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How To Tell Whether Or Not A House Is Going To Be A Money Pit

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to dc@curbed.com.

What should I look for to know if the house has ‘good bones’?
Every house has to pass inspection before a sale can go through, but there are some things you can look for while you house hunt so that you don’t get all the way to the point of making an offer only to find out there are expensive problems with the house. Some of the first things you should ask during an open house are: how old is the roof, when was the last termite inspection, is it lead-free (for older houses), does the water pressure hold up if water-intensive appliances are running (such as the dishwasher). But, of course, that is just the beginning.

When you’re walking around the property check the angle of the land around the house to make sure water drains away from the house and look in the basement to see if there are any water marks indicating rainwater has leaked in. Water damage is one of the most common, and most expensive, problems around DC because we have a high number of heavy downpours during the summer. Also ask about the water pressure in the showers and if there are appliances that affect the water pressure while they are running. We have a horror story about that here.

Ask about the existing warranties for the major appliances (like air conditioning units, hot water heaters). Look for cracks in the walls to see if the house has started to settle. While you are walking around try to get a sense if the floors slope, which can be another indication of settling. If the house uses oil heat inspect the oil tank for rust or if it is underground ask if they have had the soil tested for leakage. Ask about major repairs that have been done on the house over the years.