After viewing countless homes over the years that I’ve been selling real estate, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way to help identify details, determine condition, age, and the quality of finishes and components. Sometimes Realtors do an excellent job of providing information to help a Buyer make an informed decision in the notes they provide on the listing.  And sometimes, this information isn’t readily available, or tricky to verify or confirm.  Here are a few PRO tips to help you while looking at properties in order to get a good pulse on exactly what you may be buying!

Flooring. As one of the improvements with the best return on investment, knowing what type of flooring a property offers is a common question to address. Sometimes it’s difficult to get the full scoop while simply standing on TOP of the flooring.  After all, the surface only tells some of the story. But how can you see beneath? Let me help you uncover the answer! (Did you get that? Hahaa) Head over to a register vent and pop the grate off.  Take a look at the raw edge of the flooring cut around the HVAC vent in order to determine:

  • Whether there is hardwood under the old carpeting (this is common in mid-century homes when hardwood was commonly installed under carpet).
  • What condition the hardwood might be, and whether there is capacity to sand and refinish it
  • Whether the flooring is engineered hardwood, and if so, how thick the surface level is (and ultimately, the quality of it), or whether the flooring is vinyl plank, or laminate.

Windows. Understanding the age of a window is important to determine whether or when replacement could be expected. If this detail is not outlined in the listing notes, you can do some detective work to figure out when it was likely installed.  Take a look along the frame, between the window panes. You will often find a manufacturer’s date stamped into the metal frame, providing the date the window was made. If not between the panes, sometimes this information is etched in one of the corners of the pane.  It is likely that the window was installed within a reasonable time from the time it was manufactured, providing a sense of how old the windows may be, and thereby enabling you to determine when they may need to be replaced.

Who’s the builder? Not all builders are equal, and buyers commonly want to know who was in charge of constructing the home.  In newer homes with unfinished basements, we can find a clue about this in the lower level. Head down there and find the main structural beam, usually running somewhere in the middle of the home.  On this beam, you’ll likely find a sticker or marking that shows who ordered it when the home was constructed.  Most of the time, this will include the builder’s name, offering the likely answer to who was responsible for building that particular home.

How old is the furnace? A furnace has a life expectancy of about 20 years, sometimes a little less, and often a bit more. Understanding how soon this necessary component of a home will require replacement is an important detail to know.  A home inspector can likely decode the serial number in order to determine the year in which the furnace was manufactured. Alternatively, checking the gas tag often offers a clue regarding when the unit may have been installed, as do any notes on the service sticker, often found along the side of the furnace.

Oil paint was a common product used in homes several decades ago.  Now, the standard is to use water-based latex paint.  The problem lies in painting OVER oil paint with latex paint… if you know anything about oil and water, you know that they repel one another. This means that latex paint will not bond to oil paint and properly cure, causing it to easily peeling off, leaving a mess.  A special primer is required to cover oil paint BEFORE a wall can be painted with latex paint. Testing this may be a little trickier if a home isn’t YOURS and may require permission to investigate, but here’s how: rub a cotton ball soaked in acetone nail polish remover on a small patch. If the paint softens or rubs off on the cotton ball, it is likely that the paint is latex-based. If the acetone has no impact on the paint finish, chances are, that it is an oil-based paint, requiring an extra coat of primer in order to properly repaint.

Telltale DIYers… I could write a book based on the odd and frightful things I’ve seen along the way. It’s impossible to capture the strange and terrible home renovations that unqualified and poorly-skilled homeowners have attempted to tackle on their own. However – here’s one that I have seen on repeat: When a bathtub surround that includes a window in it has been updated with newer tile, it should be water-proof, with proper vinyl, and metal trim installed that will not rot over time.  Rather than using the proper products, I have regularly seen a tub re-tiled, with wood trim installed around the window.  This is a bad idea… the moisture and water of the shower faucet will inevitably create rot over time, and lead to the potential of water getting behind the wall which could create more damage and bigger problems that are costly to repair. Moral of the story – learn to look for cheap short-cuts and unprofessional upgrades that may look good, but lack function, quality, or proper workmanship that will withstand the test of time, wear, and tear.

When viewing homes, there are many details to be mindful of, some which are more obvious than others.  An educated eye and an experienced Realtor will help inform you about items, components, concerns, features, and elements that are important to be aware of so that you understand what costs and projects (or problems!) you may incur as a homeowner.

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