Updated on 08.01.16

Five Home Flaws Worth Overlooking for a Better Deal

...and a few that should set off alarm bells.

By almost any standard, it’s a competitive housing market out there. National real estate brokerage Redfin said June marked the fastest and most competitive housing market since the recession. In hot areas such as Denver and Seattle, homes averaged only about week on the market before going under agreement, while roughly two-thirds of homes in the San Francisco Bay Area sold for more than the (already staggering) asking price. But even nationally, a quarter of homes went off the market in just two weeks.

Meanwhile, home sales continued to rise — up 4.3% nationally year over year, according to Redfin — along with prices, as buyers eagerly snap up the few homes that hit the market. Buyer demand is outstripping supply, dropping the available inventory of homes for sale to its lowest level in years — just a 2.8-month supply (a six-month supply is considered normal).

This is all good news for sellers — a majority of whom acknowledge it’s a seller’s market out there — but it makes it much harder for buyers hoping to score an affordable home. In fact, most sellers surveyed by Redfin said their main concern has nothing to do with selling their existing home, but rather being able to buy one afterward once the tables are turned.

Home Flaws You Should Overlook

If you’re hoping to find a home without overstretching your budget in this hot market, it helps if you’re willing to compromise on certain home features from the start. And if you’re willing to buy a home that might turn off some other buyers, you may be able to find something in your price range – or even earn some quick equity with a bit of elbow grease.

To find out which home flaws were worth overlooking, and which you should never compromise on, we reached out to several experts and real estate agents to get their take. Here’s what they said:

Ignore paint colors and furniture.

Too many buyers become preoccupied with housing features that are easily changed, says realtor Jim Malmberg,

“You would be surprised at how many buyers will focus on things like wall color and the furnishings in houses that they look at,” says Malmbert. “I find myself regularly having to tell buyers that changing the wall color is as simple as a can of paint, and that they aren’t buying the furniture.”

If a wall is bright orange, who really cares? A room where the previous owner got a little too creative with paint colors? Try to see the potential behind those sponge-painted walls. Interior painting is one of the simplest and cheapest do-it-yourself home improvement projects.

And ugly furniture may be a turn-off that muddles the overall vibe of the home, but you’re not going to buy it anyway. By looking beyond it, you can focus on what really matters – the bones of the house.

Bad landscaping is easy to fix.

We’ve all come across a house that looks ugly or downright crazy from the street. While it might be due to the condition or style of the home, sometimes it’s just bad landscaping that’s the culprit.

But if you want a deal, you shouldn’t be scared off by some ugly bushes or a lack of curb appeal.

Nathan Garrett of Garretts Realty actually tells his buyers to look for a house with poor curb appeal. Because sometimes, the house with a scary-looking porch and overgrown landscaping can actually be a diamond in the rough. At the very least, you could take a look at mark it off your list.

Remember, landscaping is usually an easy fix. And if you can look past it, you might just score a deal.

Consider a home with an outdated kitchen or bathroom.

Since most buyers are searching for updated homes with a kitchen full of new stainless steel appliances and a big, modern bathroom, a solid house may go overlooked because of its pink 1960s bathroom or “I Love the ’80s” kitchen. If an ugly-but-functional kitchen is enough to repel most buyers and get you a discount on the property, it may be well worth taking on the project yourself.

“Doing a bit of fixing up yourself means you may be able to get a better deal on a home — and get the exact kitchen and bathroom you want,” says Liane Jamason, a real estate agent in Tampa Bay.

Even if you hire a contractor to create your ideal kitchen, remodeling a tired kitchen should cost about $25,000 to $40,000 — much less if you do some of the work yourself or simply give it a cosmetic refresh. You can expect a new bathroom, meanwhile, to average about $11,000. If you’re able to get a big discount on a home with a great location and a floor plan you like, simply because the kitchen or bathroom is clad in pink and teal, it can be a smart move.

Don’t rule out homes that need major but straightforward repairs.

An extremely old HVAC system or leaky roof can scare off many buyers, but the truth is, these issues shouldn’t make you rule out a home altogether. While inconvenient, it’s fairly straightforward to budget for major replacements. And if you plan to make an offer, you can simply deduct those costs from your offer price from the get-go.

Real estate investor Brian Davis of Spark Rental says he has no problem buying properties that need these upgrades, as long as the price is right.

“A new furnace, AC condenser, and hot water heater can be easily budgeted for, but buyers need to evaluate them to know how much life is left in them and budget accordingly,” says Davis. “Likewise with kitchens and bathrooms – just be sure to know the cost to update them before making an offer.”

Go for a house with ugly doors and outdated fixtures.

Many buyers can be turned off by ugly interior fixtures that are actually fairly easy to change, says Mindy Jensen, community manager at BiggerPockets.com.

“Doors are easy to replace – even if they are a custom size,” says Jensen. “Electrical and plumbing fixtures like lights or faucets aren’t difficult to change out, either.”

Lots of houses built or remodeled during the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s are filled to the brim with bright brass fixtures that are practically begging for an update. Since they’re easy to replace, you shouldn’t sweat these aesthetic affronts, says Jensen – just let them drive off some of your competition and hope you can get a better price on the house.

Home Features You Should Never Ignore

While cosmetic changes are easy to make and mostly affordable or straightforward, there are some home issues you should never ignore.

For starters, you can’t pay enough attention to a home’s location since that is the one thing you simply cannot change. Consider your commute, the neighborhood, local schools, and traffic or noise levels. No matter how much you like a home, you shouldn’t buy it unless you’re satisfied with its location.

Beyond a home’s location, there are myriad structural and component issues you should pay close attention to as you continue your search. Some red flags to watch out for include:

  • Mold or soot: Never overlook mold or soot, says Alexander Ruggie of home restoration firm 911 Restoration. “Mold is not only bad to inhale on a regular basis, but it is also a remarkable indicator of water damage,” he says. “And if there is soot anywhere in the home besides right above the fireplace, then there has been a fire in the house at some point.”
  • Issues with a main sewage line: “In older homes, the main sewage line should be inspected,” says Malmberg. “If the line has to be replaced, it can be very expensive and, for homes built on a slab, may also require digging up portions of the house’s foundation.”
  • Outdated electrical wiring: “A lot of older homes still have knob-and-tube electrical wiring,” notes Malmberg. “It’s a fire hazard and normally means that the house has to be completely rewired.” Not only is this a very expensive repair, but it’s one that many insurers will require you to make before they’ll issue a new insurance policy on the home. “This is also true for houses that have a fuse box instead of an electric panel with circuit breakers,” he adds.
  • Structure and layout: According to Los Angeles-based agent Brandon Assanti, the quality of a home structure outweighs almost anything else. And if you feel you might need to move walls or do some major updates, you should figure out what your costs might be before you dive in. “In some cases it may be easy to move walls or expand/adjoin rooms to make the home feel more open, modern, and livable,” says Assanti. “But you never know the full extent of work necessary until you physically begin that process.” Along those lines, large massive cracks on floors or on walls don’t necessarily spell disaster — but they do reinforce the buyer’s need to investigate the property during their inspection period.
  • Evidence of water damage: While water damage may be old and can sometimes be remedied fairly easily, you may not know the extent of any damage until you open up walls and check. Because of this, buying a home with water damage can be a real gamble.
  • Foundation issues: “Stay away from a home that has any strong traces of foundation and structural issues,” says Garrett. “These homes can possibly lead to very large, out of pocket expenses.” And even if you plan to remedy the problem, you should also consider resale value. “Will a home with past foundation and structural issues scare away new potential buyers in the future?”

Beyond these obvious issues, you should look for updates that serve as nothing more than a cover-up, says Ruggie. While a neon green wall or room of purple trim shouldn’t scare anyone off, it’s well known that a fresh coat of paint is commonly used to hide problems and imperfections.

“Even if all is dry now, a few layers of paint can conceal some evidence of past instances that were never addressed,” says Ruggie.

The same can be said for other interior upgrades as well. A permanent mirror or wall hanging meant to hide problems or new rooms of drywall and skim coating meant to mask cracked walls are good examples of “cover-up jobs” made to look like upgrades.

As always, it pays to have a thorough home inspection that will uncover any of these issues before they become your problem. The upfront cost of an inspection (expect to pay a few hundred bucks) might make you queasy, but the costs of not having one can easily surge into tens – or even hundreds – of thousands of dollars if your home turns out to be a “money pit.”

Final Thoughts

With the housing market as competitive as it is, don’t immediately dismiss the ugly houses everyone else is overlooking. Cosmetic problems like gross carpets, an ugly paint job, or an outdated bathroom vanity can easily be remedied to your liking, but may turn off enough buyers to score you a lower price. Even scary-sounding problems like asbestos-wrapped pipes can often be fixed fairly cheaply.

Other problems, though, like a bad foundation, a wet basement, outdated wiring or plumbing — and, of course, location — are much more difficult to remedy.

Before you buy a home, it makes sense to figure out what you can live with – and what you desperately want to avoid.

What issues were you willing to overlook when you bought your home? Have you ever purchased a home with huge issues that needed fixed?

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