Home buyers beware – tips to help avoid buying a money pit

Portland metro home

Is this your dream house? Remember to check it out before you buy it

Buying a home is more than an investment, especially for first time home buyers. It’s also a very emotional process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that look and glow in a buyers face as they find “the one.”

Hang on buyers. There’s plenty of time to fall in love with your house, but the first time you see it, before you really look it over is a little too early.

Once you find a house that you really like, it’s time to get your critical eye in gear and really look over the property as a housing inspector would; at least the portions of the house that are easily viewed. Before you spend money you could be throwing away, look for obvious signs of homeowner neglect often due to inadequate funds or concern for maintaining their home properly. 

Here’s what to look for:

  • Roof – The roof should be flat, not wavy or dipping at the edges or elsewhere.

Check for moss accumulation, usually most noticeable on the north exposure. A lot of moss doesn’t mean the roof is bad. It just means it has to be treated before it does damage to the roof.

  • Dry rot – Dry rot can be found on any wood surface, whether exposed to the elements or not 
dry rot in eaves

Dry rot in the eaves

Walk all the way around the house and look for signs of dry rot on support structures, under the eaves, on wood siding, around windows and doors, and literally anywhere you can easily see around the house. This is a fungus that eats into wood caused by excessive moisture in unsealed wood. Dry rot, if caught early enough can sometimes can be treated. But like most fungus, it spreads insidiously. Dry rot in eaves may have spread to the under support of the roof, meaning that even what appears to be a good roof, my not have proper structural support, so the entire roof will need to be replaced.


  • The foundation. It’s not all that unusual to have hairline cracks in the foundation. But if the cracks are bigger than hairline, you could have a foundation issue.
  • Check out the flooring in the house. Do the floors feel level and solid? Walk around as much of the floor space as you can without moving furniture of course. If the floor feels sort of spongy, that’s not a good sign. If you set a ball on the floor and it rolls to one corner, this could be minor settling OR you could have a bigger issue.
  • Exterior paint – is it chipping and falling away? Dry rot can get under a house in need of paint.
  • Gutters – do they appear to be lined up properly? Remember that gutters have to be installed on a slant, or they won’t drain, but where is the drain outlet? Hopefully not right next to the foundation. 
  • Does the ground slope away or towards the foundation? You NEVER want the ground to slope toward the foundation so water runs under the house during heavy rainfalls.

Inside the house – what to check for

  • Turn on faucets, run the shower or bath tub, flush the toilet

            You are checking for good water pressure. Does it seem adequate and normal to                you? Older houses with galvanized metal pipes rust. The rust accumulation slows              water flow, and replacement of these pipes throughout the house can be costly.

  • Windows – do they all open and lock?

            Are they single pane, double pane, wood, vinyl or aluminum framing? If you like                old windows that are wooden framed, and they work well, this isn’t a problem                    except that you are giving up energy efficiency for the look you prefer. That’s                    your choice to make. But be sure to notice.

            Is there mold growing in the window tracks if aluminum or vinyl? This is a sign of              moisture intrusion and poor house keeping. It could also signal that these home                owners have other deferred maintenance – so take a look around.

  • Doors and drawers – do they all open and close properly?

            Go ahead and open cabinets and closets. I know this sometimes feels like                    you’re intruding on someone’s privacy. But you’re also about to make a very                      expensive purchase. 

It’s important to remember that just about any home you look at, even brand new or just remodeled homes can have issues. Once you’ve completed your own comprehensive inspection, it’s time to hire a professional who will climb into the attic and under the house, and presumably knows a whole lot more than the average home buyer about structural integrity. Please don’t skimp here. Most realtors are not nearly as knowledgeable as property inspectors. We won’t climb up on roofs nor under the house. You’d be amazed at what can be seen in those spaces, such as signs of rodent infestation, roofs propped up with 2×2 boards, buckets filled with concrete holding up the foundation, termites, carpenter ants, MOLD, standing water, rotted support structures and so much more. Your inspector will look for anything that could cause problems and COST MONEY.

WAIT – there’s more Appraisers and Insurance Companies

And here’s the other side you perhaps haven’t thought of. If a house has too many obvious issues, your property appraiser will very likely notice as well, and could call out any issues that must be repaired or replaced before your lender will close your loan.

Beyond that, your property insurance agent will very likely send out someone to look over your purchase as well. Most insurers are doing that now, and many will refuse to issue insurance if the roof looks bad for instance, or there are other obvious structural issues.

This article is not meant to scare you. Believe it or not, most homes, unless you’re looking at fixers, will be just fine. This doesn’t mean that there’s nothing wrong. But in most cases, after an inspection your agent and the listing agent will get to work and try to negotiate what repairs you want the seller to repair, and what you are willing to take on yourself. If you’ve fallen in love with the house too early, you could get caught up in the “I can fix it later” syndrome. But when a house is advertised as “move in ready” or just remodeled and really isn’t, it just might be time to walk away. We’ve all heard of money pits.

Your realtor should help you inspect a house. Hopefully you’re working with someone who has some experience. Believe it or not, your realtor is supposed to be on your side, so pay attention please. We’d rather see you walk away than end up in a house you end up hating.

Now, if all the inspections pass, and you still want this house knowing all that could affect the integrity and value of this house – go ahead and close the deal, and now get ready to fall in love with your new house.






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