Home Buying Red Flags - home before and after

What Are Home Buying Red Flags

5 Potential Issues that Shouldn’t Stop You From Buying a Home – And 5 that Definitely Should


Things You Can Overlook When Buying a Home

Buying a home can be an overwhelming process. There are so many things to consider, it can be hard to know which issues are home buying red flags and which are safe to ignore. Some problems are definitely a sign to steer clear. But not every problem has to be a dealbreaker. While it’s always smart to get a professional opinion before making a commitment, there are some things you can safely overlook while house hunting.

The seller’s personal taste

There is a reason that homes are staged. It can be hard to envision yourself in a home when you’re distracted by the current owner’s style choices. Whether it’s ugly wallpaper or clutter, remind yourself that you will be making the home your own. Things like paint colors or moldings are easy and relatively inexpensive to change out. This goes for the exterior of the home too. You can always repaint and make aesthetic upgrades to better match your own style. As long as the problems are only cosmetic, focus on envisioning what the home could be. Think of it as a canvas for your inner interior decorator!

Outdated appliances

Appliances can feel built into the home, when in reality they can easily be replaced. You can swap out old appliances as soon as you take possession of the home or make a plan to replace them down the line. The important thing is that the outlets and hookups work. Similarly, knobs and fixtures can be switched out fairly cheaply to completely change the look of kitchens and bathrooms. So many things in a home can be affordably replaced. Again, worry about whether everything works as it should. You can always change up the details later.

Minor dirtiness and grime

A lot of house hunting has to do with tuning out what is and imagining what could be. Of course some problems are not worth having to fix, but dingy walls or stained carpets are an easy enough fix that they shouldn’t be a deal breaker. Have a professional check out any strange spots or stains that look like they could be caused by water or mold. Otherwise, do your best to imagine how the home will look after a deep cleaning.

A funky smell

The way something smells has a profound effect on our emotions and perceptions. It’s the number one sense that humans associate with memory. It makes sense then that an unpleasant smell could especially deter you from moving forward with a home. In reality though, many bad smells can easily be removed. Odors from smoking or pets might require tearing up old carpet. Most smells stick to fabrics and soft surfaces and will otherwise air out rather quickly. (One exception to this is a home that smells like mildew, which may signal a water leak and should prompt further investigating.)

An unattractive yard

There are many reasons why a lawn might not be thriving. Dead grass or ugly landscaping is no reason to dismiss a house that you otherwise love. The same goes for undesirable or even deteriorating fencing. It doesn’t affect the structural integrity of the actual house and can easily be replaced once the home becomes yours. Poor curb appeal can even work in your favor by lowering the asking price.

When it comes to mild and aesthetic issues, allow yourself to see what could be. Think of it as a chance to unleash your creative side. Imagine the sense of pride at crafting a dream home that is truly yours.

Home Buying Red Flags

Now that you know what issues you can probably overlook, you should also know what issues you definitely shouldn’t. It’s hard to find what seems like a perfect home – or an amazing deal – only to be met with a dealbreaker. It might be tempting to assume you can just fix any problems down the line. There are some things, however, that should serve as red flags.

A home that is priced well below similar homes in the area

A home that is priced considerably below the market rate might seem like a steal. You might even feel a sense of pride at having found yourself a good deal that others missed. But remember, if it seems too good to be true… it probably is. A home that seems to be priced too low, or that has been on the market for a long time, is often not what it seems. (According to Zillow, the average time from list to close is 68 days.) There may be a major hidden problem that will end up costing you down the line. At the very least you should ask lots of questions and insist on having your own inspections done.

Problems involving water

Water is the enemy of structural integrity. Even small amounts of water can cause mold, rotting wood, and even cracking or movement of a home’s foundation. There are various causes of water damage. Improper grading or drainage can allow water to seep into the foundation from the yard when it rains. Structural cracks, faulty or missing gutter systems, or damage to the plumbing system may all cause leaking that may start small but cause deterioration over time. You should check around the home’s exterior for any standing water, ideally while it’s raining. Examine the home for mold, particularly around the windows. Water stains on the walls or dampness anywhere are house hunting red flags.

Home buying red flags - Inside of unfinished home with stripped walls

Sagging or sloping in the roof or floors

Noticeable sagging or sloping in roofing or flooring is a sign of structural damage. A roof that sags or slopes is a roof that needs to be completely replaced, a very expensive undertaking. Sagging or sloping in floors may be caused by water damage or even major cracks to the foundation. Check all floors carefully, especially if the home has a basement. You can also examine the home’s doors. A shifting foundation can warp door frames, making it difficult for the doors to close properly. Doors that have been trimmed or otherwise altered are a sign that door frames have shifted over time.

Pest problems

Some pests, including rodents and wood-eating insects like termites, can do thousands of dollars worth of damage to a home. Oftentimes this damage does not become visible until it is already a serious, expensive problem. Keep an eye out for signs of possible infestation, including rodent or bug droppings, piles of dirt, holes or other signs of nesting. Even if you don’t see any signs of a pest problem, you should hire a licensed pest inspector to examine a home before making an offer.

Signs that the seller is trying to hide something

It’s normal for homes to be painted and staged in order to make the best first impression on a buyer. It becomes a red flag when things seem out of the ordinary, like an oddly-placed piece of furniture or fresh paint that only extends to one wall. Similarly, air fresheners or scented candles aren’t uncommon, but air fresheners in peculiar places or in every single room may be a warning sign. Constant music playing could be masking strange sounds. Ask lots of questions, and request a tour of the home without the added ambience.


Not all potential house buying red flags turn into something serious, but it is important that you take red flags seriously. A professional home inspection can either ease or confirm your fears, and is highly recommended before you commit to buying any home. The most important thing is that you listen to your common sense and ask lots of questions.

Purchasing a home is a big deal. The process can be both scary and exhilarating. For more information on the home buying process, check out our home buying guide and home buying checklist.

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