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Inspecting and Buying a Home

Choosing a home is exciting, exhausting, and confusing. Once your offer is accepted, you become "the buyer." Before you sign the purchase and sale contract, you are likely to have many questions and concerns about the property that must be addressed. Let's look at some of the most common ones:

Do we need a new roof?
On an asphalt roof, telltale signs of age are curled, cracked or broken shingles, and shingles missing gravel. One sign of a leaky roof may be stains in the ceiling below. Stains can be tested with a moisture meter for dampness. If the attic is accessible, the sheathing may be examined.

Are the gutters and downspouts working?
A clogged or disconnected downspout can allow roof water to run down the side of the house. This may cause peeling paint, and wood decay nearby. At the ground level, you will probably see soil erosion.

Are the foundation cracks serious?
The answer to this question is rarely "yes." Uneven settlement, shrinkage and expansion can all cause cracks in concrete walls. Old stone foundation walls often have powdery mortar, large voids, and stones that have shifted. For serious problems, you may have to consult with a structural engineer.

Are there signs of basement water?
Most older basements feel damp. The thin cement floors often have dark, moist spots. The walls may have water droplets on them. A basement that actually wets with water periodically may have high water-mark stains and mildew.

Will we have heat?
Old cast iron boilers are intimidating, but can last over 50 years. Old or new, there are some simple checks for heat systems. Every radiator or register should have heat, and each zone should operate independently. Around any boiler, one trouble sign to look for is water leakage.

What is the water pressure like?
If pipes are clogged, the water pressure and flow may fall steeply as you open more faucets. If running two faucets simultaneously in a bathroom can supply satisfactory flow, the pressure is probably adequate.

Is there hot water?
Most older single and small multi-family homes have 30-gallon hot water heaters. Newer homes may have 40- or 50-gallon tanks. For a family of 4, with a washing machine and dishwasher, a 30-gallon tank may not be adequate. Tanks must be replaced when they start to leak, every 5 or 10 years, depending on quality.

Are the drains functioning?
If the water in a sink or tub does not drain quickly, then a pipe may be clogged. In older dwellings, slow drainage is very common. Sometimes the conditions can be corrected by pipe clearing. Other options include either replacing a pipe or living with the condition.


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