What to Look at Before you Make an Offer
by Brian Saylor of Saylor’s Home Inspection
Raleigh is a great place to live. I have been here for fifty years and am still enjoying it. During all that time, I have only sold one house. For most people, making an offer and buying a house is the biggest purchase we will ever make and one that we have very little experience in doing.
Currently, the Raleigh market is experiencing a massive surge of new homes and master-plan communities, but there’s a lack of sufficient “used” homes to meet the growing population and relocation demand. There are advantages and disadvantages for both that we’ll discuss.
New homes can be built to your specific tastes and come with a warranty, but, they are often times a little farther away from the amenities that we have come to expect. Used homes can be found anywhere within the Raleigh area and can have a lot of services close by; but, with age there can arise costly issues that need to be addressed.
A current trend in the Raleigh market, caused by the low inventory of used homes, is that sellers are requiring ever increasing amounts of due diligence deposits to remove their home from the market. Homes that are desirable are being put under contract within days of listing. The buyer, then, may have only walked through the home once or twice before having to make an offer on possibly the largest purchase of their lives. Since due diligence deposits are nonrefundable and must accompany the contract at the start of the transaction, you want to make sure that this is the house for you.
So with very little time on the property, you are being asked to give a large sum of money to the seller to accept your offer before you have had a chance to have the home inspected.
While that may sound extremely worrisome, there are many things a home buyer can do during a quick, one hour showing to lessen the risk of having a major defect show up later. With limited time and permission, you will have to limit your inspection to only what you can see without the use of ladders or tools, but many issues can still be observed.
Let’s identify possible issues with the outside of a home. How does the lot deal with water? The grading should direct all water away for the house. What about the roof? The roof should be flat, no dips, all of the shingles should be in place and not raised or puckered. If you have a pair of binoculars use them; we do! Some pipes extend through a roof, so you’ll need to look at the way they are sealed. They should also not be raised to prevent water from entering the house.
When still analyzing the roof, take a look at the trim boards. They are easily visible and often show signs of water damage if there is a problem with the roof drainage. Are there gutters? Are they full of leaves? Do they show signs of overflowing? Do they sag or have dips? How and where is the water being directed away from the house? These are all crucial questions you’ll wat to remember to avoid costly repairs should your contract be successful all the way to closing.
All houses are built on some type of foundation. The foundation should be visibly higher than the ground; walk around the house, is the land soggy? Further look at the foundation for any cracks or dips. Replacing or adjusting a foundation is often the most expensive repair a homeowner can do, so you’ll want to look at it closely!
Decks require a little more knowledge to determine suitability, but you can mainly look at the rails and flooring. Are there hand rails? Are they lose? What is the shape of the decking? Are the deck boards cracked and dried out? Does the deck bounce when you walk on it? Are nails sticking out? These are key details that may indicate the deck needs some repairs.
To continue observing the exterior of the home, you can move to looking at the walls. Are they actually vertical, or are there waves and buckles in the siding? Do the bottom edges of the siding board look uniform? Are they swollen? If the home has brick or stone fascia, look for small holes at floor level (called weep holes). These are important for ventilation and drainage.
Next, look at the outside A/C unit. Does it have any rust on the outside case? Is the pad resting relatively leveled and supported? Looking through the grate on the top, is the coil filled with leaves and pine straw, or has it been cleaned out? Do the pipes leading into the house appear to be in good shape? Is the insulation intact? If you’d like to know how old the unit is, you can find the serial number and input it into the following link, as most units’ age can be determined through the serial number:
My next suggestion while you are outside would be to look at the crawl space if the house has one. I know what you’re probably saying, “I am not going in there!” But, here’s the deal, you don’t have to. Sure, if you want to, go for it, I do it all the time. But, at least open the door to the crawl space. Have a good flash light with you and peer inside. First look at the ground, it should have plastic down as a vapor barrier. Does it look like it has been wet, either on top or underneath? There should be insulation in between the joists as well. If the insulation is falling down or looks like it’s having a bad hair day, it could be an indication of water problems. Do the joists and beams look in good shape?
Age of boards in a crawl space is one thing but wet, rotten, black, or moldy boards are of major concern. Look at the walls as well. Do you see any issues with water; do the walls seem to reflect the light? Do you see mud tubes going from the ground up the walls? Oftentimes, you have piers inside the crawl space that support the beams; are they straight and are the beams resting on them?
Sometimes you may have major appliances or appliance connections located in the crawl space and, for convenience, they are often near the opening. While you will not be able to test the function of these appliances or their connections, you can get a general feel for their condition. They should be elevated off the ground and show no signs of rust. If accessible, the age of the hot water heater can also typically be determined by their model number.
Looking at the outside of the house, water damage and runoff is the primary issue of most concern. These tips are not meant to replace an official Home Inspection, but to give you some tools to save money in the long run. We hope you can use these tips to look at a house objectively and effectively, prior to making an offer and likely the biggest purchase of your life.
Featured image found on FortuneBuilders.com