How to Tell if a House Has Good Bones, According to a Home Renovation Expert

published Jan 1, 2022
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Credit: Samara Vise

Though a house may be old or outdated, it could still have “good bones” — a phrase that’s often used to indicate a high level of quality and craftsmanship under the surface. And if you’re in the market for a home — especially one that you plan to renovate — knowing how to identify when a home has good bones (or not!) can mean the difference between a smart purchase decision and a money pit.

To find out what homebuyers should look out for when sussing out a potential fixer-upper, I asked home renovation expert and Legrand brand ambassador, Chip Wade

Check out the condition of the foundational elements

The roof and foundation are the most important parts of any home. These are the things that should stand the test of time (and will cost a pretty penny if they don’t). “If the roof is in poor repair, it could be a sign of more hidden damage inside that can cascade all the way through to the foundation,” says Wade.

He also recommends investigating the property for structural decay. “This means looking at the foundation and framing in any exposed areas for termite and water damage. You can also check all the window sashes for decay. Flashing details above the windows are one of the biggest culprits in water leaks.”

Layout is key if you’re planning to renovate

“The way the home is built, number of floors, and size of rooms can affect how expensive it will be to change the layout,” says Wade. “Typically ranch-style homes are the most cost-effective if you want to open up the floor plans.”  

In addition, homebuyers should pay special attention to the placement of the bathrooms and kitchen, as it can be challenging to move plumbing and electrical infrastructure. 

Ask the right questions

Of course, there’s only so much you can tell about a home by looking at it. That’s why it’s important to ask questions. “The age in which the home was built or renovated can give you insight into some of the materials that were used and possible recalls or shortcomings,” says Wade. For instance, older buildings constructed before the 1980s might contain asbestos in the cement, drywall, plaster, roofing, and paint. 

Buyers should also ask about the home’s mechanical systems and whether things like air conditioning, ventilation, and water and electrical systems are updated and in working order. 

Bring in a professional

“Similar to our human bodies, a house can have its own hidden forms of osteoporosis that aren’t always so obvious. While there are some basic checkpoints to look for, it is very much advised to bring in a professional to review and inspect the house,” says Wade. He recommends bringing in a home inspector, as well as a licensed electrician prior to making a financial commitment. “In most municipalities, any permitted work will require you to bring your entire electrical system up to code. This can be very costly if it catches you off guard.”