12 Warning Signs You Shouldn't Buy That House You're Looking At

INVESTING - REAL ESTATE INVESTING
Keep an eye out for these issues that could turn your dream home into a money pit.
Updated April 3, 2023
female realtor showing couple interested in buying around house

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It can be challenging to find the perfect house for your particular needs. Sometimes you have to make compromises or prioritize certain wants and needs over others.

Even if you find the ideal home, there can be red flags that you shouldn’t ignore. If something doesn’t feel right when you start digging into the details of a potential house, it may be a good idea to consider other options.

The next time you go to a showing or open house, keep an eye out for issues that may be a sign you should walk away. 

Spotting these warning signs can keep you from wasting a lot of money on the wrong home.

It’s in a bad location

mozhjeralena/Adobe American suburban neighborhood

Consider where a home is located and factor in things like how long your commute may be to work, or the distance to amenities like shops and restaurants.

Also, check on issues such as crime in the area, or the rating that the local school district earns. You can change paint or even renovate a home, but you can’t move it to a better location.

Every room is a project

hanohiki/Adobe apartment renovation

You may like almost everything about a house, but want to gut the kitchen or redo the bathrooms. That's OK.

But it can become a daunting project if every room in your potential new home needs to be changed in ways both big and small.

For those interested in a project house, this can be a great opportunity. But the situation is better to avoid it if you’re not up to putting in the work everywhere.

There are mold issues

andrei310/Adobe mold in the corner of the plastic windows

Be cautious if you see anything that looks like mold and factor in how much it might cost in mold abatement to get the issue solved.

A home may have some issues that are easy to fix, but mold isn't one of them.

The house has foundation problems

karagrubis/Adobe Zig zag concrete foundation on a home being built

Problems with the foundation of the home present another big-ticket fix. It can be a daunting project for even seasoned homeowners.

So think about whether you’re up for the task and have the money to cover the repair in addition to your down payment, closing costs, and monthly home bills.

It doesn’t have enough bedrooms

2mmedia/Adobe modern bedroom in an apartment

Adding some things to a home — such as an extra closet — is not that difficult. But adding an extra bedroom could be a major undertaking.

Factor in the number of bedrooms when considering a home if you have a growing family or multiple kids who need their own space.

Pro tip: Major repair work can cost a lot of money. Before taking on such projects, make sure you've already crushed your old debts so you don’t end up deeper in the red.

The owners won’t agree to an inspection

seanlockephotography/Adobe home inspector checking house

You should always try and get an inspection on a home before closing on the deal. An inspection can reveal red flags for issues you may not be aware of or that can’t be seen easily by someone other than a professional.

An inspection can help you learn about any potential issues so you aren’t surprised when you take possession of the property.

There are too many or too few owners

Seventyfour/Adobe businesswoman speaking by smartphone

Check with your local city government or perhaps even online to find out how often the property has been sold recently.

If the home has been with the same owner for decades, it may be a good idea to get your inspection done and make sure updates have been made over that time.

On the other hand, if the home has changed hands frequently in recent years, you may want to find out why previous owners were quick to get rid of it.

It smells

kues1/Adobe woman holding nose to avoid smelling a foul and unpleasant stench

There can be plenty of reasons for a home to have a distinct odor. Previous owners may have been smokers or owned a pet. You might also notice a musty smell if there are water issues.

Smells can be a sign that something is wrong with the house or that you may have to rip out carpet or drywall to live in an odor-free home.

You’re not allowed in certain areas

Kristina Blokhin/Adobe man looking inside small closet in new room

An owner may restrict potential buyers from looking in certain areas, like a basement or bedroom. This should be a red flag.

Ask your real estate agent for the reason behind the restriction, as it could be hiding an issue.

The curb appeal isn’t great

Iriana Shiyan/Adobe home design with modern curb appeal in Bellevue

When you park in front of the home for the first time, you may notice overgrown flower beds, dead bushes, or a large number of weeds. These could all be signs that you'll have to do some extra work on the outside of the home that may come with a high price tag.

Also, check trees on the property, which could be a costly expense to remove if they have issues.

It’s hard to close doors

Bakulov/Adobe white door with chrome metal handle and a man's arm

Some interior doors may rub a little when you open or close them, but a door that won’t budge or sit properly in the frame may be a sign of uneven walls and floors. An uneven doorway might indicate structural issues that could be costly to repair.

The price is too good to be true

Daenin/Adobe signing mortgage loan contracts

Perhaps you really want to live in a particular neighborhood but just can’t afford it — until suddenly a low-priced home hits the market.

Be wary of such situations, as the low price may be a sign that the home can’t compete with others in the area or might have issues that caused the owners to list it at a rock-bottom price.

Bottom line

Jacob Lund/Adobe Couple handshaking realtor after signing contract

Before you buy a home, know how much you can spend as well as what it will cost each month for utilities, maintenance, and other expenses.

Remember to check for any issues that could become a problem later on. Finally, factor in any possible changes you may need to make after you buy the house if you’re planning to renovate.

If the costs seem too high, it might be wise to delay your home purchase and look into generating extra income from a part-time job or side hustle so you'll be in a better position to buy the home of your dreams.

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Author Details

Jenny Cohen Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.

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