Whether you are planning to buy a new home or to put yours up for sale, it is important to know as to what differentiates a fixer-upper from a money pit. Several things can be done to improve the aesthetic appearance of a home, but you must also watch out for potential deal breakers which indicate that it is not a fixer-upper, but a money-pit.

When shopping for a home, it is a good idea to have your home-checking kit consisting of a carpenter’s level, flashlight, marble and binoculars with you. Moreover, ensure that you are wearing clothes and shoes that you can afford to become dirty. This is because you may have to crawl around a little bit to identify if there are any major problems.

Look at the Exterior of the House First

Most buyers completely overlook this simple step. You can even check the home from a distance. Some of the things that you must look out for include signs of a sagging or damaged roof and crookedness in exterior features such as foundation, walls, windows, doors and porch. If you are unsure as to whether the roof is sagging or not, you can take look at the roofline of the neighboring home.

A sagging roof indicates damage caused by excessive weight that has acted upon it for a long time. It could be due to the use of many layers of shingles or the owner not properly handling heavy snowfall. Snow will not melt quickly on a sagging roof. This leads to the formation of ice dams and causes more damaged to the roofing material.

Crookedness problems on the exterior of a house indicate foundation issues. They are not only severe problems, but also cost a great deal to rectify them. You will commonly come across such problems in older houses. If you are an inexperienced homebuyer, then you may not observe these problems.

Check Whether the Doors and Floors are Straight

Once you are inside a house, check whether the floors are straight or sloping. You will get a feel of the slope as you follow your real estate agent. You will feel that the floor is elevated at one area, but not at another area. You will scuff your feet if there is a small upward slope that you don’t expect to be there.

As you walk along, look out for humps beneath doorways as well as other arched areas. Presence of humps indicates the failure of a support. You can make use of the marble and carpenter’s level to check the straightness of the floors. On a hardwood floor, you can set the marble and see whether it rolls. If the marble rolls, it indicates a slanted floor. On a carpeted floor, you will have to use the carpenter’s level to check whether the floor is straight or slanted.

You must also inspect all the windows and doors to find out if they stick or fit squarely. Also, you must look for big gaps between a door’s top and bottom and whether alterations have been done to fit the door into a crooked space. These indicate damage to the foundation or structural support.

Check for Water Invasion

During your tour of the house, see if you smell dampness or mold. If there has been water invasion, you will notice molds, stains and other damages under kitchen and bathroom fixtures. It is also important to take a good look at the attic and basement. These are the two places that are commonly prone to water damages. In addition, look at the sump pump (primary as well as one with battery backup, if installed) in the basement and the information card/sticker provided by the plumbing company that installed and serviced the pumps. They may have information about water damage that has happened to the property

As many of the homeowners are not clearly aware of the rot that water damage can cause, they may not take it seriously. They just cover up the damage caused by water with a coat of paint or carry out a quick remodeling work and then forget about it altogether. This is not a good way of resolving the problem. You can use your flashlight to identify such quick fixes. You have to hold the flashlight parallel to the wall to spot irregularities as well as repair jobs.

The Fixes

If you happen to come across any of these problems during the course of inspection of the house, you need consider them as automatic dealbreakers. However, you need to do a thorough follow up prior to making an offer.

If there is a problem with the roof, you must find out whether it is because of an issue with the foundation or just roof damage. Whatever be the reason, it can cost you a good amount of money to repair. Whereas installing a new roof can cost you around $8,000, repairs to the fallen foundation can range between $20,000 and $30,000, especially if the house needs to be jacked up.

If the problems of ill-fitting windows and doors and slanting floors have been caused because of damages to one or more of the foundation supports, then the costs involved can be a few thousand dollars for doing repairs to the damaged foundation(s). Sometimes, the entire foundation will have to be replaced.

It is important to get an estimate of the cost involved in repairing a damaged support. This is because there can be huge variations (ranging from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars) depending on which support is damaged and the extent of damage.

If the foundation and structural supports are strong, then the problem may be either because of a slippage that has occurred to one support or not building the house on level supports initially. The cost of setting right such issues starts at $3,000. It may also call for jacking up of the house.

The biggest wild card maintenance issue is water damage. If it has happened in the recent times, it may not be very serious and can be fixed easily. If you are lucky, you may need just $50 worth of material to arrest the leak. Long-term water damage that has resulted in a rot or mold issues, compromising the house’s integrity, can cost a you a lot of money to carry out the required repairs. The costs involved can be in the range of $100,000. It is, therefore, important to seek the help of an expert, if you observe water damage in a house that you are thinking of buying.

Sometimes, it so happens that you fall in love with a house you see. In such a case, you can negotiate the house price keeping in mind the big repairs that have to be carried out. You must also be willing to incur the expense. You can also arrange an inspector’s report and check with a real estate agent (not that of the seller) as to what price you can offer for the house. Further, if you can afford to lay a new foundation for the old house that you are planning to buy, you can get that job done as well because you will know from the beginning as to what you are getting into.