10 Big Deal-Breakers to Look Out for When Buying a House

Watch out for these potential red flags during your house hunt to avoid costly and time-intensive repairs.

female real estate agent holding papers on clipboard showing new house to couple with baby
Updated July 18, 2024
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Purchasing a house is a big deal. Whether you plan to live there or rent it out to make some extra income, buying a house is expensive, so you don’t want to make a mistake. 

Hiring an inspector to look at the property can help, but you also should keep your eyes wide open to try to spot problems on your own as some problems that come up should be deal-breakers.

Here are some of the biggest things to look for when you shop for a house that should stop you from buying.

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A foundation that needs repairs

kuchina/Adobe worker sitting on ground using brush to waterproof building foundation outdoors

It can be an expensive gamble to buy a house with foundation concerns.

Foundation issues be challenging and cost thousands of dollars to fix, and you might not know precisely how bad things are until you start repairs.

Wall cracks, bouncing floors, and counters separated from walls all can be signs of foundation issues.

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An aging or damaged roof

LUGOSTOCK/Adobe asphalt shingles on roof of a house worn out due to weather changes

The average cost to replace a roof in America is more than $9,000, according to Angie's List.

Not only are repairs and replacements costly, but the process can add an extra layer of stress after you buy a home. Delaying repairs can lead to expensive damage.

So, before you move forward on a place with roof issues, dig deep and figure out exactly what you're getting into. Look for a roof that sags, shingles that curl, or dark and dirty areas.

Extensive water damage

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe woman standing in kitchen holding umbrella at water leakage in kitchen while talking on smartphone

Water damage presents a unique challenge because it's difficult to know the extent of the damage without removing walls or tearing apart ceilings.

In other words, you can’t always tell what’s happening until after you close the house. Water damage can indicate issues with mold and is a headache you don’t want to deal with.

If you find water damage and decide to press ahead in buying the home, you might opt for mold testing first to give yourself peace of mind.

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It’s a low-quality house flip

ViDi Studio/Adobe couple wearing safety equipment

House flipping has become an industry. But home renovations require specific skills and experience, which some prospective amateur flippers lack.

Beware when buying a home from a flipper. Just because a house looks great on the surface doesn’t mean the previous owner did solid work. Be sure to check the quality of the renovations before you buy.

Extensive wall and ceiling cracks

agenturfotografin/Adobe janitor standing with checklist

Cracks in the walls or ceilings might be merely cosmetic. For example, the paint might have aged and cracked over time.

But don’t simply assume those cracks are cosmetic before you buy. They might signify a bigger problem, such as foundation problems or termite damage.

An exterior in bad condition

qingwa/Adobe cape cod home surrounded with garden and flowers during day time

The exterior of a house creates the first impression and can provide clues about other aspects of the home.

For example, noticeable issues with paint or roof shingles might be a sign that the home was not maintained properly.

High radon levels

Francesco Scatena/Adobe 3d graphs on radon air testing app on tablet showing dangers of radon gas in our houses concept

Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally due to a breakdown of uranium in the soil. Unfortunately, it's also toxic to humans.

Radon can move into the home through cracks in the foundation or other small holes. It’s a good idea to check radon levels before you buy a house. 

If the home has a radon problem, make sure there's a solution to fixing it before you move forward.

Extensive termite damage

Mel Stoutsenberger/Adobe wooden wall broken into pieces due to termite attack

Termite damage can be fixable, but it might require extensive repairs. You might even have to replace entire sections of the home.

For example, if you have a wooden pergola in the backyard with termite damage, you might need to replace full beams or the entire structure. That can be costly and time-intensive, so check before you buy.

Plumbing issues

Paul Bradbury/KOTO/Adobe male plumber sitting at ground explaining sink problems to lady house owner in the background

Plumbing concerns usually require the services of a professional. The last thing you want to do is mess up the plumbing system for the entire house.

The cost of such repairs can add up quickly, and it’s not something you can skip. Make sure you understand the scope of plumbing issues before moving forward on a home.

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An electrical system that needs repairs

anatoliy_gleb/Adobe male electrician sitting on ground installing electric wires using heat gun and pliers in a broken wall

Failing to make necessary electrical repairs can be dangerous. It can also be hazardous if you try to do it yourself.

Hiring an electrician to repair extensive damage can cause your bill to balloon rapidly. To avoid that situation, try to get an accurate picture of what repairs are necessary before you buy a home.

Bottom line

Rido/Adobe woman hugging man while holding keys with moving boxes in background

The process of choosing a home is very personal. What might not be a big deal to you could be a deal-breaker for someone else.

Regardless of how many repairs you’re willing to handle, it's important to know what to expect before you purchase the home, and what to look for so that you don't waste a lot of money.

So look carefully at the home you're considering buying to avoid wasting money on one of the biggest purchases you'll likely ever make, and avoid homes with any of the red flags included here. 

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