Three Uncommon Things to Look For When Evaluating a Property During the First Showing

I work with a wide variety of clients everything from first time home buyers to seasoned investors.   One thing seems to get almost all of them excited:  looking at properties for the first time.  

 It amazes me the different approaches people take to looking at a home.  Some people will zip through a house in ten minutes or less.  These individuals are just getting a feel for the home to ensure it fits the ambiance they desire in a home.   I have other buyers who take their time to go through each room in the house, looking at everything very carefully to make sure it is the right fit for them.   Investors are especially careful to take their time looking over all the possible aspects of what might be a money pit for them in the future.   Some buyers will ask me for all the details as we walk into the home while others will only ask me as refresher to the data I already sent them.   HGTV lovers expect me to give them the guided tour as you see on House Hunters.    Some buyers don’t want me around at all so I have to keep my distance but be within ear  and eye shot if they should need something from me.    I have found that almost all buyers, regardless of their intentions, will try to figure out the current owners of the place, especially when it comes to the owner’s intended use of a color or purpose of a room.   In the end, no two buyers approach evaluating a property the same way.  

Here are three uncommon things to look for when evaluating a property during the first showing.   Please note that I am not a contractor/inspector/appraiser, nor claim to play one on TV, so this advice is based on my experience in reviewing hundreds of homes.   

1.  Closed Doors – At times when I am evaluating a property with clients,  I come across rooms with their doors closed.  I learned that you need to knock before entering the room as there might be someone there, which is always discerning to to find someone when you thought the house was empty.   If the room is not occupied, the next thought that pops into my head is why did the seller close this door.  I always say, “I wonder what the seller was hiding,” which is usually enough to get my buyers to look more closely at the room.   Some sellers do not want buyers to spend a lot of time in the room due to possible issues with it, or they are hiding things from you in terms of clutter.   A lot of clutter to me indicates the person probably didn’t have the discipline necessary to maintain the property, which means you need to look more closely at the rest of the house.   Hidden defects in the room might be wall cracks or messed up floors or paint.   Finally, you have to figure out if the seller closed the door or did it close on its own.  If you open it back up and then it closes on its own, then you have to worry about foundation issues.   

2.  Fresh Paint – People who know me know that I always tell people that a fresh coat of paint, a solid flooring situation and a properly priced property will most likely get you a buyer.   However, some fresh paint patches can be a mask for something more sinister underneath.   If the paint patch is on the ceiling, was there a leak at one time in the house.  If so, was this leak fixed or was the paint applied to just cover up the water stain.   Ceiling in Kitchens can also have paint patches to cover up burns or fires that might have occurred in the kitchen.    I showed a house recently where you could tell that they tried to cover up something in the kitchen ceiling.   We didn’t see any other signs of a fire so we guessed by the remaining marks that it was most likely dried up food that had made its way to the kitchen ceiling.   If you have a paint patch on a wall, then it might be that the foundation shifted and it was the seller’s attempt at hiding the problem.   Some of the patch jobs are done well enough that it is difficult to tell what the intentions of the seller were.  However, there are others where you can clearly see that the owner was just trying to hide some wall issues due to a foundation shift.   External paint patches can be paint hiding a fire or a foundation shift.  I do want to emphasis that sometimes a paint patch is just a quick fix for a minor cosmetic fix.  However, if they do exist in the house, I would recommend asking the inspector to check it out for you during the option period. 

3.  Water Heater, HVAC, electrical panel, etc.   I have learned quite a bit about evaluating a property from watching investors go to work on it.   Of course, investors are like any other house hunter.  Each one has a different technique or main focus of concern when it comes to a house.   Almost all of them, myself included, however, will do a careful review of the major systems in the house.  If you look at enough homes, you will know enough to know when something does not look right.   You want to find the water heater to see if it is in good repair.  Hot water heaters are not the most expensive thing in the house, but are not cheap either.  You don’t want a water heater that looks old and lost its ability to heat the water.   A drain pan is also a good thing to look for when looking at the hot water heater.  If there is no drain pan, what will be damaged if the hot water heater springs a leak.   HVAC systems can run into the ten of the thousands of dollars.  If the equipment looks old and ready to be retired, it might be a good thing to ask your inspector about it.    Electrical panels in older houses will often be out of code compliance.   Does the electrical panel look like it has enough circuits to run a modern day home with a high demand for power?   If it is outdated, what will it cost to get it fixed?    You need to look for cracks in the walls and in the ceilings as well as outside.  If you see some, has the foundation shifted enough to cause cracks.   Roofs should be without rolling hills and show healthy looking shingles.  If something looks off, make sure to alert your inspector.    In the end, if you check out all these major systems from the get go, you know whether you want the house and if you do, what to tell the inspector to check out for you. 

In summary, there are three uncommon things you can look for while evaluating a property.  First, you need to see how the doors are behaving and if closed ones are hiding something about the room.   Did the fresh paint get put on the walls/ceiling to make it look fresh or was it to cover up a defect?   Finally, it is always a good idea to check out the major systems to see if something looks off to you and make sure to alert your inspector of the things that you see. .