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Red Flags to Watch for at Open Houses

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February 13, 2019

When looking for a potential home, going to an open house is a great opportunity for you to look beyond the online photographs and really see what a house feels like. While home staging does a great job to highlight a home’s best features, it can also distract you from seeing some hidden issues.

This isn’t to say that home staging is a lie, but since buying a home is a huge investment, you need to be a savvy consumer to ensure you don’t get duped into paying a lot of money for a lemon.

When attending an open house, don’t be afraid to get up close and personal with specific home features to make sure the asking price is worth it.

Masking noise

Is there music playing at the open house? What sounds like a pleasant background tune could actually be masking disruptive noise that would make the home less attractive to buyers, such as traffic, trains or noisy neighbours. If you notice music, step outside and listen.

Scale of furniture

If the house has indeed been staged, look at the size of the furniture compared to the size of the room. Have they used a small love seat in place of a couch? Is there a slim chair, and smaller tables? They could have staged it like this deliberately to make the room look bigger than it is. Make sure you ask for the square footage of the room, or bring a tape measure. If you can, try to imagine your own furnishings in the room to get an idea of whether they will fit.

Masking smells

If you enter the open house and immediately detect the use of a home fragrance, raise your red flag! What is the scent hiding? Is the home owned by people who smoke indoors? Is there a mould or plumbing issue causing unpleasant odours? It’s one thing if the Realtor is trying to create a positive impression of the space, but it’s quite another if they’re masking a serious problem with the home. Even if you love the house, you should ask questions if you suspect there are bigger issues with the home than you’re prepared to pay for.

Painting over problems

Many sellers paint their house before putting it on the market, and there is nothing inherently nefarious about that practice. However, you should look closely at freshly painted walls. Does the wall have a lot of texture? Does it look patched or bubbled in some areas? While older homes won’t necessarily have perfect walls, you should check to see if the walls were painted to hide something, rather than to simply refresh the room. If you’re really concerned, place your hand on the wall to feel for dampness. Look at the ceiling, too. Has it been painted? Does it look like there are water stains, or certain areas that may have been recently painted over? Red flag.

Fancy lingo

When chatting with the real estate agent, watch out for the use of buzzwords and tricky descriptors when talking about the house. The term “cozy” is often a softer way to say “small.” There’s nothing wrong with living in a small home, but if you’re hoping for more and they’re trying to sell you on “cozy” — watch out. They might refer to something old or outdated as “vintage” or “retro” to make it sound cooler than it is. The term “original” might be used in a positive way when they’re really saying “out of date.”

Cracks, et cetera

Even if you’re in the market for a fixer-upper, look for good bones. Look at the walls and, most important, the foundation. Cracks in the walls and foundation can be costly to fix. If you suspect any structural problems, walk away or make a conditional offer that the issue will be fixed by the seller.

Working windows

Old or shoddy windows can end up costing you a lot in the long run. If you have an air leak, that will affect your energy costs. If cold air is getting in and warm air is escaping in the winter (and the reverse during the summer), then the HVAC systems are working extra hard to regulate the indoor temperature. Consider poor windows a red flag and move on.

While you’re never going to find the perfect house, and most homes will require some work and maintenance to make it feel like your home, you shouldn’t have to invest an exorbitant amount of money in a house with a lot of problems. Don’t just look at the surface level when you’re at an open house; dig deep to look for issues.

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