I’m a Home Inspector: Here Are 7 Key Signs That House Is a Money Pit

For Sale Real Estate Sign in Front of New House. stock photo
Feverpitched / iStock.com

Purchasing a home can be a rewarding — if lengthy — experience. So, when you’ve finally found what could be your dream home, you might be tempted to put in an offer right away.

But before you do, it’s important to consider the true cost of your purchase. For most prospective buyers, getting a thorough home inspection is a great way to uncover any hidden issues that’ll need to be addressed before or after you buy.

If you want to be prepared before getting to that stage in the buying process, however, there are several common signs that the property you’ve got your eye on is going to cost you more money than it’s worth. Here are the big ones, according to Mike Powell, Certified Home Inspector, Professional Engineer, and Owner at Red Flag Home Inspection, and Niki O’Brien, Operations Manager at home Custom Exteriors LLC.

Visible Foundation or Structural Issues

The foundation, along with other features like load-bearing walls, makes up the overall structural integrity of the home. If it’s showing visible signs of damage, chances are it’s going to cost you a lot to repair it.

Powell said, “Visible signs of structural damage like foundation cracks, sagging floors, or leaning walls are clear and obvious red flags that should be sought out by Home Inspectors. These issues can be extremely costly and challenging to rectify.”

“A list about defects and their potential for sinking a home into ‘money pit’ status should start with structural integrity,” added Powell. “Flawed foundation elements and/or subgrade materials can mean no amount of mortar or paint will hide the breakdown of your home. Reconstruction or transfer of the soil-supported home to a deeper foundation is often required. This is among the largest detriments that can sink a home purchase, ranging from a few thousand to $40,000.”

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Harmful Chemicals on the Property

Many older homes contain harmful chemicals or other hazardous materials in their construction, such as lead paint or asbestos.

“Often, older shingles and siding contain asbestos. A professional inspector will be able to identify this before disturbing it. This ensures everyone from the inspector to the installers to the buyers stays safe,” said O’Brien.

“Asbestos can be deadly, so it is not something to take lightly,” O’Brien continued. “Depending on the abatement company, removing asbestos siding or shingles can cost between $50 and $150 per square foot. Considering the size of the average roof or the amount of siding the average home has, that price can skyrocket quickly. Considering the cost and the health implications, this is the number one thing we want homeowners to consider.”

Lead-based paint is another big issue to consider.

“Discovering asbestos-containing materials or lead-based paint can lead to expensive abatement procedures to ensure a safe living environment,” added Powell. “Lead paint removal runs around $8 to $15 per square foot, so size (again) drives the total cost. These cannot be visually confirmed, although a competent inspector should know the warning signs to look for there.”

Aging Roof or Windows

Another sign that you’re in for some expensive repairs with your home purchase is that the roof or windows are old and need to be replaced.

“A new roof or replacement windows or siding will cost $10,000 and up. Many surpass the $50,000 mark,” said O’Brien. “Because these items serve as your protection from the outside, they often need to be taken care of quickly so as not to risk additional damage. Considering this, it is important to find the remaining lifespan of your roof, window, or siding before any purchase.

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“Needing to replace all of these systems can quickly raise your cost into the six-figure range. And more than that, if left in deteriorating conditions, they can cause more significant problems such as rot, mold, mildew, and even structural issues.”

Plumbing Issues and Water Damage

Signs of water damage are often a sign that you’re going to be pouring money into your new home in order to fix any issues.

“Evidence of water damage, dampness, or the presence of mold suggests underlying issues that may require professional remediation, often accompanied by costly repairs,” said Powell. “These can run $2,000 to $9,000 for handling by a third party (licensed) professional to mitigate.”

As for plumbing issues, Powell added, “Outdated or corroded plumbing systems, especially in older homes, may necessitate a complete overhaul to prevent leaks, water damage, and potential health hazards. Partial replacement of some pipes can run $2,000 with a complete re-piping of a house running closer to $14,000.”

Costs vary based on other factors as well, such as accessibility to the pipes.

Poor Insulation

If the home has inadequate insulation or poor energy efficiency, it could also be a money pit.

“Homes lacking proper insulation or energy-efficient features may result in high utility bills. Retrofitting for improved energy efficiency can be a significant expense,” said Powell.

“Adding insulation can run $1,000 to $4,000, while window replacement will almost always lead to around $1,500 per window in costs. Your inspector can physically measure the amount of insulation, and more savvy inspectors can measure the temperature leakage at windows.”

Signs of Infestation

Signs of a termite infestation — like sunken in areas in the walls or discarded shells or wings — could also be expensive to fix.

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“Termite damage or active infestations can lead to extensive repairs. Addressing the issue promptly is crucial to prevent further structural deterioration,” said Powell. “Isolated repairs can run between $2,000 and $15,000, with total infestations possibly leaving the building incapable of being repaired (requiring replacement of all elements affected).”

Outdated Electrical System

Commonly an issue found in older homes, an outdated electrical system can also be costly to fix.

“Houses with outdated or inadequate electrical systems may require extensive rewiring to meet modern safety standards. This can be a costly endeavor, ranging from $8,000 to $20,000,” said Powell.

“Wiring a house without drywall is difficult enough, doing it for an in-place home can be a nightmare of a job. Most outdated electrical systems are fairly obvious for any level of Home Inspector to diagnose, with knob-and-tube and cloth covered wires being an immediate alert to you to break out the checkbook.”

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