Red Flags That Make Home Inspectors Cringe

DIY repair

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Fire Damage
Fire Damage by David B (CC BY-NC-SA)

Common Home Inspection Problems

In today’s competitive real estate environment, many buyers waive home inspections with the hope their offer becomes the winning bid. But skipping an inspection means homebuyers miss out on getting the seller to pay for repairs, or to identify potential upcoming expenses that can be factored into their offers. Shoppers can also miss the chance to fix small problems before they become bigger and more expensive. The most common home inspection problems occur in major systems such as roofing and the structure of the property, followed by water-related problems, says Mike Hughes, manager of technical training and development for ServiceMaster Brands. If you’re home shopping, read on to discover the red flags that make home inspectors cringe.  

Related: Watch Out for These Added Costs When Buying a House

Ceiling leak
Ceiling leak by Mel Green (CC BY-NC-ND)

Red Flag 1: Moisture in Walls

In home inspections, water damage is ubiquitous because water can flow from so many sources. Plumbing issues and roof leaks often manifest as moisture within the walls of a home, so this red flag could indicate a much bigger problem. “The tricky part with this issue is that you have to start breaking down walls to find the issue,” says Donald Olhausen Jr., a real estate agent and owner of We Buy Houses in San Diego.

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Mold by carlpenergy (CC BY)

Red Flag 2: Mold

Spotting mold is serious because it’s a dangerous health concern. The fungus grows on surfaces and releases spores that float in the air, which can cause respiratory issues and is a special concern for those already dealing with allergies and asthma. Remediating mold can be costly. Because mold is caused by moisture, “It is also an indication of either a past or ongoing problem of water penetration into the home,” says Bill Gassett, founder of Massachusetts-based Maximum Real Estate Exposure.

Related: What You Don't Know About Mold Can Ruin Your Life

Flooded House

Red Flag 3: Poor Grade

The grade of land — in other words, whether an outdoor slope drains away from or toward a residence — may not be an immediate cause for concern. It’s an important quality to consider, though. Water draining toward the residence “can lead to many issues, including water damage to the exterior of the home. This type of damage can take time, but it will slowly degrade the integrity of the exterior of the home,” Olhausen Jr. says.

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Roof damage
Roof damage by Ian Betley (CC BY)

Red Flag 4: Roof Damage

Roof replacements are one of the most expensive investments, so it’s important to look out for roofs with short lifespans. Pooling water, missing shingles, and bare spots in flat roofs can all indicate a need for repair or replacement.

Flickering lights
Flickering lights by David Hilowitz (CC BY)

Red Flag 5: Flickering Lights

Electrical issues in a home could include anything from outdated wiring, such as knob and tube, or improper grounding. Problems may become clear via flickering lights or other clues, and have serious consequences. “Electrical damage can cause fires, shock, and even electrocution, so make sure to have this fixed immediately to avoid any accidents and further damage to the home,” says Rinal Patel, a Realtor and co-founder of We Buy Philly Home. Fixing issues such as these may require total electrical system replacement in the home, which comes with a hefty price tag.


Plumber by Yu Morita (CC BY-SA)

Red Flag 6: Backed-Up Drains

Sinks, bathtubs, and toilets that back up could be indications of much bigger plumbing problems. A quick sewer scope will reveal issues such as roots growing into pipes, broken main lines, and the presence of lead pipes — illegal since 1986, but quite common in homes built before then. Problems such as these may require complete replumbing.

Crack by Joe Mabel (CC BY-SA)

Red Flag 7: Settling Cracks

Settling cracks point to a foundation issue in the home, a huge issue in home inspections. “Foundation issues are hard to provide accurate repair quotes for — but notoriously expensive. These can quickly become money pits that force homeowners to spend much more than expected,” Olhausen says.

Asbestos by B Kimmel (CC BY-SA)

Red Flag 8: Evidence of Asbestos

It can be tricky to inspect a home and find asbestos, a known carcinogen once used in numerous consumer products. The presence of this fibrous silicate mineral can be confirmed only in a lab, but experienced home inspectors can spot likely sources such as in insulation, including around plumbing, popcorn ceilings, and in flooring. It’s common in homes built before 1980. Because it’s a health hazard, it’s difficult and costly to remove.

Pest by Petras Gagilas (CC BY-SA)

Red Flag 9: Signs of Pest Infestation

“Pests like termites, carpenter ants, and rodents can do a lot of damage to a home if they're left unchecked,” Patel says. “They can chew through walls, floors, insulation, and wiring, which can not only cause extensive damage to the home but also create safety hazards.” The presence of pests can mean costly extermination fees, as well as additional replacements or repairs to correct the damage they’ve caused, which can include chewing through wood siding and framing, and wiring.

Damaged Fence

Red Flag 10: Poor Fencing

Homeowners often overlook that they’re responsible for everything within the property boundaries, including fences, says Eyal Pasternak, real estate investor and the founder of Liberty House Buying Group. “This is why I always make sure any fencing around the property is painted, no hinge is out of place, and that wooden fences are not rotting.”

HVAC System
HVAC System by Ser Amantio di Nicolao (CC BY-SA)

Red Flag 11: Poorly Maintained HVAC Systems

Because they’re responsible for heating and cooling your home, properly working HVAC systems are essential to comfort. Improperly maintained systems could indicate costly repairs are ahead. Potential replacements, which can climb easily into five figures, are even more worrisome, which is why it’s important to identify this problem early. Over the long term, inefficient HVAC systems can also cost new homeowners by causing higher utility bills.

Fire Damage
Fire Damage by David B (CC BY-NC-SA)

Red Flag 12: Signs of Previous Fire or Smoke Damage

“Many homeowners try to mask fire and smoke damage,” says Tennessee-based Erik Wright, owner of NewHorizon Home Buyers. Why? Because fire or smoke damage lowers value and appeal instantly. This type of damage, which homeowners often try to cover with a simple coat of paint, could indicate much more serious repairs needed below the surface. 

DIY repair
Wikimedia Commons

Red Flag 13: DIY Home Repairs

Evidence of DIY home repairs is a red flag for home inspectors. “Inspectors cringe when at the inspection they learn about electrical, plumbing, or structural work that was done on the home by the homeowner, past homeowners, or non-licensed contractors,” says Joshua Steffan, vice president and general manager of inspection and real estate for Porch Group. “Home improvements completed by do-it-yourselfers increases the risk of issues and can significantly increase the liability for inspectors.”

Staged House

Red Flag 14: Homeowner Tactics

It’s important to watch for homeowners who are trying to hide issues. There are several clues these strategies might be at play. “Though some sellers move their furniture and decorate their home with wall art innocently, to make it look better, some others use it as a tactic,” says Florida-based associate broker Jeff Tricoli. “The unusually placed furniture or recently moved wall hangings might just be trying to hide a fault with the property.” Keeping all the windows open may not be for a cross breeze and natural light — the homeowners might do this to cover up unwanted smells from a plumbing or mold problem. “You should not be shy,” Tricoli says. “Inspect every inch of your future home.”

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