Caveat Emptor, Buyer Beware…

I was talking to one of my co-workers a couple of weeks ago.  She had recently bought her first home. Like most people, she decided to use a real estate agent.  When I asked her why she used an agent, her answer surprised me. See, my friend has a PhD in math, and understood that by using an agent, she was paying 6% more. She wasn’t particularly happy about that six percent. She was on a tight budget and would have liked to buy a house herself to be able to get a little more for her money.  But she had one big fear. How would she know if a house was even worth having an inspection?

She didn’t want to fall in love with a house, put an offer in on it, and pay for an inspection, only to find out that there were some major flaws.  Even though she could walk away at that point, in her mind, it would waste at least a couple of weeks. She might miss out on a different house during that time.  So, she wanted a real estate agent to help her know what the warning signs were for a house with serious trouble.

Maybe you are in the same camp; afraid of unknown damage to a house.  We have a course about home inspections in our Revostate learning module.  But in this blog, we’ll talk about big warning signs for real estate that will help tip you off to more serious issues.  That way you can know whether you should pass on a deal, or at least know that you might be in for some serious repair.


Many signs that the roof may need to be replaced can be seen from ground level before you even go into the home. If the roof shingles are curling or buckling, they are probably ready for replacement. Look at the edges of the shingles to see if they curl up, or in the middle to see if they have buckles into a ridge.

You can also often spot missing shingles from ground level, which may mean that the roof is reaching the point that it needs to be replaced.  The easiest way to spot missing roof shingles is to look for different colors of roofing.

Another sign that the house might be due for new roofing is simply age.  Most asphalt shingles last between 20 and 30 years. Cedar shingles may last 10 years more depending on conditions, while metal roofing can last more than 50 years.  If the house you’re looking at is 15-20 years old, and hasn’t had its roof replaced, chances are it will need to while you are living in the home.

Water Damage:

Past or continuing water damage can be an expensive fix, especially if you need to tear out walls or do mold remediation. Luckily, there are some telltale signs of water damage that can alert you to a more serious problem. The first and most obvious is to look for discolored walls or paint. Check out the ceilings on ground floors below bathrooms or other plumbing. If you can see stains, discoloration, or paint bubbling, it probably means there is water damage that needs to be fixed.  It may also mean that the pipes are still leaking.

A related sign to discolored paint is seeing mold or mildew on non-shower walls.  Ideally, you wouldn’t see mildew in the shower either, but without cleaning, it can appear there and not signify plumbing problems.  However, mildew or mold outside the shower usually indicates a problem.

Check out the corners of bathrooms and under the sink too.  Those tend to be places where water may accumulate in a leak event in the bathroom.  Buckling of hardwood or laminate floors, or bubbling vinyl flooring probably means there was water damage that may need to be repaired.


Some sellers will try and hide problem spots in the floor with rugs or furniture.  If you see something that looks out of place, a rug in an odd position, or maybe a couch in the hallway, take a peak underneath and see if there is damage to the carpet or floor.

On hardwood floors, fading or discoloration means it’s probably time to refinish the floor.  There will be maintenance that needs to be done on all hardwood floors. Moving time is a great time to do this, but be aware of the extra cost in your negotiations.  

Also look at hardwood or laminate floors for buckling as mentioned above.  As a general rule, carpeting is usually cheaper to replace than hardwood. If the carpet is damaged, but you don’t like it anyway, that’s a great item to negotiate.  


Most electrical issues won’t be visible to the naked eye while touring a home, but there are some signs that you should look out for. Flip the light switches in every room to make sure that they work.  Switches that don’t work might indicate other problems.  

Scorching or black marks around outlets or in the main electrical panel can indicate serious shorts.  You can also look at the GFI outlets, the ones with the two buttons in the middle. If they are tripped (one of the buttons will be up), it means there has been a short.  It may not be serious, but is something to pay attention to.


Take a spin around the outside of the house before you leave.  Look at the foundation for cracks and settling. While there is nothing that can’t be repaired on a house, foundation fixes are often some of the most expensive.

There you have it, the most expensive fixes and some signs you can look for when touring a home.  While your own eagle eyes will not replace a professional inspection, they can help alert you to some potential problems that an inspection would uncover and help you decide whether to proceed with an offer.

Have any home inspection horror stories from the last time you bought real estate in Boise?  Share with us in the comments.