The Glaring Red Flag That Signals a House Was Hurriedly Flipped

published Jun 1, 2023
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“I could move right in!” 

If you’ve spent the past few years touring overpriced homes in need of far more than a fresh coat of paint, that this-needs-no-work feeling is like a weight lifting off your shoulders. 

But if there’s any indication that the home was a flip, rather than a house renovated by buyers that actually lived in the space, you need to pull out the fine-tooth comb before you decide to commit. Hopefully, a home inspector will catch many of the warning signs, but there’s one red flag that could be hiding in plain sight. All you have to do to find it is look down. 

Cracked tile. It seems innocuous. Just a quick fix, right?

Not so fast. Cracked tile could be a sign of much larger problems looming. Those problems could lead to water leakage or they could be a sign of the scariest of possibilities: foundation and plumbing issues. So before you fall for that fancy flip, here are three signs to look for when you catch a glimpse of that shiny new — and cracked — tile.

Look for signs of a rushed job.

In addition to cracked tiles, look for anything that suggests poor tile installation. Contractor Zach Rockhill, who founded Hatchet Design Build, suggests looking for tiles without a consistent layout or that terminate the pattern at odd or inconsistent dimensions. 

“Hurried craftspeople will sometimes start in one corner with tile and arrive wherever they arrive on the far side.” He says they might not use the correct spacers during install and won’t set the project up to keep the tile consistently flat to the installation surface, creating odd grout lines. “Hazing on the tile, poor application of the grout, and inconsistent application that’s thick here, thin there, all suggest a rush job,” adds Rockhill.

Not only does this look bad (thankfully it’s quickly noticeable, even to a non-expert!) but it also likely suggests the contractors rushed elsewhere. Poor craftsmanship is rarely limited to one space and a cracked tile suggests the contractor knew they’d made a mistake and simply moved on rather than addressing it.

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Be wary of an incorrectly installed subfloor.

Below your tile is another floor: the subfloor. In bathrooms, it’s critical that this subfloor is installed correctly and with the proper waterproofing in place to keep water from seeping through. An incorrectly installed subfloor could mean the floor has more or less give than it should, which is what’s causing the tile to crack.

Nathan Outlaw, president of Onvico, Inc., a general contracting company, warns: “Poorly installed tile may have fail points within the waterproofing behind the tile. If a setter doesn’t care about the finished look they probably don’t care about the waterproofing behind it.”

As a new homeowner, you don’t want the floors and walls behind your tiles to be damp.

“Cracked tile is a worrisome sign that the substrate has possibly disintegrated, such as greenboard [drywall] becoming water-logged,” says Thomas Borcherding, an NKBA-Certified kitchen and bath designer. “It’s also possible that the tile was adhered to plywood or concrete, which sucks out the moisture from the thinset and can leave cavities that cause cracking.”

Watch out for settling. 

Settling in a house is normal and, typically, isn’t a reason for major concern — if the contractor knew to account for it. However, Daniel Rahm, owner of ATX Kitchen Remodeling, warns that cracked tile is a sign that there could be some serious plumbing or foundation issues lurking beneath the surface, causing the tile to unevenly expand and contract. 

“Those cracked tiles could be telling us that there’s some serious shifting or settling happening underneath, which can lead to even bigger problems down the road. Trust me, you’ll want to get a professional inspection before you consider buying that place,” recommends Rahm.