Follow these tips to make sure that updated home you’re eying isn’t too good to be true.

When you’re shopping for a home, it’s easy to romanticize renovations. But even that shiny new renovated kitchen can cost you headaches and money down the line if you’re not sure what to look for when touring. Our recommendation? Prioritize finding a home you can count on over design aesthetics.

If you’ve got your heart set on a turnkey, everything-is-new dream home, keep in mind that remodeled homes come in all shapes and sizes—from professional contractors, to low-budget fix-and-flipper, to the ambitious DIY-er. Things may look amazing on the surface but may not be well-crafted or up to code once you get a closer look. Not to worry—you don’t need an engineering degree to do your own informal inspection before you make an offer. And then once you do, there are systems in place to ensure everything is as it appears.

Pay Close Attention to the Details

When you find an updated home that you think might be “the one,” don’t hesitate to ask questions after you tour the space. Start by asking what was included in the renovations. Was it just the upstairs bathroom or the kitchen? If so, you’ll want to keep an eye out for big ticket items that might be outdated, such as the electrical and HVAC system (which tend to get neglected in quick flips). After all, these are the things that will end up breaking the bank if they fall apart on you any time soon. 

Next, put on your detective hat. Freshly painted walls? Look closely to see if the edges are clean along borders and switch plates and if the baseboards have been replaced (which finishes off a great paint-job). Brand-new bathroom? Make sure the grout lines are consistent, not too thin, and that the tiles are even and flush. Kitchen gleaming? Open cabinets and drawers to make sure they open and close smoothly. You might even check the shower and water pressure, too–as those aren’t things that can be easily changed in the future. Take the time to play with light switches, too, since proper dimmer switches and three-way wiring should already be in place.

Windows are another easy thing to check on: Stand to the side of each window and listen. You want to make sure you don’t hear air leaking in. Drafty windows can wreak havoc on your energy bill, aren’t soundproof, and can allow dirty air into your home.

Review the Disclosures

If your offer is accepted, the seller’s agent will share the home’s real estate disclosures: a series of forms that include information about the home that could detract from the home’s value or functionality. In some states, you can request this information before you make an offer, so check with your agent to see whether you can have early access.

Typical disclosures could include everything from past construction (the foundation in the southwest corner of the house was repaired) to potential hazards (there’s lead paint in some of the rooms). Depending on where the property is located, sellers also have to disclose environmental risks—if the house is in a wildfire area, for example, or could be at risk for flooding.

Sellers are required by law to complete this paperwork, and, depending on state law, can be financially penalized for failing to disclose issues with the home going back a decade or more. But it’s tricky, because in most states sellers are only required to disclose what they know. If there’s mold in the attic and they say they didn’t know about it, it might be difficult to prove otherwise. That said, if you look at the home’s disclosure and there are a lot of unknowns or the seller didn’t properly fill it out, that could be a red flag.

Never Skip the Inspection

The inspection is the last line of defense for detecting any issues with the home before you finalize the purchase. While it might be tempting to skip an independent inspection before purchasing (depending on the size of the home, inspections typically range from $200-$800), it will likely save you a lot of headache and money down the line. Inspectors will be able to review the more technical aspects of the home. For example, if the house has central air, the inspector will check the HVAC units inside and outside to see that they’re fully operational—and ensure they’re not too close to the end of their 10-15 year lifespan.

You can accompany the inspector through the house, so don’t be afraid to ask questions as you go. Notice a strange-looking stain on the wall? Point it out so they can make note of it, and potentially identify whether it’s normal wear and tear—or an indicator of water damage.  If the inspector finds something—or a host of things—you can try to renegotiate the purchase price or worst case, back out altogether.

If everything checks out (fingers crossed!), it’s time to toss your detective hat to the side and focus on the closing process—and of course, your champagne-popping skills.

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This article is meant for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as financial, tax, legal, real estate, insurance, or investment advice. Bungalo always encourages you to reach out to an advisor regarding your own situation.

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