What To Look For In A Not-So-New Home

When real estate agents take you through houses, they often like to dazzle you with frivolous, eye-catching aspects. Unless you ask tough questions and pay for a professional inspection, you won’t get much insight about whether or not the home is livable and truly worth its asking price.

Canadian Personal Finance helps you cut through initial appearances to find out whether or not a home is worth buying. Here are three important questions you’ll need answered:

* How old are the water heater and furnace? If the water heater is more than five years old and the furnace is older than 10, they may be aging and in need of maintenance or replacement.

* Can the electrical system stand up to your needs? Verify that your home has 200 amp service — a rating of the power available to the home — to meet modern standards.

* What shape is the roof in? If it’s more than 10 years old and hasn’t been significantly overhauled, repaired or well-maintained, it may not be in optimal shape.

5 Signs The House You Bought Was Flipped [Canadian Personal Finance]


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  1. Captain Spock says:

    Doesn’t “Flipping” a house usually mean you invest some money into it? Apparently it only means paint.

  2. c152driver says:

    5 year old water heaters in need of replacement? Was this article sponsored by the water heater industry? My parents just replaced their 30+ year old water heater and it was still working at the time.

    • treebait says:

      My husband is a plumber, and he says that 10 years is when you need to start looking at them. He just re-did ours at the 15 year mark.

      They don’t make them like they used to.

    • gtrgod01 says:

      yeah…and 10 years on a furnace? I think the average life on those is about 25 years.

      • TomTraynor says:

        Its a good point to start. You can see the shape it is in and how efficient it is and start to make plans for future replacement. We had our furnace replaced a few years ago and the difference was dramatic. Our heating cost went from over $90 a month to under $60. You can also see if the current owner is taking care of the furnace. Chances are if they are ignoring that then they are probably ignoring other things in the maintenance of the house.

      • Mr. Bill says:

        The newer high efficient furnaces only last about 15 years.

        • Firethorn says:

          Then are they really all that efficient? Dad did the figuring once for some air conditioners – the lower EER unit was rated to last 20 years, the higher 10. The higher one cost like $10k, vs $8k for the lower but longer lasting one.

          What happened is that in search of greater efficiencies, they ended up having to make the heat exchanger too thin for true longevity.

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      A water heater is effectively a pressure vessel; it needs to be inspected and yes, replaced on a fairly regular basis. They expand and contract several times a day, which can eventually lead to warping and cracking.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Sure, you can get a lot more years out of the better quality water heaters and furnaces. Now days, you have to hunt around and pay more for those, unlike a few decades ago when they were all good. And don’t even bother to do that hunting at the box stores.

      Still, I’d use those age ratings, anyway, when negotiating a new-to-me house (I love 1920’s bungalows).

    • BBBB says:

      “5 year old water heaters in need of replacement?”

      One factor is the mineral content of the local water. My last home had water with very high mineral content – water heaters lasted 5 or 6 years before the mineral buildup inside caused a lack of capacity and slow heating. [sinks and toilets would bet mineral buildup quickly and you needed a special cleaner.]

      Now I live a few miles away from there – heaters in my new neighborhood last about 30 years.

      • Cor Aquilonis says:

        In that case, the anode needs to be replaced more frequently. Seriously, maintenance is a a whole lot of help when keeping a household system up, but people just don’t do it.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        thanks for the reminder. i have high mineral content from the community well. it’s probably time to drain my water heater and check it.

    • Snakeophelia says:

      We just sold a house with a 65-year-old furnace. That sucker still worked just fine. Only needed a cleaning and priming. They don’t make ’em like they used to.

      We had to replace the water heater before selling, though, as it conked out 15 years to the day after being installed.

    • Sneeje says:

      And I want to know what kind of roof is in terrible shape after 10 years. I’ve owned two houses and did virtually nothing to either of their roofs and gotten 20+ years out of them.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        right, i bought mine with the roof at 18 years old. part of the roof had been damaged by snowfall and had to be repaired but the rest was fine for a couple more years.
        but in extreme climates where the sun is weathering the roof more heavily or snow sits on it for several months at a time, then maybe 10 years would make me worry.

      • Skipweasel says:

        Yeah, I wondered about that. This house is 40 years old and the roof is fine – there are a few round here that have had a bit of work done on the sarking but they’re in the minority and I suspect that most of them were probably sold the job by feral roofers rather than actually needing it.
        The house we had before this one was built in 1853 and still had most of its original slates on – though a couple had been replaced over the years.

    • MJDickPhoto says:

      Read up on your Water Heaters instructions. more then like-fully, you will have a “Sacrificial Rod” that will need to be replaced, and most people don’t know anything about them. read up, you will see what this will do for you.

      • Sham03 says:

        Bingo! Replace that anode rod every 4-5 years, and your water heater will live much much longer compared to no replacement. Funny thing is, neither Lowe’s nor Home Depot carry these (the ones I visited) in store. Had to go to Amazon.com to find one.

        • Firethorn says:

          When I went shopping, my local menards had sacrificial anodes. Of course, I ended up buying a new water heater that came with TWO extra-large ones and installing a water softener, mostly because I discovered that my heater was full of calcium.

          Consider buying the flexible one – You don’t necessarily have the clearance to install the straight ones. In addition, most heaters have positions for TWO, so if the one you’re buying only comes with one, consider installing the second immediately. Finally, remember that they’re a bit like oil in an engine. It’s there to prevent damage, not reverse it. Every day the heater doesn’t have enough anode left to protect the rest of the vessel, is a day that the vessel is being dissolved by the water.

    • The_IT_Crone says:

      The key phrasing was “maintenance OR replacement.”

      Yes, you need to maintain your furnace and water heater, and every 5-10 years is NOT a stretch.

      • LanMan04 says:

        OK, like what? How does one maintain a water-heater?

        • Rachacha says:

          * You should drain the sediment from the water heater to maintain efficient operation and prolong the life.
          * You may need to replace the “dip tube” which carries incoming cold water to the bottom of the tank where it can be heated. Over time the tube breaks which can cause cold water to stay at the top of the tank where it is pushed into the hot water output line making your hot water luke-warm.
          * You may need to replace the anode tube which is designed to attract corrosive materials. You sacrifice the annode tube to save your water heater.

          All of these are usually fairly easy repairs that most homeowners should be able to do themselves.

  3. TomTraynor says:

    A couple of more things.

    Furnace: If it is oil have that tank inspected!

    Windows: How old are they? Run your hand along the bottom and see if you can feel a breeze. It was amazing when we did that on a ‘new’ window for a place we were looking at and we could feel air. If there is air coming through then probably water will too.

    If the owners claimed to have done renos and you are thinking about buying see if there were permits for those renos. No Permits means it may cause you a ton of problems later.

    If it is an older home make sure you get a good inspector, also let them know ahead of time to check for possible asbestos. Some of the older places wrapped the pipes in an asbestos product and that will be costly to remove later.

  4. Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

    Canadian Personal Finance… is that another way to say ‘Saving your bacon’?

  5. eezy-peezy says:

    So, do you want a house with new furnace, new water heater, and new roof, and pay top dollar for it? Or do you want to buy one that needs some work, save some money and put in exactly what you want?

    • Lyn Torden says:

      It depends on which ends up getting me the most. If they were expecting to sell it as new and then I find old appliances and improperly maintained stuff, it might be possible to get them to knock more off as I start quoting how much “that” costs to replace and re-install. If the seller says a hot water heater doesn’t cost that much I’d say it does if you don’t want to have to replace it every 6 years.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      Many people really can’t afford to do costly repairs once they buy a house. They stretch themselves too thin and just can’t come up with the cash. Some people feel it’s better to pay top dollar so they don’t have to try to come up with large chunks of money up front to replace roofs, A/C’s, water heaters, etc… I know lots of people who are like that.

      I would actually rather buy the one that needs stuff done b/c when something is wrong with a house, you can get it for a better deal on it than the price of doing the jobs cost. For example, you may be able to buy the house with everything in perfect condition for $250,000. If everything needs to be replaced, it might only cost you $25,000 to replace most of that stuff, but since so much is “wrong” and needs to be fixed, you may can get the house for $200,000 because the house seems faulty in some way due to it needed so many repairs. You could save, say $25,000 after replacement costs, which over the life of a loan is more like $50,000 if you include interest.

      My friend’s mom was selling her house and people would come through and compalin about the countertops, kitchen floors, and s few other inexpensive things. The people who were making offers were knocking $20,000 off the price of the house to “fix” these things. She went ahead and spent $5000 to make improvements, raised the price of her house by that amount and got almost full-price for her home.

  6. Hi_Hello says:

    the article in the link and the consumer post doesn’t match. The articles warns you about buying a flipped house.

    If you are buying a not-so-new home, there’s a bunch of other things you need to consider.

    the link is warning people who are buying houses that look new to make sure they are actually new.

    • ScandalMgr says:

      Welcome to Consumerist(tm) articles by Phil, where the link to content match doesn’t matter: just summarize whatever you like, post an irrelevant cat picture.

      They all know we usually skip the articles and come here for the comments anyways.

  7. Tegan says:

    Also, make sure your home inspector is not BFF with your realtor. Spend the time to do your own research and find a good inspector with verifiable references so you at least have a slightly higher chance they’re doing the job properly. And watch Mike Holmes.

  8. MaytagRepairman says:

    I don’t think of a water heater as being a “big ticket” item. I had my water heater replaced 2-3 years ago and don’t remember paying that much money for it.

    Windows on the other hand are expensive and one of the things I didn’t pay that much attention to when buying my home. They are over 25 years old with metal frames. I’ve replaced two of them at a cost of about $1200. Some of the others are also showing leaky seals and I am always considering replacing all of them at a cost I estimate to be over $5000.

    Beware of all sorts of cover ups. I’ve seen condos that had new granite counter tops but they were put on top of cabinets that were so old they should of been thrown away and replaced. If all you see are the new shiny things you won’t see what you really need to see.

  9. jjq says:

    Well, dont put too much faith in structural aspects from a home inspector. I’ve dealt with many, and EVERY ONE says “I cant see thru walls” and has all sorts of disclosures about not being liable for much of anything they might miss.

    • Me - now with more humidity says:

      Here in Florida, inspectors can only do so much. They have to look at it as a very thorough customer would (a customer with a circuit tester). They can’t poke at wood to determine rot any longer. We just went through it.

      • Clyde Barrow says:

        What a lawyer told me is that in Michigan getting an inspector relieves the owner of accountability of issues if found after signing the contract. I found that out the easy way in my case. I inspected my home with an old friend who’s dad had rentals since the 70s so I knew I could trust him. About six months after moving in an issue came up that was never disclosed and could only be found after it rained. So I got a lawyer, the previous owner had to pay. My lawyer told me that because i inspected the home myself, all accountability falls on the previous owner not the inspector.

        IMO inspector’s like nothing but a “feel-good” process so that current home owners can get out of being sued by the new home owners. I wouldn’t be surprised if realtor’s are telling the current home owners this also.

  10. friendlynerd says:

    I’d be more concerned about the state of the branch wiring than the overall ampacity of the panel. Unless absolutely everything in your house is electric – stove, dryer, heat pump, water heater – you’re not gonna blow a 100 amp panel.

    Now if the branch wiring is ancient and/or consists of too few circuits – then yes, you’ve got a problem. But 200 amps, for most homes, is overkill.

    • Dallas_shopper says:

      My house (built 1957) would run just fine on 100 amps but I had the box replaced with a 200 amp box because the old box was a Federal Pacific. Better safe than sorry. :-)

    • kelcema says:

      If the house is more then about 30-35 years, be wary of aluminum wiring as well. I bought a 40-year old house in 2007, full of it (well, mixed copper and aluminum, which is worse yet) and ended up having to re-wire the whole dang thing.

  11. typetive says:

    Furnace, yes, that’s a factor (depending on what kind it is, in SoCal, we don’t have furnaces, just heaters for the most part).

    But a hot water heater is in no way a deal breaker. It’s $500. And if you’re talking about a $300K purchase, a $500 item is not that much of an issue as long as you know its status. It in no way is tied to the actual value of a home.

    For the record, my heater is probably about 80 years old.

  12. j2.718ff says:

    “Canadian Personal Finance”? So you mean I’m going to have to convert everything from metric?

    How many real years are there in 10 Canadian Metric years? How many feet are there in an amp? As an American, these things confuse me.

    • GreatWhiteNorth says:

      The hard part of the metric system is adapting to the metric calendar and clock. The calendar has 10 months with 36 days each and we have 5 (or 6 in a leap year) “off calendar” holidays. The clock of course has 10 hours am and 10 hours pm, each hour having 100 minutes and each minute having 100 seconds (metric seconds are 0.432 of a non metric second).

      It can be hard to get used to, but the off calendar holidays are great if you get to work them as you get paid close to 4 times the stat holiday rate. Downside is that when you say you will have it in a second you had better be moving fast as that isn’t a long time.

  13. damageddude says:

    Our water heater is 20 years old and, while not working perfectly, still going. We replaced the original furnace and central air when they were about 35 years old. There are still people in our development (built in 1967) with the original AC.

    What I wish we had been told was don’t buy a slab house with ducts in the floor. For the second time in 6 years, we have sprung a leak under the wood floors in the slab. Now waiting for the insurance company to decide whether to cut the floors (fixing is the pain) or reroute the pipes (not a pleasant alternative). Meanwhile, we have obvious mold in the ducts which will need to be cleaned out. Insurance should cover it but what a pain.

  14. Jerem43 says:

    I have a 130 year old house, except we went into it knowing it needed some work.

    • The water heater was 6 years old when we bought it, it lasted four more before it dropped the bottom. $1000 for a new one with all associated components, including all new pipe and expansion tank, that I installed.
    • Panel was 100 amp, all electric appliance house. Went to 200amp
    • the duct work was crap, all sixty year old rolled and riveted steel that had warped and leaked like a sieve; We had virtually no heat on the second floor. Added booster fans hooked into the furnace, which was new, and replace all of the ducting with a more modern set up.
    • I replaced all of the plumbing with 3/4″ because the older 1/2″ line was loaded with scale and only at about 3/8″ with said scale. also replaced all of the old twist valves with 1/4 turn ball valves and added a commercial grade whole house filtration system with an added commercial grade drinking filter system (that came out of an old BK that shut down when the owner lost his lease, saved about $500 on that!).
    • The point is if you know what you’re in for, you can plan for it and budget what you need…

  15. Andy M says:

    Don’t get the “need” for 200Amps. Maybe in a “bigger” home with full garage, A/C, Baseboard heat, etc that would be required, but I’ve gotten by, being a very tech-heavy person living with 3 other tech-heavy room-mates, with 75 Amp service – and that includes an electric water heater, stove/range and dryer for almost 4 years now.

    Only ever tripped a breaker once, when someone was trying to use the 4-slot toaster and microwave at the same time.

  16. DrPizza says:

    “I’m going to purchase a 250,000 dollar house, and I’m worried about a $300-500 water heater” ??!

  17. Alan_Schezar says:

    Watch a few episodes of HGTV’s ‘Holmes Inspection’ and SpikeTV’s ‘Flip Men’, and you’ll get a good idea what to look out for. The common issue/problem in all of the episodes revolve around mold and asbestos.

    Step 1, avoid all houses that have a basement, as they always have mold; Step 2, check hire an independent inspector for asbestos as a home inspector is not allowed to give advice on the subject. In general, all old houses need a new electical panel and new HVAC unit.

  18. Clyde Barrow says:

    Oh I can think of a few;

    1. blood stains on a wall that will not wash off

    2. children running up and down the upstairs hallway (but no children live in the house)

    3. stuff dissappearing and reapprearing.