Buyer Beware

Buyer Beware

Ten Things to Look for When Buying a Home

By Dylan Roche


Captain’s Houses in Centreville, Maryland on the Corsica River.



It’s a situation nobody wants: You finally land a contract on the home of your dreams, but after you go to closing and move in, you slowly realize there are problems. Big problems. Expensive problems.

And the worst part? Many of these problems are ones you might have been able to catch before closing—if you had known to look for them.

When you’re in the market to buy, either now or in the future, you should have a real estate agent and a professional inspector help you identify the following major issues. Any one of them could land you in an unfortunate but all-too-possible scenario.



1. Past Sale History

Even if this seems like the perfect house for you, look at the property’s sale history to see how it has fared on the market in the past. David Orso of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty explains that when it comes to salability, history tends to repeat itself. “If a home had a really hard time selling ten years ago, you should pause and ask yourself why,” he explains. “Probably the exact same problems are still there.”


2. Old Appliances

Even if the appliances work perfectly fine when you move in, how long are they likely to last? Constance Cadwell with Coldwell Banker Realty says appliances pushing their maximum number of years could rack up a steep bill for you after you purchase the home. A new fridge or washing machine might seem expensive at a few hundred dollars—which is at the low end. “Sometimes, HVAC can be anywhere from $12,000 to $15,000 to replace,” Cadwell says. “An inspector would say the lifespan is about ten years. You can always ask the sellers about the age of the appliances.”

Cadwell also encourages looking at service contracts to see how often appliances have been checked and serviced. As with your car, your home appliances will have a longer lifespan if they get regular care.


3. Structural Issues

A proper inspection will reveal whether a house—even one that looks fine to the untrained eye—has structural issues. Steven Arce of the Mr. Waterfront Team of Long & Foster Real Estate says an uneven foundation can cause the walls of the house to crack or shift through the years. This not only causes damage to the home; it can even create a potentially dangerous living situation.


4. Mold or Water Intrusion

Mold is not always visible to the naked eye. Mold spots can be covered up with paint, but that doesn’t make the growth go away. For this reason, Cadwell encourages prospective homebuyers to request a mold test when they get an inspection. Mold means there’s water intrusion in the house somewhere. “Mold and water go hand in hand,” Cadwell says. If there’s mold in the house, you need to address the primary cause before implementing any remediation.


5. Radon

Radon is a dangerous air pollutant cited as the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It’s caused by the breakdown of uranium in the soil, and could be in the environment around your home. Communities all over the country can be affected.

Cadwell says many people waive a radon check to lower the price of their inspection, but this is something she discourages. Radon is dangerous to live with. Although there are ways to fix the problem, it can be expensive. In some cases, radon remediation can cost up to $3,000! 


6. Trees

Trees look beautiful but don’t assume that everything growing on your property is healthy. If you have a 150-year-old oak hovering over your house, you could be looking at damage or even injury from falling limbs. Brad Kappel of Sotheby’s International Realty notes that removing a dead oak could cost $10,000—and that’s just for one tree. If a property has more than one tree that needs to come down, you could be looking at $20,000 or $30,000.


7. Underground Oil Tanks

If an oil tank is buried underneath a yard, you would have no way of knowing unless you had an inspection done. “You’re not supposed to have underground oil tanks anymore because they contaminate the soil,” says Cadwell. “They have to be above ground.” Once you close on a house, digging up that underground oil tank and moving it above ground becomes your responsibility.


8. Easements and Permits

Real estate agents agree: easements and permits can cause a lot of trouble for you if you don’t ask a title company to do the due diligence for you. Easements will let you know exactly where your property lines are and specify who is allowed to access your property. For example, if you have an electrical pole in your yard, then utility workers will need to access it, and an easement grants them permission to do so.

Similarly, permits give specific guidelines for everything from renovations to swimming pools to the dock that extends off your waterfront. If you buy a property with anything that was built in violation of one or more permits, it becomes your responsibility to fix it once you own the property—even if you were not the one who contracted the original project to be built.


9. Erosion

Erosion can be a problem for any kind of waterfront property or even on properties that sit on high hills. This can cause even well-built structures to be compromised after years of erosion, Kappel explains. “People focus on structure, but then they realize water is eroding the land away,” he says. “If a house is built very close to a steep slope and the slope is not stable, you have to bring a civil engineer who has to assess it.” Fixing erosion can become extremely expensive, costing you tens of thousands of dollars.


10. Local Norms

Finally, consider whether a home is typical of the community or not. This is an area where a real estate agent can offer insight. Orso says houses that don’t fit what people normally look for in a certain area can prove hard to sell later. Unusual floorplans or architectural styles might make the home unappealing to buyers who have certain expectations.




© Annapolis Home Magazine
Vol. 13, No. 5 2022