What I'm Seeing Now


Buyer Red Flags - At the First Look-see - Part 1 of 3

You probably aren't a professional home inspector.  But realty agents, buyers and investors should always be critically looking at houses before any final decisions are made and an offer extended.  They have to.  Can I suggest that during these "inspections" you employ some common sense?

Here are some things realtors and buyers can do before they hire a home inspector to look at the home someone wants to buy.  They are not listed in any particular order, but any or all could be important during your house search.  I am going to list many Red Flags in three different blog posts that could indicate house distress.

What is a Red Flag?  It is any visual sign or indication of a defect in structure or property.  Certain visual signs may or may not indicate a problem.  If observed in multiple numbers, especially in the same approximate locations, many indicators can point to a Red Flag condition.  A rule of thumb - the newer the property, the redder the flag!

These Red Flags won't be listed in any particular order, but any or all could be important during the house search. Some defects may be small but many of them add up. Others could be expensive to repair.  The first few are as follows:

  • Brown stains on ceilings and walls.  You would think that a seller would repair, prime and paint such things, but many don't.  A brown stain is mostly indicative of leaks.  When?  Don't be afraid to ask the history of such things.  If the seller says they don't know, that is a Red Flag!
  • Brown stains on foundation walls.  The same applies here as was said above.  On a foundation wall, such stains indicate ongoing moisture.
  • Warped hardwood floors - especially near exterior doors.  This also indicates water.  Warping is not repairable.  The flooring must be replaced, AFTER the problem is solved.
  • A moldy smell.  Your nose is your best mold detector.  Employ it!  Mold is not the original problem - it is a symptom of moisture.  Look around, see if you can tell where the wet is coming from.
  • Poor grading.  Water is THE killer of houses, inside and out.  Houses don't make very effective boats.  Exterior water should not be encouraged to surround the foundation.  Look for grading, downspouts or landscaping that encourages water away from the house, especially if the front or back yards slope toward the house.
  • Chipping paint around windows.  Sound small?  It might not be, especially if it is happening on lots of windows.  Water is getting into the wood.  Why?  Poor product or installation?  Amateur work?  How far has the water gone?  Has it progressed into the house structure?  Amateur work here could mean amateur work there...

My recommendation:  make a list.  Ask questions of the seller, if possible.  Be proactive.  Call somebody.  Many realtors call me from houses when they have questions, on the spot!  I encourage that and cheerfully provide answers if I can.  (A Scout is cheerful, so the Scoutmaster BETTER be...)  My realtor and investor clients use me as their consultant in their pockets.  Feel free to call too!



Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560


Comment balloon 4 commentsJay Markanich • November 08 2008 04:25AM


Thanks Jay. I try to look for the obvious when a cleint is serious about an offer.


Charlotte NC

Posted by Rich Ferretti, ABR QSC Realtor/Broker, Charlotte NC Real Estate a (Rich Ferretti Real Estate) about 12 years ago

You bet.  Though the grading issue is one that everyone has...,it must be engraved in every report that every home inspector writes because homeowners never understand that water....from the plugged gutters, the roof, foundation...wherever it is, is the home's biggest enemy.

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Real Estate Agents - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) about 12 years ago

This is good information for both buyers and sellers.  Unfortunately, unless the seller is willing to disclose past leaks, they are afraid to "cover up" or paint over these areas.  There are many brokers out there who would prefer that the home inspector determine whether a leak is continuing and then soothe the irritated buyer to say "there's no further evidence of leakage there, so your buyer could just paint it over themselves - - no big issue".  I'm not sure if this is being done to protect the listing agent from liability over undisclosed defects or laziness on the part of the seller - but in today's market, homes need to be in move-in condition.  We always suggest that our sellers have their home pre-inspected and correct ALL items mentioned by the home inspector.  Anything else brought up by the buyer's inspector can then usually be deflected.

One of my favorite questions to ask home inspectors BEFORE they present their report to the client is "before you go over the detail, answer this one question...Would you allow your grandmother to live here?"  After that, it puts all of the issues in perspective.

Posted by Martin Kalisker, Professional Standards & Legal Assistant (Greater Boston Association of REALTORS) about 12 years ago

Rich - some things are obvious, some aren't.  Professional eyes help.  My kids hate driving through neighborhoods with me because I critique houses as we go -- that house has a drainage problem in the basement, that house has poor venting through the roof, etc.  "C'mon, Dad, can't you just drive?!"  More things to look for to come...

Sally and David - yes!  Grading is a biggie. Two inspections just today had grading problems which proved active when we got inside...

Martin - Your question is a good one!  I anticipate it and fire a pre-emptive strike to the client!  I often use my mother at the end of the inspection.   Sometimes, if the buyer is a young, single lady, I use my daughter. 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 12 years ago

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