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The House Buying Checklist

July 06, 2017 Allison Hess


Buying a new house is exciting but daunting. You’re starting a new chapter in your life, but you’re also tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that new chapter starts out in the right home. A lot of things can go wrong during the house buying process—and even more, can go wrong if you don’t properly inspect the house first.


There’s nothing worse than spending your first night in a home only to discover a significant issue with the structure, electrical, plumbing, or more. You’re stuck paying for the exorbitant bill to fix the problem, while also waiting around even longer to move into your new home.


So what can you do to minimize the risks of buying an “unhealthy” home?


We did some digging and asked a local realtor for some advice on inspecting a home before purchase.


Inspections 101     

The most important part of buying a home (aside from falling in love with it) is the inspection. A good inspector will point out everything he sees wrong with the house, even cosmetic items. He’ll determine the level of condition of the house to help you make a determination if it’s a smart purchasing decision.


But an inspection isn’t always the end-all-be-all of house buying. Some people, like Chip and Joanna Gaines on HGTV’s Fixer Upper, don’t mind a poor inspection review. They flip houses by finding inexpensive homes with some issues, and they make the repairs with the extra money leftover in the budget. Flipping a house is a great way to stay within your budget while also tailoring a home to your needs and wants.


However, there are some things you should never ignore. A thorough inspection is the best way to unearth all of the current and potential problems you would face as the homeowner of this house—whether it’s a fixer upper or not. These issues can be not only costly but dangerous as well.


From A Realtor POV

We asked Karen H. from Weichert Realtors about understanding the house inspection from a buyers’ perspective.


How can you tell if a house has been properly maintained?

If you walk through the house and it’s a mess, you know they don’t take care of their property. You can tell immediately when you walk up the driveway what you are going to find hidden inside. Oftentimes, the landscaping is a telltale sign. For every problem you see, there are two more problems hidden beneath the surface.


I also always look to see if the furnace has been properly maintained and serviced over the years. The furnace and HVAC system is a place where maintenance could easily fall to the wayside. However, disrepair could cause a serious heating, cooling, or gas problem in the future. If the seller maintains their furnace, you can usually feel comfortable that they’ve maintained other areas of the home as well.


What inspection failures would cause you to recommend the buyer walk away?

First and foremost, structural issues. If an inspector comes back saying that the foundation is cracked or there isn’t proper drainage away from the house, it’s an immediate no-sell in my book.


Another large deterrent would be if there is an underground oil tank on the property and the seller refuses to remove it. If the tank has been leaking oil, it could cause a severe contamination problem, which is incredibly expensive to remediate. In that case, I would definitely recommend the buyer walk away.


How do you keep an eye out for “hidden” problems?


An inspector will generally be able to notice signs of an underlying issue. For example, stains on the walls, floors, or ceiling are obvious signs of a water or gas leak that could be exorbitantly expensive to fix (and a safety hazard too).


Take for example the water system. City water comes from various reservoirs owned by a given water company. It’s tested for impurities and toxins before entering the home. Well water, however, is taken directly from rainwater on the property. It’s brought through a natural purification process in the well. However, you’ll often find that ground impurities, like arsenic, lead, and coliform can seep into the well water.


Depending upon the state, the seller is often required to test well water for impurities. If any area comes back high, then the owner has the choice to fix the problem. If they don’t, the buyer should definitely walk away.

Unfortunately, these things can easily slip through the cracks without

a comprehensive inspection.


Basically—test everything.


The House Buying Checklist  

Below we’ve included a basic list that you and your inspector should review to ensure the house is ready for purchase.



  • Drainage away from house
  • No standing water
  • Landscaping in good condition
  • No evidence of termite damage or rotted wood on fences, sheds, decks, railings
  • All driveways, walks, patios, and landings pitched away from house




  • Window and door frames are square
  • Sides of house appear straight
  • No cracks in foundation
  • No dents, damaged, loose, or bowing siding
  • Joints around window and door frames are caulked and secure
  • No broken glass or damaged screens
  • Storm windows or thermal glass is used
  • Drip caps installed
  • Stucco is not cracking or unsealed
  • Additions and expansions are consistent with house



  • No curling or cupping of composition shingles
  • No mold, rot, or decay of wood shingles
  • No shingles are damaged or missing
  • No patches, cracks, blisters, wrinkles in flat roofings
  • No evidence of excess cement, tar, or caulk
  • Vents are clean and painted over
  • No decay or rust on gutters
  • Gutters are secured to structure
  • Chimneys are straight and in good condition



  • No stains on underside of roofing
  • No evidence of damage or decay
  • Sufficient insulation with an installed moisture barrier
  • Adequate ventilation
  • No plumbing, exhaust, or appliance vents that end in attic
  • No electrical splices
  • No open wires



  • All floors, walls, and ceilings are straight
  • No stains on ceilings, walls, floors
  • Lights and switches in working order
  • Adequate number of electrical outlets
  • All electrical outlets work
  • Heating and cooling in all rooms
  • Evidence of wall insulation



  • No damaged masonry
  • No evidence of back-drafting
  • Damper works
  • Flue is cleaned and lined



  • Working exhaust fan over stove/oven
  • Circuit interrupter for electrical outlets near water sources
  • Dishwasher drains properly without leaks
  • No leaking pipes
  • No stains or decay beneath sinks or appliances
  • No deterioration on garbage disposal
  • Proper water flow in sink




  • No stains around toilet, sink, or tub
  • Toilet is stable
  • Proper water flow and drainage in all fixtures
  • Working exhaust fan
  • Plumbing under sink in good condition
  • Caulking is strong inside and outside tub/shower
  • All tiles secure



  • No exposed foundation
  • No evidence of moisture or stains
  • No damage or decay to visible wood
  • Proper insulation




  • No signs of leaks or damage to visible pipes
  • No rust on water heater
  • Water heater vented properly and sized for house size
  • Galvanized pipes allow strong water flow
  • Hot water temp reaches between 118-125 degrees Fahrenheit



  • Service panel has no overheated fuses or breaks with all cables attached
  • No aluminum cable for branch circuits
  • Visible wiring is in good condition and secure




  • No rust around cooling unit
  • Air filters are clean
  • No gas odor
  • No asbestos on pipes or in air ducts
  • Separate flues or ducts for wood/coal vs gas/oil/propane




  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors found throughout house
  • Handrails on all stairs, including decks and patios
  • Garage doors in working order


The Bottom Line

In summary, take note of the general maintenance of your future house. If people aren’t taking care of the visible aspects, they likely aren’t taking care of the invisible ones.


Focus your inspection especially on electrical, plumbing, water, and air quality; problems in these areas are generally the most expensive to repair. If you find structural or drainage issues, always walk away. Moisture and leaks are the leading cause of dry rot, structural damage, and toxic mold—which can do serious damage to your house and your family. Remember that a stain (more than a red wine stain) could mean a serious leak in the house.


You want your next home to be a perfect start to a new journey. Don’t get bogged down with dangerous, financial burdens before you even embark on that voyage. Do a thorough examination, and heed the advice of your realtor and inspector.


This is your house, so make it yours. Learn more about the power of our Home Revolution here. 

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