Things You Might Not Think to Look For When Touring a House

What are the most important things you must do before buying a house? Being informed when you make a huge financial decision (such as buying a house) is greatly important. Take the time to educate yourself about what you are getting into before you commit to buying a property. Doing these things before you buy your new home will lead to a smooth transaction and a great first-time home ownership experience.

The most important thing is knowing what to look for when you’re touring a home. There’s a lot to see, and it can be easy to get distracted by little cosmetic things and totally miss a safety issue or a habitability issue, like mold or leaky pipes. You must have a strategy that helps you properly determine whether a home is a good fit for you. If you’re already touring a property, it’s safe to assume that you like the location, price, and bedroom / bathroom count – so what should (or shouldn’t) you look for and take into account when you tour a potential new home for the very first time?

You should look at…

The Exterior

Don’t forget to walk around the entire property on the outside. Pay attention to the condition of the roof and siding. Ask when the roof was last updated. Does the landscaping look like it will cost a lot of money and time to upkeep? If you don’t want to hire a gardener or do it yourself, how expensive would it be to remove the landscaping? Is there adequate parking space on the property? Do the doors and windows look secure? These are all important questions to ask.


Sometimes, it’s best to rely on our senses when touring a home. Your nose can often help just as much as your eyes when touring. Can you smell gas, mold, or mildew? The smell of mold is that of wet socks, while mildew tends to give off a musty odor. Gas will smell like rotten eggs. What about cigarette or pet smells? These may seem trivial, but these odors can cling to the walls and ceiling of a home, meaning that even if no one else in your house smokes, your guests might think you do! Fragrances used to mask these odors will be heavily perfumed, like candles or air fresheners, so if you smell an overwhelming scent of freesia or cinnamon, the current home owners may be trying to cover something up.

Wall and Floor Conditions

Look for warped wood floors, cracks in the ceilings, water marks, and dips in the floor. These can all be things that are indicative of bigger issues. Typically, hairline cracks that are bigger than 1/8 of an inch are okay, especially if they are running vertically. Cracks of any size that are running horizontally are not good, ever. These typically occur when a home’s foundation settles and are most often found around windows and doors. A warped floor can mean a myriad of issues from rotting wood to termites. Water damage can also wreak havoc on a home. Look for stains or bubbling on walls or ceilings, baseboards buckling, or pungent smells.

Integrated Fixtures and Systems

Sure, you can change the showerheads or the sink faucets if you don’t like them, but you’re stuck with your HVAC. Issues with integrated features can be big trouble. Look for issues in the electrical wiring, cooling systems, and heating systems. Check for exposed or eroded wires, HVAC systems with leaky ventilation, or leaking water heaters. Warm or vibrating outlets or flickering lights can be indications of issues with electrical wiring. If you turn on a faucet and see orange or brown water, the pipes are rusty. An AC unit that squeals needs replaced, and a faint gas smell in a room other than the kitchen can indicate a water heater with a compromised gas valve.

Unpermitted Additions

So you get to the house you intend to tour and find out that there’s one more bathroom than you originally thought. Cool, right? Not so fast. Before you celebrate, make sure that extra room is permitted. In addition to being a safety concern if not constructed properly, it can also be a financial concern. If you buy a house with unpermitted additions, you will be the one who gets hit with fines from the city (as well as the costs associated with getting the work permitted or removed). Look for converted garages, rooms with lower roof lines, or freestanding guest houses. A permit is required to remodel if the remodel includes adding or removing walls, making changes to plumbing or electrical, or adding a window.

Lawn Condition

Sure, everyone wants a lush, green yard, and a few yellow spots are okay – but when do they become a problem? Sometimes these spots are caused by fungal diseases in your grass. While not necessarily hazardous, the longer it goes untreated, the harder it will be to fix. Neglecting a fungal issue in a lawn can also bring about various pest infestations. Also check for inexplicably wet, soggy spots in the yard, especially if they’re accompanied by a foul odor. This could indicate a damaged or broken sewer line.

There are also some things you don’t need to worry about as much when you’re touring a home. If you can change it quickly and relatively cheaply by yourself, and it’s not a safety hazard, you can look over it for now and deal with it later.

Examples of things you don’t need to consider during a home tour are…

Furniture and Décor

Typically this will be the first thing you see when you enter a home. Sometimes it will vary greatly from your own personal style, but this is okay. Almost all of the time, when the current owner leaves, so to will their furniture. Don’t focus too much on these elements. They are not permanent. Try to envision the home with your furniture and décor inside, and use that to determine whether or not this is the home for you and your family.

Wall and Floor Treatments

So you hate the back door’s blinds – that’s okay! You can replace them later. You can paint over the garish lime green color in the living room, and you can also re-carpet the basement. These are some of the cheapest and easiest upgrades you can make to a home. Removing or replacing these things may cost a little money and professional assistance, but they’re all still fairly simple and low cost. Changing these small details is what will really make the home your own, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find some great hardwood floors under that carpeting in the dining room.

Small Fixtures

Cabinet doors, ceiling fans, microwaves, or chandeliers… What do all of these things have in common? They can very easily be replaced! These elements are simply cosmetic. They do not impact the safety or habitability of the home. Sellers are typically aware that these features are outdated, too, and will often take that into account when pricing their homes. Don’t worry about the little things – make the house your own later!

Bathroom or Kitchen Design

Is the bathroom off of the master bedroom smaller than you had hoped? Is the kitchen too large? If the amenities of your new home leave something to be desired, don’t worry. Take a minute to consider it. If you like everything else about the home but one room, are you willing to pass on the entire house instead of just updating the room to your liking? You can also increase your home’s resale value by updating these rooms. Just include the cost of remodeling the rooms into your listing price when you decide to sell the home in the future.

No Fence in the Yard

This one is easy. If there isn’t one, and you want one, build one! If there is one, and you don’t want one, get rid of it. If you have pets or small children, this may be pretty high on your list of “must haves”, but if the rest of the house is perfect except for the absence of the fence, buy the house and add the fence yourself! It’s a relatively inexpensive upgrade to your landscaping and in many areas you don’t even need a permit to put one up. However, you should still check with your HOA or your city regarding permit requirements, just in case, as well as height and setback restrictions.

Unless you are designing the home yourself and building it from the ground up, the chances of finding one that fit your wants and needs exactly are very slim. You must maintain a healthy amount of perspective during a home tour, and weigh your wants and needs properly. This can go a long way towards making sound decisions about this important financial investment.

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