How Being an “Appliance Detective” Can Save You Thousands of Dollars on a House

published Apr 5, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

When touring a home you might want to buy, picture yourself as a private investigator sleuthing around and looking for clues that’ll help you decide whether it’s the right fit for you. After all, the house can’t talk, but you can unlock some of its mysteries by looking in closets, turning on faucets, and flipping on light switches.

And when it comes to the home’s appliances, you should take that Sherlock Holmes-esque approach even further, according to real estate agents. 

“Be an appliance detective,” says Chris Haro, a real estate agent in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

OK, so you don’t actually need to wear a tan trench coat, puff on a pipe, and break out your magnifying glass at the next home showing you attend. But as a routine practice, you should snoop around and look very closely at the labels and other information you can find on the home’s appliances, particularly the big-ticket units and systems, during your tour. 

Haro recommends snapping a quick photo on your phone of each appliance’s brand, model, and serial number. Then, either on the spot during the tour or later when you get home, search for each appliance’s information online.

Typically, you’ll be able to find a wealth of information about the appliance’s age, any existing product recalls, and common complaints or issues other homeowners have had. (Some appliances even have a manufacturing date printed right on the label, too.)

This easy step could save you thousands of dollars — or, at the very least, can give you a more accurate, big-picture understanding of what the house really costs. Though prices vary, hot water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners, and even refrigerators can easily cost several thousand dollars to replace (not to mention the time and stress involved when they die!).

“An aging microwave might not be a big concern, but if the air conditioner, water heater, or fridge is on borrowed time, it could add thousands to your costs,” Haro says. “Better to know as much as possible up front. At the very least, this basic information will allow you to make a more informed offer. It might even help you avoid thousands of dollars in potential replacement costs.”

Each type of appliance has its own average lifespan — and it’s true that some last much longer than expected, especially if they’ve been properly serviced and maintained. But if the home has older appliances, ask yourself if you’re prepared for the worst-case scenario: What happens if they die shortly after you move in?

If you learn that the home’s hot water heater is very old, for example, you might research local hot water heater replacement costs, then put in a lower offer to account for this future expense.

Or, if you simply don’t want to deal with the hassle of replacing appliances, you might decide not to put in an offer on the house at all. If you reach this conclusion before ordering the home inspection, you’ll save yourself the inspection fee, which ranges from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000. 

Either way, you’ll have cracked the case of the home’s appliances, which can help you make a savvy purchasing decision, start saving for new appliances, or avoid any unexpected surprises after you move into the home. 

“If an appliance is older than 10 years old, you should budget for its replacement,” says Geordie Romer, a real estate broker in Wenatchee, Washington. “It might last much longer, but Murphy’s Law usually says that at least one older appliance will die within your first week in the new house.”