Seven Ways to Avoid a Property Lemon

A property with structural flaws, electrical defects and a damp basement is every homebuyer’s nightmare, not to mention a money pit. But that’s not all that can go wrong when you buy a new home. Cut down your chances of buying a lemon with these seven top tips.

1. Check the Structure – The only safe way to avoid buying a house that’s almost on its knees is to get a home inspection and pest inspection conducted by a qualified specialist. In the meantime, pay close attention to the structure when you view a property. Cracking in the walls or plaster indicates subsidence, which is one of the most expensive defects to fix. New homes are not immune. Inadequate soil testing and foundations built hastily and without proper grading can cause new homes to crack and fail.

2. Look for Water Damage – When water gets in to a property over a sustained period, you can expect major structural damage. Rust on the roof or guttering, sagging gutters and wall paint that’s bubbling or peeling away from the walls usually indicate a leaking roof. Other signs of water ingress include damp patches, discoloration, rotten skirting boards, peeling wallpaper and the pervasive smell of mold.

3. Inspect the HVAC, Electrical and Plumbing Systems – Rusty pipes and poor water pressure are easy to check: simply turn on the taps and see what comes gushing (trickling) out. Poorly-installed or maintained electrical systems are a fire hazard. Older properties are particularly susceptible, but you should be on the lookout for dodgy wiring in a new home, too. Red flags include blackened areas around power points and flickering lights. Heating and cooling systems are high dollar expenses, so turn them on and check they’re operating properly.

4. Get A Home Warranty – No house is perfect, even new construction homes. So ask the seller to buy a home warranty and write this into the purchase contract. A home warranty pays out if your mechanical or electrical systems malfunction and typically covers the air conditioning, furnace, water heater, plumbing and electrical systems, ductwork and telephone wires.

5. Check Out the Neighbors – A property in good shape can still be a lemon if the neighbors drive you nuts. Who wants to live next door to an all-night party animal, tire-squealing drivers or the guy who parks a dumpster in the yard? Check out the neighbors before you buy. Cruise the neighborhood at night and see what the people on the street are doing. Listen out for barking dogs and late night parties. Store owners are good for local gossip, so ask what they know about the street and the people who live there.

6. Talk to the Municipality – Building permits are required for just about every type of home improvement, from remodeling the garage to adding a deck. Permits obtained over the life of the property indicates that the work was done by a legitimate contractor in compliance with local building codes. Conversely, a property that displays clear signs of improvement, such as new windows, but has no permit, is a red flag. There’s a risk that the work is substandard and will end up costing you money to fix.

7. Verify, Don’t Assume – If you’re moving into an area because you’ve heard it’s peaceful, has great schools, low taxes, low crime rates and so on, do verify these assumptions. Otherwise, you may end up with freeway construction at the bottom of your street or find that your “low” tax bill is topped up heavily by special taxes. Let your agent know your needs and concerns and have her check out crime statistics, county records and key community information. After all, you can fix up a rundown property, but you’re stuck with its location.