7 Things I Regret Not Checking on Before I Bought My First House

published Aug 16, 2020
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House exterior. View of landscape on front yard
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Buying your first house is so darn exciting! Keep an eye out, though—as someone who doesn’t already have experience buying a home, you might overlook some of the smaller things that can really spell trouble down the line

The first house I owned was a renovated summer cottage—and it had so many problems that I didn’t know about until I moved in: faulty wiring, walls insulated with old clothing behind the drywall, a shot well, a finished attic with no ventilation. The previous owners renovated the place themselves and clearly did a budget job. Here are a few things I wished I knew to watch for when making my first home purchase.

From the windows…

Make sure all the windows open and close properly and are in good condition. This is especially important in the wintertime in colder climates. When people tend to keep windows closed all the time, it’s easier to forget to check if they’re functional.

…To the walls

Beware of wallpapered homes. If you don’t want wallpaper, you’ll have to spend a ton of time removing it. Also, be mindful of how high the ceilings are. You may love cathedral-height walls, but it’s going to cost a lot to air condition and heat the space.

And also to the floors

Especially if the home you’re buying is old, check the floors. You want them to be stable without any softness or bounce to them that could indicate a larger problem. The floor might be damaged underneath rugs and furniture as well, so don’t feel bad about asking someone to check or lifting up the edge of a rug yourself.

Water issues

Water damage is sneaky and can show up places you don’t expect—and some sellers try to disguise it.

“A fresh coat of paint can hide a myriad of sins, but most don’t go to the expense of painting the ceilings,” says agent George Case with Warburg Realty. “Look up at the corners and edges where the wall and ceilings meet, and do that in closets as well.”

Also look for water damage under sinks, around radiators, among the plumbing, on wood beams, around gutters, or anywhere else water might cause damage. And then check the water pressure in the sinks, tubs, showers, and hoses to ensure it’s all in working order.

Electrical work

Another possible issue with older homes (and some new ones!) is outdated electrical systems.

“First-time homebuyers often forget to look beyond the decor and surfaces,” says broker Tania Isacoff Friedland with Warburg. “It’s always important to check the electrical panel to make sure the electric has been recently updated.”

Structural problems

That includes the roof, the walls, supporting beams, and the basement. You’ll be checking for cracks, sagging spots, missing shingles, and water leakage around the foundation of the home.

“It’s so important to make sure that your home or apartment is structurally sound and all of the systems in place are in working order,” Isacoff Friedland says. “I always recommend bringing in a trusted home inspector when buying a house to confirm that everything is in working order and the structures are in good shape,” though she notes this isn’t always necessary when someone is purchasing an apartment or condo. An association may be up on that maintenance, so make sure to ask if you can’t check it yourself.

The neighborhood

It’s not in the house, but make sure to check out the surrounding neighborhood. You’ll regret it later if you move into a home that is too far from a grocery store, has exceptionally messy and loud neighbors, or is on a particularly busy street at rush hour.