Choosing a new home often comes down to comparing the sale price to the condition of the property and any repairs or updates it requires. That comparison involves not only money, of course, but also the time and energy it takes to organize those repairs, plus the number of days you'll either be inconvenienced or unable to move into your new residence. Furthermore, there are some issues that are just so unwieldy or costly that buying the property is simply out of the question.
How do you spot the potential repairs most likely to turn a dream home to a money pit? A lot depends on the type of home you're considering and where it's located.
Here are seven costly repairs you may be able to spot before closing:
- Cracks in the foundation.
- High-rise updates.
- Home additions that haven't been winterized.
- Old or nonexistent air conditioning.
- Hidden mold and drainage issues.
- Historic home restrictions.
- Termite troubles.
Cracks in the Foundation
Let's start at the bottom. If your potential new home sits on a foundation, you'll want to ensure that it's in terrific condition. Not only does this often-ignored bit of concrete serve as your entire home's underpinning, it's also far and away one of the most expensive repairs for single-family houses. Fixing a faulty foundation can run well into the tens of thousands of dollars, and this type of trouble can have a ripple effect throughout the entire home, causing damage to drywall, windows and even plumbing.
Bottom line: Ensure your new home is on firm footing with a thorough inspection that starts at the bottom.
In cities where residential towers are reaching ever-higher heights, the floor on which your home is perched can have a huge impact on the cost of repairs. Not only may you need to replace the wiring and electrical panel if the existing wiring does not conform to current building code requirements, but say you also want to install central air conditioning or additional heavy-load appliances at your high-floor address. In New York City, it can run $20,000 per floor to bring up the necessary wiring. Want to update the plumbing in a prewar building? That copper won't be cheap either.
You may think you can avoid those financial setbacks by choosing a shiny new condo. While those glass towers offer undeniably gorgeous views, all that floor-to-ceiling splendor comes at a cost: High-rise windows can be incredibly expensive to replace, and the price rises with your floor number.
Bottom line: If you're looking at a top-floor abode, make sure it's in tip-top shape.
[Read: The Guide to Buying a Home]
Additions That Haven't Been Winterized
For single-family homes in colder climates, updating or adding proper insulation can be more expensive than you might think. There's the cost of the insulation and installation, and there will frequently be several necessary steps before and after – sealing the roof, replacing windows or patching and painting.
When home shopping, be on the lookout for houses that have been added onto over time. Additions done on the cheap will often lack proper insulation, and this is especially true in bathroom additions which may need to be winterized. While the price to properly insulate your new home can be chilling, you will recoup some of these costs in reduced heating and cooling bills, and in your overall comfort.
Bottom line: Take the freeze off of your bank balance by making sure your prospective new home is winter ready.
Old or Nonexistent Air Conditioning
Installing or replacing central air conditioning is a costly job indeed. Those of you seeking a new abode in a sunny area code should take note of the age and condition of the current system. And of course, if you plan to upgrade from window units to central air, be sure to factor that significant cost into your budget. Adding air conditioning to a home without any existing duct work can run $30,000 or more depending on the size of the structure and number of floors, plus the number of vents and temperature zones. And then there's the cost of the air conditioning units themselves, which can vary widely based on, again, the size of your home and the efficiency of the unit.
Bottom line: Keep cool all year long by assessing your air conditioning up front.
Hidden Mold and Drainage Issues
Contrary to popular belief, dangerous mold is not restricted to homes in humid environments. Several arid states, including Arizona and Nevada, have ranked high in mold remediation. Turns out that some of the building materials used in homes for generations – drywall, for example – are quite good at attracting and concealing mold. Molds can cause a number of serious health issues, especially in individuals who are immunocompromised or allergic. It can also signal that there are structural or drainage concerns that need your attention. Beware of that French drain in the basement that looked so quaint when you visited the house — it is a sure sign that the house has had issues with seeping water at some point in its history.
Bottom line: If mold is on your mind, an additional look by a qualified mold inspector may be in order.
Historic Home Restrictions
Homebuyers in cities that have historic preservation restrictions on residential buildings should be aware of the dos and don'ts – and the added costs – of repairs in landmarked structures. While research consistently shows that homes within historic districts appreciate faster than their local markets as a whole, period-appropriate renovations can be pricey, and in some cases can only be performed by a limited number of artisans. That means you'll need to add on time for both the availability of craftspeople and the lengthy approval process required by the landmarking authorities.
Bottom line: If you have any reservation about preservation, look for historic homes located just outside of landmarking restrictions.
Did you know that some pest control experts estimate homeowners in the U.S. spend around $2 billion treating termite issues each year? Moreover, that cost is rarely covered by homeowners insurance. These insidious little buggers are eating machines, which makes them insanely efficient at causing significant damage before they're spotted by the untrained eye. While termites can be found in every state, they're especially fond of warmer weather and wood construction.
Bottom line: Tell termite damage to bug off with a specific termite inspection prior to purchase.
A renovation project for each season
Homeownership comes with a never-ending list of home improvement projects, and being able to time them right can be tricky. Ultimately, the best time for a home improvement project is when you have the time. But if you’re eager to plan projects to set yourself up for success, consider which season has the right weather patterns, minimizes future maintenance issues and makes it easiest to hire professionals. Read on for the best time of year for 12 home improvement projects.Interior paint
Best time of year: Winter
The benefit of painting inside is that you have air conditioning and heating. “We paint interiors all year-round because of that climate control,” says Tina Nokes, co-owner of Five Star Painting in Loudoun County, Virginia, which is a part of Neighborly, a network of home service providers. Your biggest concern when it comes to a quality indoor paint job is humidity – so if you’re in the middle of a humid summer, it’ll take longer for a room to dry and it will dry unevenly. If you’re worried about humidity levels inside, paint your interior rooms during the winter, when the air is driest.Electrical updates
(Paul Bradbury/Getty Images)
Best time of year: Winter
Electrical work can happen just about any time of year, unless it’s during rain or a thunderstorm, for obvious safety reasons, explains Dennis Burke, owner of Mr. Electric of Southeast New Hampshire, which is also a Neighborly company. What truly makes winter a winner for electrical updates is that you’ll be avoiding the bulk of competing homeowners. Burke says late spring and early summer see a big influx of requests from clients, as well as late summer as people go on vacation. “Labor Day to Thanksgiving is also really busy,” he says.Building a deck
Building a deck
Best time of year: Winter
An outdoor project like a backyard deck seems like a natural undertaking for summer, but it’s actually just the opposite. Deck builders and contractors report that pressure-treated wood, which is best for building a deck, stabilizes best when humidity is low. Additionally, the increased sun exposure in summer can cause the surface of a deck to crack, and cloudier winter days help avoid early damage. If you live in a particularly cold climate, aim for early winter to avoid the bulk of snowfall and temperatures that are too cold for contractors to work outside.Full-room remodel
Best time of year: Winter or spring
Remodeling or updating a well-loved room in your home can happen any time of year, but it’s best to be proactive and avoid higher labor costs or jampacked contractor schedules during the summer months. HomeAdvisor reports that July is the busiest month for bathroom remodel requests, with 48 percent of homeowners indicating they’re ready to hire and start work immediately. Avoid the rush by scheduling your remodel earlier in the year.Cleaning out gutters
Cleaning out gutters
Best time of year: Early spring and fall
The gutters along your roofline collect leaves, twigs and other debris over time. When they get too full, the drains can clog and cause water to sit along the edges of the roof and get inside the house or continue to weigh down the gutters. Avoid any problems by cleaning out your gutters in the fall, when leaves are most likely to make their way in, and again in early spring so the path for water is clear before April showers roll in. If you're not comfortable on a ladder or you have a high roofline, consider hiring professional help that will take proper safety precautions.New floors
Best time of year: Spring or fall
The best time to install wood flooring is during parts of the year with the least extreme conditions. In spring and fall, you'll avoid peak humidity and dry air, both of which can cause problems like bowing and warped wood or cracking in too-dry conditions. Plus, you can open windows to ventilate the smell of wood stain or carpet adhesive, and you’re least likely to have the heat or air cranking in spring and fall.Updating a deck or fence
Updating a deck or fence
Best time of year: Spring, summer or fall
The wood on a deck may fare better in winter, but staining a deck or painting a fence often requires additional weather consideration. “Decks and fences are a little more finicky (than painting a house exterior). We need it to be even warmer, around 40 to 50 degrees,” Nokes says. A good deck staining or painting company will recommend a timeline specific to temperatures where you live to avoid an incomplete, delayed or flawed project.Exterior paint
Best time of year: Late spring, summer, early fall
New paint will freshen up the look of your exterior walls, and painting is a doable project for a decent chunk of the year. Temperatures have to stay above 35 degrees for exterior painting, so in the early days of spring and late days of fall, weather-dependent work may be delayed if temperatures drop. For this reason, Nokes keeps clients on a watch list: “If we get a warm snap, I’ll call them right away,” she says.Home addition
Best time of year: Late spring, summer, early fall
For outdoor work, it’s best to avoid the seasons that will bring inclement weather and delay the project. Plan for the project to begin after the chance of snow in your region has passed, and shoot for a completion date before the frost returns in the fall to reduce the chances of delays. But be sure to schedule all professionals well in advance. In fact, Burke says a month to two months’ advance notice is often needed for electricians to complete an estimate, plan a contract and schedule work.Roof repair and replacement
Roof repair and replacement
Best time of year: Summer, early fall
It’s a given that you don’t want people working on your roof in icy or wet conditions. As a result, the best time of year for roof repair or replacement is also when the professionals are busiest. Be sure to plan roof replacement a month or two in advance to avoid having to wait with possible leaks causing damage to the inside of your home.HVAC care
Best time of year: Early fall
Any repairs to your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system should be done as soon as you notice an issue, but if you’re planning to do routine maintenance, schedule a professional long before you’ll need to turn on the heat. That way, any potential problems that could leave you without heat are found and fixed before the first cold nights of the season. The same goes for air conditioning in the late spring and summer.New appliances
Best time of year: Fall
Consumers can expect everything from washing machines and oven ranges to refrigerators to sport discounts leading up to the holidays. Even if you’re not updating your kitchen until May (and your home can accommodate an extra oven or fridge for five months), keep an eye out for deals. Stores that sell appliances like Sears, Lowe’s and Home Depot are known to regularly offer holiday weekend deals.Read More
Larson has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Real Deal and other top-tier outlets for her industry insights and expertise. Recognized among her peers for her eye for design, she has bought, renovated and sold apartments and homes in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago and Nantucket, providing her an acute insight into the needs of buyers and sellers alike.
Lisa holds a Master's degree in History and was a member of the Division I cross-country and track teams at the University of California, Berkeley. Larson also remains actively involved with various charitable foundations, neighborhood associations and at both of her children's schools, and serves as a director on the board of the USA Track & Field Association.
Teresa Mears | May 3, 2019
Conventional wisdom says 20%, but you can buy your first home with much less down.