Real estate agents and homebuyers alike will tell you that one of the most important things you can do while shopping for a home is to thoroughly investigate every aspect of the homes you visit.

Since you may one day be living in one of these homes, you need to know as much as you can before you make the decision to buy. A pre-sale home inspection will give you information about how well (or poorly) the home has been maintained and point out potential problem areas, but sometimes being your own detective can give you some idea of the home’s true condition before you even get to the home inspection phase.  Many buyers decide to back out of a home sale agreement after paying for the home inspection, so it would be beneficial to be able to spot potential problems ahead of time.

The inspection process is simple for buyers who are interested in purchasing a new home, or for those who are building a home. This is because, when a home is brand new or in the process of being built, there are many available inspection reports and contractors to talk to. Any of the buyer’s concerns can be addressed on the spot.

Those buying pre-owned homes are buying not only the home itself, but also the home’s history and the history of everyone who has ever lived there.  Before purchasing a pre-owned home, you need to educate yourself about how to determine the true condition of the homes you visit.

The home’s foundation is one of the most common areas in which problems occur.  Foundation problems usually are not difficult to discover with some time and attention, but they are usually quite expensive to correct.

Here are some things to watch out for.  Finding one of more of these items in a home does not necessarily mean that you should walk away, but it should you alert you to potential repair costs and hazardous conditions that you will want to address immediately if you opt to purchase the home.


When you are visiting a home, the first part of the home with which you make contact is the floor.  Many people take flooring for granted, never paying much attention to it.  It’s a good idea to note whether the floor in a home or room is slanted, bowing or too soft. 

Many older homes, which were not built to today’s rigorous building standards, have uneven floors.  In most cases, this is to be expected and is nothing to worry about.  But when a slanting floor is coupled with windows that do not open quite right or cracking on the walls, this is a signal that there is a problem.  


It is almost inevitable that you will find some cracks on the interior walls of a pre-owned home.  But when you spot cracks in the home’s exterior or foundation, you will need to look a bit closer.  Generally, the wider the crack, the longer it has been there.  If you spot wide cracks throughout the interior, note where they are located.

If the owner is unable or unwilling to provide you with the requested information, it could be an indication that the work has been done incorrectly.  If you are still interested in purchasing the home, request a structural review by a certified structural engineer…

Cracks that start at the corners of windows or doorways are usually settlement cracks that stem from foundation slippage.  Every foundation will eventually settle, but large and/or many cracks most likely indicate a growing problem that the new owner will need to address.  Foundation repairs are costly, so if you are unprepared to make major repairs to the foundation, think about moving on.

If you don’t see any cracks on the interior walls, it may mean that the foundation has not yet settled. More likely, it means that the current owner has patched any visible cracks prior to painting the home.  In this case, look carefully inside the closets, particularly those on the uppermost floor of the home.  Often closets remain unpainted and cracks are not patched, giving you a chance to see what types of cracks may actually be present throughout the home.


Windows and Doors
When viewing a home, open and close every window and door.  While this may drive your real-estate agent crazy, it is another way in which you can spot potential foundation and other structural problems within the home. For example, if you determine that all of the windows on one side of a home will not open or close, yet they don’t appear to be sealed with paint, there is cause to be concerned about the condition of the foundation.

If you notice that the doors and windows do not open correctly, take a very close look at the corners of the surrounding walls. Are there signs of cracks?  Do these appear to be new cracks that have developed since the last painting?

If so, then be aware that there may be serious foundation settling or even subsidence.


Recent Remodeling
One of the most commonly used remodeling techniques among homeowners who want to sell older homes is to open up small rooms in order to make the home appear bigger or less crowded.  If you suspect that walls have been removed, or that the supporting structure of the home has been modified in any way, ask your real-estate agent to request information from the homeowner.  Ask for the contractor’s name and contact information and verify the building permit.
If the owner is unable or unwilling to provide you with the requested information, it could be an indication that the work has been done incorrectly.  If you are still interested in purchasing the home, request a structural review by a certified structural engineer.  If problems are discovered, they may less expensive to repair now instead of waiting several years until a beam cracks or a ceiling collapses.

By keeping an eye out for potential foundation problems using the information above, you are well on your way to finding a safe home with a solid foundation.  Don’t be afraid to point out problems that you see to your real-estate agent. Sometimes the seller may be unaware of these issues, yet really need to know.  Also, your agent can use his or her experience and expertise to assist you in spotting things that might signal a foundation or other structural problem.

Spot potential problems before you purchase a home, because often the seller will be willing to either lower the sale price or contribute toward the repair costs as part of the sales agreement.  If you determine that there are in fact foundation problems, and the seller is unwilling to assist with the repairs in some manner, it may mean that you have to move on.  This can be disheartening for some buyers, but when safety is your top concern, you are wise to reconsider your options.