Buying a home is an exhilarating but daunting task. As exciting as searching for a home may be, thus purchase will likely be one of your biggest, so spotting any red flags is important to your investment. Make sure you and your Realtor keep a sharp eye out for the following.
Consistency Up and Down
The majority of homes in Alberta have basements. Some are finished by the home builder, and some are not. If you have concerns that the present homeowner's Uncle Joe may have had a hand in some creative DIY, look at the finishing. If the home has soft-round corners upstairs and not in the basement or a difference in baseboards between floors, you are probably looking at DYI, not a builder finish. If you have your suspicions, it is a good idea to request a copy of the permits for basement development.
Have you ever been in a store for a while, browsing with 20 strangers who are rifling through clothing, and suddenly all you can hear is an overpowering chorus of squeaking hangers? And now that you are aware of the overpowering din, you can't un-hear it?
Picture moving into your dream home, noticing what should have been an obvious sound, and now you can't escape it. When you are busy viewing houses with your Realtor, take a moment to pause and listen. Are you close to a kiddie park? Is there a nearby business where trucks will frequently be backing with loud beeps? Does the property back traffic lights that are conducive to revving engines and amateur drag races? If noise could be an issue for you, make sure you take the time to listen.
Trains, Planes and Automobiles
You can't get away from all noise in the city, but take note of your proximity to major highways, airports and train crossings. The noise may not bother you, but eventually, you will sell your home. Make sure you don't overpay for the perfect home in a noisy area.
Room You Aren't Able to See
There are many valid reasons a room might be barred from buyers on the first viewing; secured guns, a valuable collection, confidential information from a home office. But if a room is locked to viewers on a second viewing, there may be an issue the homeowner wants to keep hidden. Make sure you do not write an offer on that property without including a condition of viewing all areas of the home.
It is true; homeowners can become "nose-blind" to the air fresheners, candles & diffusers, subsequently increasing the number and frequency of use to overbearing levels. Although these scent walls make it hard to view a home comfortably, you must discern whether it is a case of nose-blind owners or a coverup. Pet urine and smoke may take a significant amount of money to remove from a house, so it is wise to ask for all defusers and fresheners to be turned off/removed for a period of 24 hrs prior to a second showing.
These words are frequently found on real estate listings and almost always indicate a red flag. These flags can pertain to something small, such as an older hot tub that doesn't run as smoothly as it once did, to a bank-owned property where absolutely nothing is guaranteed. Do your due diligence, but keep in mind that a hot tub can be replaced in the future. A house that has structural problems will cost you much more to remedy.
Ice Buildup & Standing Water
Nothing indicated a grading problem like standing water or ice buildup around a property. To minimize water problems, the grading must slope away from the home. If you are skating over a frozen lake where the sidewalk or driveway should be while trying to reach the front door of a property, an inspector's opinion should form part of the purchase contract.
Although a large tree can provide some much-desired shade on a hot day, large trees mean large roots, and those roots can push through almost anything. Damage can occur to your foundation, sewer system, and roots will even rise to the surface, causing a bumpy ride for your lawnmower. If the tree is older and its root system is weaker, you can even run the risk of a tree falling against your house, garage, or vehicle. Take note of the number and condition of the trees close to any property you are viewing. The average cost for the removal of a tree is $800.00.
Poly B Piping
Other than hammer pants and rooster bangs, this was one of the biggest mistakes made from 1977-1997, and it affected over 250,000 Canadian homes. These pipes were not constructed with the deteriorative properties of chlorine in mind, and if a home has them, they will invariably leak. If you are looking at a home built during this period, look for grey plastic pipes under sinks, near the water metre or hot water tank, or on the basement ceiling. If the seller has not yet replaced the polybutylene pipes, you will have to factor that cost into your purchase price. The cost will be between $5000 - $10,000.
Does the electrical panel look like hair extensions that are past their appointment date? Did your Realtor get shocked when she turned on a light? DIY wiring can be a serious hazard. It is so important to have a certified inspector to take an in-depth look at your potential new home. There is no substitution for a professional point of view, and the money spent on an inspection is worth the protection it provides.
As I write this, the Edmonton area is in the middle of a ridiculous heatwave. Although almost every house you view as a Buyer this week will leave you wilting, keep your eye on the temperature inside and outside of the homes you view. If it is 23c outside and 28c in the second storey of the home you are viewing, the insulation may be on the light side. It is a good idea to get that checked out before you buy.
As Realtors, we have had many successful transactions with For Sale By Owner properties. Many of these sellers make the decision to sell either by themselves or by using a FSBO brokerage in the hopes that they may save a bit of money.
Unfortunately, some homeowners decide to go this route for an entirely different reason. When you enter into a listing contract with a Realtor in Alberta, you must answer questions disclosing any major deficiencies with the property. If a homeowner chooses not to disclose deficiencies, they may need to sell independently rather than answer some uncomfortable questions. When viewing a FSBO listing, it is wise to use a home inspector.
Sidewalks & Fences
Picture this…it is -30 degrees outside, and the sky dumped 10 inches of snow overnight. If you are not likely to jump out of bed to shovel the sidewalk in front of your house, you may want to consider a house across the street.
If you own a house that borders a public sidewalk, it is your responsibility to shovel the snow. Different communities have their own requirements, but if you fail to remove the snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of your home in a timely manner, expect by-law enforcers to knock on your door.
An accumulation of collectibles is one thing, but rooms full of bags and yards full of broken furniture and old tires can be overwhelming for a seller to move. If you are considering writing on a house full of decades of stuff, make sure your Realtor writes in a term regarding the condition of the property when possession takes place. For example, if a term is included with a holdback amount of $2,500.00 to ensure the home is cleared of all personal possessions, and the seller leaves a bunch of unwanted items in the home, they would forfeit the holdback amount. These funds can be used by the buyer to have a company come in and remove those possessions.
Snow on the Roof
Alberta is known for its long winters, so the chances are good that there will be snow on the roof of the property you are considering purchasing. Make sure your home inspector checks under the snow. A blanket of snow can hide a multitude of problems.
Proximity to a Fire Station
Did you know that your insurance might go up depending on the distance your home is from a fire station? Different companies have different rules, but your premiums can go up depending on how many kilometres away from a Firehall your acreage is. Your insurance might also be pro-rated if the firemen are voluntary or permanently staffed. It is a good idea to call a company and as some questions regarding home insurance before buying a remote acreage.
Yes, there are flood plains in Alberta, and some of their locations are surprising. Again, buying a home on a flood plain can greatly affect your home insurance rates and what is covered in your policy. Your Realtor can help you research your home's position on flood maps, and a call to your insurance company will give you some peace of mind.
Remember when you met your childhood best friend? For me, the idea of moving away from Patty Jenkins nearly crushed me! If your kids just have to attend a specific school with their friends and you are considering a move, make sure you know the boundaries for each neighbourhood. A few blocks may put you out of a particular school's zone. Your Realtor can help you with this.
Realistic Commute Times
If you have narrowed down your search and are waffling between two properties, commute time to your place of work might be the deciding factor. Just because one neighbourhood is closer to your office does not mean the drive time will be better. Drive each route during rush hour. You might be surprised at the difference a few lights can make.
New Construction - Dust & Noise
Do you dream of a brand new home where you have the privilege of making the first dings in the paint? There are a few negatives that go along with a shiny new house. If you are one of the first homes in a neighbourhood, you can expect years of construction, dust and noise before your community is built out. Make sure you can handle the chaos for a few years.
Since Covid, many of us have become strong supporters of our local restaurants via services such as Skip The Dishes, Door Dash or Uber Eats. If ordering-in has become a part of your routine, make sure you look at the delivery zones. Most acreages and some new communities do not have this very convenient option.
Here is a tip we learned about by accident. Many years ago, Claude and I had a house fire. While the insurance company fixed our home, we relocated to a rental property in a different neighbourhood. This home was on a busy corner, and although the windows were triple-pane and we couldn't hear any traffic, as each car would turn a corner, the headlights flashed through our windows…all night long. If you are considering a home that sits at an intersection, make sure the headlights of oncoming vehicles shine into your main living areas and not the bedrooms.
On acreages with wells, your Realtor will take a water sample to ensure the water is fit for consumption. If there is a problem found, the well might need to be shocked and retested before possession. Make sure your Realtor includes a condition of Water Potability when writing an offer on an acreage with a well.
Bring a Golf Ball
Do you love the character of an older house but feel a bit queasy in the one you are currently viewing? Place a golf or tennis ball in the middle of a room. If it picks up speed as it rolls across the floor, you may have some foundation issues.
Carry a Tape Measure
Most people have a bed, dining table or other treasure items that they can not live without. If you know you need to fit a California King in the primary bedroom, a tape measure can quickly narrow down your choices.
Stalk the Property In-Person & Online
So you have found a beautiful home, and you are considering writing an offer. We strongly suggest that you examine the neighbourhood at various times during the day and on the weekend. Drive past the property at night, or take a stroll on the weekend. Join a Community Facebook group and ask some questions. A little extra information will make you confident in your decision.
Ask for Bills
If you are on a tight budget, asking to see the homeowner's monthly utility bills can help you budget appropriately.
Understand That Your Inspector Works For You
When you hire a home inspector, make sure you get your money's worth. We are not suggesting you hover over and interrupt an inspection, but taking the time at the end of an inspection to ask questions and get some informed answers could help you understand your new home.
Choose the Right Realtor
There is a Realtor for every buyer, and some will match better with an exuberant personality, and some appreciate a more subdued nature. Pick a Realtor that you feel confident in, but make sure they have been selling real estate long enough to recognize Red Flags so they can protect you while helping you find your perfect place.