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House Hunting Red Flags

Homeownership is and always will be the first step to complete freedom from Landlords… It offers a family pride, stability and a secure investment in the future. Beware of these ‘red flags’ when hunting for the home of your dreams.

Two out of every three families in Canada own their own home, and the benefits go far beyond a long-term investment. Owning your own home can strengthen ties to your family as well as members of your community. It supplies shelter, warmth and a sense of tradition. This is one of the physical structures that becomes a part of your legacy. And perhaps most importantly, the home is where your family memories are built.

Buying your first home is very exciting, and even more exciting when you find one that you love and can afford. But don’t let that excitement make you blind to the little signs that may indicate serious issues later… These ‘red flags’ refer to warning signs of potential problems that could cost you lots of money in the future. While the FSBO seller is supposed to disclose any and all defects in the home, we all know that this is not always the case. As a buyer, ultimately, you have to look out for yourself.

The For Sale by Owner [FSBO] seller is instructed to make the home as presentable as possible. It’s your job to look past the beautiful decor and actually see the home itself. Once the walls are empty and the furniture is gone, will it still be the home of your dreams?

The following list is packed with common ‘red flags’ to keep an eye out for when house shopping. Applying this list to each home when you view it could save you thousands of dollars in unwanted stress and renovations after the home is yours. Let’s start by breaking down the ways you should look at a home. There are three main categories of a house; Structural, Functional, and Cosmetic.


1. Structural Red Flags

Foundation Issues

  • Heavy floors, cracked walls, and crumbling concrete are all cause for major concern.

Structural Changes

  • Bowed walls, uneven floors, cracked walls or ceilings are all signs of the house shifting or not settling evenly.

Renovation Wall Removal

  • Past wall removals can leave the house structurally unsecured, depending upon whether they were weight-bearing walls. There may as yet be no physical signs of damage.
  • If the work was recently done, the damage may not show up until later. Watch for open floor plans in recently renovated homes. Always inquire as whether this type of major renovation was completed post-construction of the original home.

Imperfectly Closing Doors

  • Unless there is a good explanation, imperfectly closing doors usually imply a problem. While it may be the door itself, it could just as easily reflect an uneven settling of the home.

Yard Grading

  • The outside land grade & sidewalk slope to the house can potentially cause excess moisture to drain directly down foundation walls or into the basement, which can cause problems with moisture, rot, and mold over time.

Newly Finished Basement

  • Usually, a newly finished basement can act as an appealing renovation which increases the home’s value/asking price. But be aware, it can also be the seller’s way of hiding a range of structural or foundational issues.

Foggy/Stuck Windows

  • Often a sign of broken or damaged window seals. Moisture, mold, and rapid heat loss are all side effects.
  • Stuck or stuck-closed windows can be a major cost to replace, and may indicate previous moisture damage or the house shifting.

Layers of Shingles

  • Can be a warning of previous attic moisture.
  • The roof itself may have slight rot, and if the insulation was compromised by moisture, this could result in greater heat loss.

Newly Built Decks & Fences

  • Decks & Fences without proper permits may not meet the required building codes or bylaws for your area. The municipality can issue an order for them to be removed at any time.
  • Also, there may be survey issues if the proper paperwork is not in order. Be sure to verify that deck and fence additions are up to code.

2. Functional Red Flags

Poor Water Pressure

  • Aside from being a total inconvenience, low water pressure can indicate plumbing issues and corroded pipes.
  • Check toilets as well, ensuring that all flush and fill properly.

“Soft” Shower Walls

  • …or “soft” bathroom floors. Walls and floors in the bathroom that feel soft to the touch, or “give in” to pressure at certain points, can actually indicate a long-term leak behind the walls.
  • This could also lead to mold forming behind the shower enclosures.

Leaky Taps

  • Not only annoying, but these are important to repair ASAP. Even a slow leak can dramatically increase your water bill.

Leaky Hot Water Tanks

  • Long-term leaking causes damage to nearby walls & carpets. This is also a known sign that the life of the water tank is ready to expire. You won’t want to foot that bill in your new home!

Furnace Cracks & Flame

  • Furnace cracks can lead to gas emissions leaking into the home. Rust and white dust deposits are also red flags.
  • When looking at the flame itself, it should always be blue. Red or orange flames do not indicate a properly functioning furnace.
  • Pull the filter. If it’s dirty, this may be a sign of low to poor maintenance, which is causing the furnace to work harder than normal.

Water Damage On Baseboards

  • Look for this in the basement, especially. Water marks or white chalky residue are both signs of water damage.
  • Smell or evidence of mold and mildew are also signs of long-term dampness in the basement, or any exterior walls. Black mold & mildew can cause severe respiratory issues.

3. Cosmetic Red Flags

Ceiling Stains

  • A sure indicator of leaks somewhere…

General Poor Maintenance

  • Evidence of poor maintenance on the exterior or interior of the home may be cause for concern. Even a car needs a tune-up once in a while to keep it running smoothly. A house is no different. Furnace cleaning, carpet cleaning, etc., are all needed to maintain a healthy environment in which to raise a family.

Fresh Paint

  • …on only one wall. Okay. Fresh paint is great, and in fact, sellers should repaint high-traffic areas of the home before selling. However, if you notice random freshly-painted areas, they may indicate the seller is trying to hide something, if the purpose of the repaint is not totally obvious…

New Carpets & Baseboards

  • Again, usually a positive, because sellers are encouraged to do renovations like this to increase the appeal of the home. Of course, there are always instances where new carpets/baseboards have been installed in an effort to hide previous water damage, especially in basements. Buyer beware!

Extension Cords

  • May indicate a lack of outlets and, possibly, an outdated breaker box.


  • Pets may leave behind more than a lost toy… Fleas, lice, feces and urine smells are hard to eliminate. Look for signs.

‘Locked’ Doors

  • It goes without saying that closed-off or inaccessible areas of the home may be hiding defects and damages.

Bugs & Rodents

  • Evidence of ants, termites, roaches, mice, or feces are definite red flag issues to address.


  • Eavestroughs out of which plants are growing… is a sure sign of poor home maintenance. Dirty gutters should compel you to have a closer look at the roof and possible damage issues.


  •  Smells good and bad may be a reason to question… what are they trying to hide?

Neighborhood Vandalism

  • …is often missed by homebuyers. Drive up and down the alleys and streets of the neighborhood you wish to live in. Look for vandalism, garbage, storage spaces, graffiti, etc. Smart buyers and For Sale By Owners [FSBOs] ask questions and explore for themselves what is going on in the neighborhood. Talking to neighbors is always a good place to start.

Although the list is quite long, don’t let it discourage you from taking your time to inspect the home you’ve fallen in love with. While the services of Appraisers and Home Inspectors can be used to conduct a thorough investigation of these elements, whether as a seller or buyer, this is simply a guide to help you along the way. Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have, the better equipped you’ll be to buy or sell real estate.

As a buyer, using this list as a guide may help you decide if you wish to proceed to the next step of writing an offer, or eliminating a home from your wish list. If you do proceed with buying a home, regardless of where it is or if it’s a private For Sale By Owner, you need to know its true condition. Always get a Professional Home Inspection done. Knowing for sure what you are getting yourself into can save thousands of dollars in unexpected repairs in the future.

For more on buying, check out the Canadian Home Find Buyer’s Guide … and save yourself thousands in costly mistakes!

Categories: Buyers