable house inspector doing a thorough check. Even newly constructed Seattle area homes should be inspected.

Nor’West Property Shop has partnered with several inspectors in your area and negotiated a special rate to save you money. (Nor’West Property Shop Contractor List) These are partners we trust and they hold the same ethical standards that we do, but … there are a bunch of really great inspectors available with a simple Google search. Do your homework and check referrals which they should provide.

Find out what to ask when looking for an inspector. (Get the list)

  • All contractors that are “partnered” or “referred” by Nor’West Property Shop are not employees of ours and we can not guarantee their work. Nor’West is not responsible for work performed. Nor’West Property Shop’s role is to provide advice and a collective discount to help the community and does not profit in any way from these referrals.