10 Red Flags To Look Out For When Viewing Homes

10 Red Flags To Look For When Viewing Homes

red flags wiyh stop written on them

Buying a home is a significant investment, and you want to make sure you're making a wise choice. When you're touring potential homes, it's essential to keep your eyes open for any red flags that might indicate underlying issues. While a home inspection will reveal many details, here are ten red flags to look for when buying and viewing homes that could save you time, money, and future headaches. Buying a house comes with a unique set of challenges and in a perfect world you might expect the homeowner to open their hearts to the home buyer and share all the possible problems with the home...the reality in many homes for sale, the homeowner may not even know of some issues.

There are certain hidden things to look for when viewing a house and we will discuss some of them here which will help you to feel comfortable signing on the dotted line as you purchase a home.  Your realtor first and later your home inspector should be on the lookout for any real estate listing red flags  and things to look for before you make an offer. Of the top 10 red flags to watch out for when buying a home the two most important would be structural issues and signs of water damage. While there could be significant concerns with any of the following issues these two typically result in the most damage and costly solutions. Depending on where you are house hunting another significant problem with a home could be termite damage. If there are a lot of trees near the house there could be a wood destroying insect problem and a major concern is mud tubes on the foundation walls. Ask the home owner  if they are aware of any intrusion, they have to disclose this. If your dream home comes with termites it could quickly become a nightmare and could negatively affect the resale value down the road. 

1. Water Stains and Water Damage

Ceiling Water Stains and Damage: A Potential Sign of Trouble

Look at the ceilings in every room, stains on ceilings or walls are one of the most noticeable and concerning issues  when viewing homes. These stains can take various forms, from discolored patches to peeling paint or wallpaper. Also look for signs of mismatched paint which could indicate a stain that was painted over. Here's what you need to know about them:

water damage

Leaking Roof: Stains on the ceiling can often be a telltale sign of a roof issue. Roof leaks can result from damaged or missing shingles, deteriorated flashing, or problems with roof valleys. Ignoring a roof issue can lead to more extensive damage over time, potentially requiring costly repairs.

Plumbing Issues: Water marks on walls or ceilings near bathrooms, kitchens, or plumbing fixtures could indicate plumbing problems. Leaky pipes, faucets, or drains can cause water to seep into the walls leading to staining and even mold growth. Water heaters can develop drips over time that if left unattended can cause damage to the structure.

Moisture Infiltration: Sometimes,  stains might not be directly related to a leak but rather to moisture infiltration. Poorly sealed windows, doors, or improperly installed siding can allow moisture to enter the home, leading to stains and potential structural damage.

Mold and Mildew: Damp areas can be a breeding ground for mold and mildew, which can have health implications and require extensive remediation. If you notice a musty smell it's important to investigate further.

Hidden Damage: While stains may be visible, the extent of the damage is often concealed behind the surface. Rotting wood, insulation damage, and compromised structural integrity can all lurk beneath the apparent stain.

2. Foundation Cracks... Red Flag 

Foundation Cracks: What You Need to Know

Foundation issues can be a homeowner's worst nightmare, and one of the primary signs of potential trouble is the presence of cracks in the foundation. Here's a closer look at what foundation problems could signify:

foundation cracks

Types of Foundation Cracks:

  • Vertical cracks are relatively common and may not always be a cause for alarm. They can result from the natural settling of a house over time.
  • Horizontal fissures are more concerning. They can indicate pressure from the surrounding soil or water intrusion and may be a sign of structural stress.
  • Stair-Stepped Fissures These are diagonal cracks that resemble a flight of stairs and are often indicative of differential settlement, where one part of the foundation sinks more than another.
  • Cracks wider than 1/4 inch are typically more worrisome and may indicate a significant issue.

Possible Causes of Foundation Fractures

  • Poor Soil Conditions: Expansive or poorly compacted soil can lead to differential settlement and foundation movement, causing fractures.
  • Water Intrusion: Excess moisture from poor drainage, plumbing drips, or improper grading can erode soil and put pressure on the foundation.
  • Tree Roots: Large tree roots near the foundation can exert pressure and cause fractures as they grow and expand.
  • Construction Issues: Poorly executed foundation construction or inadequate materials can result in fractures.

The Importance of A Home Inspection:

  • When you encounter foundation fractures it's crucial to hire a qualified structural engineer or foundation specialist to assess the severity and underlying cause of the fractures and if they could mean the house is unfit to live in.
  • An inspection can determine whether the fractures are superficial or a sign of structural problems that require immediate attention.
  • A professional can also recommend appropriate repairs, which may include underpinning, foundation stabilization, or drainage solutions.

Impact on Home Value:

  • Foundation issues can significantly impact a home's value and marketability. Buyers may be hesitant to purchase a property with unresolved foundation problems.
  • If you decide to proceed with a home that has foundation issues, be prepared for potential challenges during the selling process in the future. Selling a home with known structural issues and not disclosing them is not allowed.

Negotiation and Repairs:

  • If foundation issues are discovered during an inspection, it's essential to negotiate with the seller to address the problems before closing the deal.
  • Repairs can be costly, so it's crucial to understand the extent of the damage and obtain estimates from qualified contractors.

3. Odors When Buying A Home

Unusual odors in a home can be more than just an inconvenience; they can signal underlying issues that require attention. Musty or moldy smells, for instance, could indicate the presence of moisture problems or even hidden mold growth within the walls. Unpleasant odors could also hint at neglected maintenance, such as plumbing issues or inadequate ventilation. It's essential to trust your sense of smell when viewing homes, as addressing odor-related issues may not only improve indoor air quality but also prevent potentially costly repairs down the road. If you detect persistent odors, it's advisable to investigate further or seek professional assistance to determine their source and potential impact on the property. Pets living in the home can cause significant damage to a home just in the normal day to day goings on. Over time the odors of certain pets can build up and the seller might not even notice it as we tend to get used to the smells in our houses and if every room is affected it could be an expensive fix.

4. Buying A House With Outdated Electrical Systems 

untraind electrician

When viewing a potential home, one crucial aspect to consider is the state of its electrical systems. Outdated or inadequate electrical setups can pose safety risks and limit a property's ability to meet modern power demands. Signs of outdated systems include fuse boxes instead of circuit breakers, aging wiring that might not meet current safety standards, or a lack of grounded outlets. While an older electrical system doesn't necessarily mean the home is unsafe, it may require upgrades to ensure it can handle modern appliances and electronics safely. If you encounter an older electrical system during a home tour, it's wise to have a licensed electrician assess it to determine if updates or replacements are necessary for your safety and convenience.

5. Signs of Pests Termite Damage

Pest infestations can be a homeowner's nightmare, potentially causing extensive damage and health hazards. During your home search, be vigilant for signs such as droppings, chewed wood, gnaw marks, or nests. Common problems to watch out for include termites, rodents, insects, and ants. Identifying these signs early on is crucial as it allows you to address the issue promptly. Depending on the extent of the infestation, you might need to consider professional control services for eradication and preventive measures. Ignoring signs of infestation can lead to costly repairs and health concerns down the line, so it's essential to investigate and address any insect related red flags you encounter during your home tours.

6. Poor Drainage What To Look For When Buying A Home

Adequate drainage is crucial for safeguarding a home against water-related problems. When inspecting a property, look for signs of poor drainage, such as standing water in the yard, erosion, or consistently soggy ground, especially after rainfall. Poor drainage can lead to water infiltration in basements or crawl spaces, causing structural damage, foundation issues, and potential mold growth. Evaluating the property's grading, gutter systems, and drainage solutions is essential to prevent future water-related headaches.

7. Inadequate Maintenance Things To Look For

Neglected maintenance can be a red flag, as it could indicate deeper, unaddressed problems within the home. Observe the overall condition of the property during your visit. Signs of inadequate maintenance can encompass overgrown landscaping, peeling paint, loose shingles, or visible wear and tear. Inadequate maintenance may encompass not only cosmetic concerns but also potential issues with plumbing, electrical systems, or structural integrity. It's imperative to inquire about the home's maintenance history and any pending maintenance tasks to understand the full picture.

8. Unusual Fractures or Settling- Sloping Floors

While minor settling is typical in homes, unusual or pronounced fractures in walls, ceilings, or floors should trigger caution. These crevices might point to underlying foundation problems, soil issues, or structural stress. During a home inspection, a qualified professional can assess the severity of these splits and determine whether they require immediate attention or further investigation. Understanding the cause and implications of unusual fractures is crucial for making an informed decision about the property.

9. Recent Repairs or Cover-Ups Buyer Beware...For Sale By Owner!

Be vigilant for areas of the home that appear freshly painted or patched. Such cover-ups might be an attempt to hide existing issues. When you encounter these signs, inquire with the seller about any recent renovations or repairs. Request documentation and details about the nature of these improvements. It's essential to ensure transparency and verify that any necessary repairs have been properly addressed before considering the purchase.

10. Traffic and Noise

traffic jam

The neighborhood's noise level and traffic patterns can significantly impact your daily life and overall satisfaction with a property. Evaluate how the location of the home may influence your quality of life. Consider factors such as proximity to busy roads, nearby businesses, or sources of noise pollution. Assess whether the noise aligns with your preferences and whether it might affect your ability to enjoy the property fully. Noise concerns can be a critical factor in your decision-making process, so thorough evaluation is essential.


When viewing potential homes, a keen eye for red flags can save you from investing in a property with hidden problems. While some issues are easily fixable, others can be costly and time-consuming to address. Always consult with a qualified home inspector to get a thorough evaluation of any concerns you may have. By being vigilant during the home-buying process, you can make an informed decision and ensure your new home is a safe and comfortable place to live. Even buying a new home you should look out for these red flags and take a close look at any issue with the house, a new home doesn't mean there is nothing wrong with the house.

This post is brought to you by David O'Doherty, a licensed real estate agent since 2007 helping buyers and sellers in the Greater Raleigh Area of North Carolina. He is committed to providing his clients with exceptional service and personalized attention throughout every step of the real estate process. If you're looking to buy or sell a property in Raleigh or the surrounding areas or have any questions about the local real estate market, don't hesitate to contact David O'Doherty today. Call or Text (919) 601-2268 or email [email protected]

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