How to Look at a House that is For Sale – Part 2 of 3

A quick look at the first floor doesn’t hurt to see if you want to consider the property further, but my thought process is that it’s best to head for the basement at first opportunity. I think people buy houses with mechanical and/or structural difficulties because they fall in love with the layout and the decorating and in their minds they minimize major problems existing in the lower level that at the time seem less important. I would recommend a scan of the exterior using the checklist I provided in the last article followed by a brief review of the foundation and mechanics in the lower level. When this has been completed, then it’s time to fall in love with the layout and the decorating.

As you walk down the basement stairs tune in all of your senses especially smell and touch. Do you get a damp feeling on your skin or is there a musty odor? Turn every light on that you can find. Begin your examination by looking at all of the walls. If there is paneling or finished walls, find a spot where there is exposed concrete or block foundation.  If you don’t find an inch of actual foundation material to look at, beware – someone could have been trying to conceal something.  If you find horizontal cracking in a block foundation at what would be exterior grade level, this may be cause to move on to the next property. This is a sure sign of movement in the foundation that is expensive to repair. Some folks can deal with repairs like these but for many, this condition or excessive heaving in the basement floor will be a “walk away” factor. In the same breath, I need to tell you that floor to ceiling vertical cracking in poured concrete foundations are fairly common and quite fixable. …not cheap, perhaps $600. to $900. per crack, but not a walk away if you like the rest of the house. Look for staining or buckling near the floor in finished areas or silt residue or water marks on concrete floors to determine if there has been any recurrent standing water over the years.  The bottom line when it comes to basements is developing a sense of smell to differentiate wet from dry.

A few more items to review before going upstairs: Does the furnace look newer or older? The smaller it is usually means the newer it is. Does it look like it has been cleaned on a regular basis? Are there 5 or 10 years of cobwebs or dirt on the furnace and/or hot water tank? Are there tags telling the age? What about the electrical? Are there circuit breakers or fuses? It’s important to note that some older circuit breaker panels, in particular A Federal Pacific product called Stab Lok has come under increased scrutiny due to difficulties others have had with breakers not functioning properly. If you seen a nice clean electrical panel that is fully labeled, this tells you that this property has been owned by an individual who was detail oriented and cared about the property.  This is a strong sign of a property that has been cared for.   Last item before we go upstairs – Is the plumbing copper or galvanized?  If there is galvanized pipe in place, start at the water meter near the pipe where the water comes in the house and visually follow the pipe through the basement.  Are there any junctions or spots on the pipe that are oozing a brown material that looks like it shouldn’t be there? After you go upstairs, it’s a good idea to do a pressure test – particularly on the second floor. Turn on the sink and the tub and then flush the toilet. Does the water pressure stay constant or does it slow down considerably? This is an easy test to perform that will tell you a lot.

Stay tuned  or subscribe to the blog as Part 3 will be published quite soon.