When my friends or clients and I go to look at homes together at the beginning of the buying process, we take a few hours one day and peruse a handful of homes. In the first visit, my clients' positive and negative impressions are usually a result of the "feel" of the home. Good space vs. bad space. Good layout vs. fragmented. Visual appeal vs. eyesore. Quality materials vs. cheap finishes. Light vs. dark.
Let me tell you some things that I look for on the first visit to a home during a quick 10-15 minute showing. Most of these items are easy to see in plain view. Of course, a professional home inspector is absolutely necessary before buying a home. These are just some little tidbits that may tip off some underlying problems, signals that there will be additional costs that may need to be addressed, or factors that may play in to the long term ongoing costs of home ownership.
Let's start outside...
1. Curb appeal- Is the home consistent in architecture/design with others in the neighborhood, or does it stand out? Does it look well maintained and inviting?
2. Driveway- We live in an area where it snows quite a bit. Heavy, wet, walls of snow. Most folks opt for a snow removal service (contracts $400-$800+/year depending on length and slope) or a snowblower ($2500 for a good one).
3. Landscaping-Is there any? Will the new owner maintain? Have defensible space measures already been taken care of? Will a landscaping service need to be hired? Landscaping can be very costly if you start from scratch or if the previous owner has not maintained their sprinkler lines, etc...Also be aware that strict BMP and defensible space ordinances exist, especially down by Lake Tahoe and get educated on them. http://www.tahoebmp.org/bmp_pdfs/DenfensibleSpaceBrochure.pdf
4. Home exterior/Fences-Does the home need to be stained or painted? Are the fences in good shape? This is a big deal if you have to shell out for this cost right away. The winters in Tahoe add wear and tear to the exterior and a paint/stain job may not last as long as you would think.
5. Roof/drainage-Sometimes hard to see, look for tiles that have fallen off, broken gutters, and in the winter, ice dams. Is there a snowmelt system on the roof? Where does the water drain from the gutters? Roof replacement and ice dam prevention can be very costly.
6. Windows-This is an interior and exterior issue. What type of windows were used? Are they double paned? Appropriate for a cold weather climate? Replacing windows is very expensive. Also good windows will reduce your overall energy costs.
Let's head inside for a quick tour:
1. Walls-Are there cracks in the walls? Any bubbling of paint or areas that look patched or repaired? If so, you may have water issues which are NO FUN. Subsidence (shifting of the soil under the home) is a big deal and causes cracks on walls near windows and doors. Also shifting will often cause doors to stick or be very loose. Stains on the walls or ceilings may indicate a leak in a bathroom or a roof leak. All costly repairs and potentially ongoing issues.
2. Smells-Is there a strange smell in the house? If nobody has been there in awhile, it may just be stale air. But be aware of strong rotten or musty smells. Could be plumbing problems or mold! An inspection would likely uncover both issues.
3. Kitchen and Bathrooms-Look at the tiles. Check for cracks, loose grout, signs of mold. Kitchens and bathrooms are very expensive to remodel. And, they are the most "used" parts of the home.
4. The bones-Is the space and layout of the home good? Does it have enough storage? Are the room sizes and configurations adequate for your needs? If you do need to remodel in the future, in most cases it is more efficient to change the space you have instead of add on or expand. Permits for additions are a pain and the process can be very pricey.
5.Beyond the walls-Try to identify what type of systems are in the home for heat, air conditioning, water heating, etc...The efficiency of these systems will determine how much you pay for energy in your home. These are big ticket items to replace and repair as well.
6.Flooring-What is the condition of the carpet/hardwood? Look at the trim around the walls/doors. Is the carpet fraying or loose on the stairs? Have any floor boards popped up? Replacing carpet is not a big deal. Hardwood floors are more expensive to repair/replace. You just want to make sure you know what you are getting into.
Looking for a new home is a very involved process, but it doesn't have to be hard work. All the information to make good decisions is out there. The catch is to not get too emotionally attached to the "idea" of a property before you see the full picture and what lies underneath. Asking the right questions and working with an educated Realtor that you trust as your advocate will insure that your bases are covered.
And, of course, don't forget to have fun!