Home Inspection: Costly Dangers of Missing Red Flags When Buying A Home

Home Inspection Issues. Red Flags buyers beware

Home Inspection: Red Flags to look for when buying a new home or Distressed Property

Are you considering buying new home or a distressed property? Here are is what you need to look for to make sure you will not be getting into financial trouble.

Not all Foreclosures are distress properties but more often then not they are not maintained, and you must be able to identify hidden problems that may break the bank. Picking the right Realtor and home inspector is essential to help you identify a distressed structure that has been damaged or deteriorated and identify systems that may need replacement or repair.

What causes a damage to a property in a short period of time or deterioration that develops over many years?

Weather and storms that arise cause damage or distress to a property over short period of time as a result of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, or landslides.
Damage or deterioration develops over many years is caused by one or more of the following:

Water and Poor drainage

Water enters the home in many different way. The windows and door by not be properly sealed and leak. Roofs that are old or damaged by storms may leak, chimneys with deteriorated flashing or many need re-pointing can cause damage. Leaks entering the home through cracks in the foundation.

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Slow moving landslides will cause structural problems in foundation and more.

Soil can shift and expend under and around the foundation. The fill used under the home may be settling or not the proper material. Frees and thawing water in the soil can cause movement and damage. Some areas of the county have experienced sinkholes that can consume a whole house in minutes.

If a home is not maintained or has construction defects you should be looking for red flags. Many home buyers that buy new construction think the don’t need a home inspection. Nothing is further from the truth. Always hire a reputable home inspect before you move forward with you purchase.

All of the above issues can cause uneven movement of the foundation. The effects build up over a period of years and cause structural damage especially if it move unevenly resulting in foundation cracks, even doors, walls, floors and windows.

Considerable foundation work may be required, and a foundation specialist and structural engineer experienced in fixing distressed houses should be consulted.

What are the Red Flags that you should look for when inspecting a home?

Home Inspections. Look out for Red Flags

Look for visible signs of defects and possible safety hazards that may cause injury. These include decks not properly attached to the house, loose handrails, uneven stairs or walkways, exposed electrical wires, and mechanical systems that have not been maintained. If new construction has issues that is a huge red flag.

Do your homework!

Contact the city engineering departments and make sure construction permits were issued and closed. Look a flood maps, soil report and any other helpful documentation in town files. Look closely at property disclosure reports and question and omission of information.

Home Inspection Defects you should check for:

  • Environmental hazard like underground oil tanks
  • All outside structures: pools, sheds, retaining walls
  • Look at the land and property, is the house sagging, are there cracks in driveway, water near foundation, is roof and chimney in good shape?
  • Foundation wall defects
  • Experienced home inspectors, and even structural engineers, can have difficulty interpreting these defects. Seek help from a structural engineer.
  • Hairline cracks are random and small and not usually a red flag. Wide open cracks should be checked out and out of plane displacements are worrisome. Protruding walls are a huge red flag.
  • Structures that Appear out of Square and Distorted

Indications of foundation movement and damage from settling include:

  • Cracks that are wider at one end than the other
  • Bulges in walls and ceilings
  • Roofs that have significant depressions or bulges
  • Doors that have been worked on to fit an opening
  • Cracks in trim, drywall, or plaster
  • Floors that are level or that feel out of level – roll a marble to test
  • Doors and windows that don’t open easy and out of square
  • Gaps between floors and trim around doors and base.

Soil Types

Home Inspection Red Flags

Soil type is particularly important to reinforce foundation walls and building codes require a certain depth of footings dependent on the soil type. There are five types of soil sand, clay, gravel, silt, and organic. Some of these hold water which allow for movement and should not be used for foundations.

Gravel has the highest load bearing capacity because it does not hold water and sand is second best. Clay and silt have the lowest acceptable load-bearing capacity. Clay tends to retain water and remain wet long after being exposed to water and  shrink during dry weather.

This movement causing structural damage. Buildings should not be built on organic soils and expansive clay soils.

Sometimes fill is used on hillside developments and it must be compacted according to engineering criteria. Improperly compacted fill is a poor product and a major cause of structural damage. Some builders bury construction material and vegetation which will settle. Look for depressions in the yard.
Footing in freezing areas should be located below the freeze line to avoid damage to structure.


A sinkhole occurs when water has drained and dissolved rock in the ground sometime caused by pumping of ground water. They vary in size and are common in Florida, Kentucky, Texas, and Alabama, Pennsylvania and more. Sewer and water pipes can leak as well causing streets to and side walks to sink.
Homes built on hills can be in danger of landslides.

Visual detection of landslides is usually difficult. To determine if landsliding is the cause of distress you need to hire an engineer that specializes in geology.

Water and Poor Drainage: Common Problem Found During Home Inspections

Most problems cause by water is a simple fix and the result of improper grading around the property and not controlling water runoff from the roof. Check to see if the soil is sloped away from the foundation walls and that the foundation is at least 6 inches above the soil level. You can install a curtain drain if necessary.

Driveways, and patios should always slope away from the house as well.

To control poor drainage, install a sump pump to collect water and move it out and away from the house, correct slopes away from the house and us dehumidifier at all times in the basement and crawl space.
Downspouts should not empty next to the foundation.

Plants that are too close to the house not only can damage the house by roots growing into the foundation and may need water; excess watering can put water near a foundation can cause problems.

Cracks in Sidewalks, Driveways, Patios, and Basement Floors

Observe driveways, walkways, patios, garage floors etc. to see if there are large cracks or openings. Improper drainage may be the cause or not properly constructed when built. Movement of these items can be expensive to repair and may require demolition and replacement.

Keep in mind that a small crack in a movement joint is normal. Control joints are installed to allow some movement. Keep you eye out for cracks that are safety hazards and large number of cracks.

Attic and Crawl Space Ventilation

home Inspection red flags

Look for moisture and mold in attics and crawl spaces. Attics should have ventilation near eves of roofs that can get blocked by insulation.

Check for rotted or wet wood with stains on it.
Crawl spaces should be ventilated to provide air circulation and if you block them during the winter be sure to remove it in spring.

Retaining Walls

Retaining stone walls hold soil on hillsides. They should be built so water can escape in various points in the wall. Improper drainage will show signs of white powder on the front of wall.

Check each end of the wall and make sure it is not leaning away from the hillside. Check for protruding sections and erosion under the wall. If the wall is rotating in any fashion or has sever cracking this is a red flag.


Having to install a new roof can be very costly. Make sure you look for defects carefully that can indicate such as moisture problems. Green moss and stains are mainly cosmetic.

Damaged shingles and old flashing will need to be replaced. Missing or inadequate kick-out flashing, which is an angled piece of metal at the end of a roof where a wall extends past a roof, such as at the intersection of a garage roof and a second-story wall.

Look out tar on roof, cracks and erosion of gravel. Water stains in attic or ceilings indicate roof leakage. Sellers may try to conceal this with paint. Mold on attic roof is a sure giveaway to water problems. Roof should have one layer.

Fireplaces, Chimneys, and Solid-Fuel-Burning Appliances

Always have an experienced home inspector or solid-fuel-burning stove contractor look at wood burning stoves and chimneys. They must be on a noncombustible floor 12 inches or more from combustible materials. Look for cracks in the mortar and masonry. These can be a fire hazard. Make sure the damper opens and closes easily.


Mold grows on organic material and requires water and the correct temperature to grow. Remove the moisture to control mold growth. Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles and carpet) that become moldy may have to be replaced.

Major Mechanical Systems

Home Inspection Red Flags

The common major house systems are electrical, plumbing, heating/air-conditioning. Have these checked by professionals. Make sure you have a service record.

Electrical System

Things to look during a home inspection are malfunctioning wall switches and receptacles.

If you see burn marks this is a red flag. Cables should be in areas that are free of physical damage. They should not be loose or hanging.

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) should be installed near water outlets like kitchen counters, garages, bathrooms, laundry rooms and outdoor receptacles to prevent shock.

Electrical fires can be cause by arcing faults that occur in old damaged wiring, nails or staples in walls that penetrate the wire or improper use of extension cords.

Plumbing System

Check all water faucets to make sure they don’t leak or drip. Toilets should not be loose. Hot should be on the left and cold on the right. If you have a private well have the water tested.

Home Inspection Hidden Red Flags

Homeowners commonly paint and patch homes for aesthetic reasons before selling them. Sometimes, however, they inadvertently or intentionally conceal or hide indications of defects such as water stains and cracked walls. Check for different color paint and question the repairs.

Foul Smell

When preview a home be aware that lit candles are a sign of seller trying to hide something. Make sure you find out if it is mold, rotting wood, wet drywall etc.

Garages: Door Springs and Clutter

For safety reasons garage doors should have a cable wire through the center in case the spring breaks. Keep your garage clean and free of clutter and flammable materials.  If you are thinking of selling your home do not underestimate the value of a clean and de-cluttered garage.

First time home buyers can make costly mistakes. They may not be aware of how to hire a home inspector, what to look for in a home repairs or how to negotiate home inspection issues. It is extremely important to hire the right realtor that is experienced to guide you through the home buying process. Sellers should make as many necessary repair to their home before putting in the market to avoid the the common mistake sellers make when selling.

Additional Information:

Home inspectors do their best in taking care of clients  but there are some issues that may be missed. You don’t want to by a home with major repairs. Bill Gassett has highlighted Home Inspection Problems the inspector may not find.

After your home inspection is complete what now?  It’s time to negotiate repairs and money with the seller but what is reasonable to ask for? Jeff Nelson and Sharon Paxson has provided us with 13 Tips to Negotiate Home Inspection Repairs and What to Negotiate after a Home Inspection.

Luxury homes are constructed on a large sites with possible drainage issues, a large number of mature specimen trees, and may have a sizable swimming pool with spa that incorporates sophisticated pumps and waterfalls.  The home itself may have  multiple heating and cooling zones, lots of windows and doors, a big roof area, high-tech electronics systems, complex lighting programs and safety systems. Joy Bender has provided 13 Things You Need To Know About (Luxury Home Inspections).

Danny Margagliano as written a great article and guide on Important Repair Requests Before You Close Your Home. He also provides other avenues to take if you don’t ask for repairs.

Real estate and garden information was provided by Eileen Anderson, recognized leader in her field.

If you are looking to hire a top realtor, I can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 860-966-2112.

I am licensed for residential real estate sales in the state of Connecticut including but not limited to the following CT towns: Avon, Bloomfield, Burlington, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, East Granby, Hartland, Hartford, Suffield, Windsor, New Hartford, North Granby, Farmington, Winchester, Newington, Litchfield, Simsbury, Suffield and West Hartford, CT.