As a generation of thrifty and handy DIYers comes of age, some are looking for a low-cost property that they can slowly renovate into a dream home.
Still, real estate experts recommend that buyers look for a property with “good bones,” meaning that there are no structural problems that might haunt the homeowner later.
A house with “good bones” has crucial elements intact and in good condition, says Amatore Laporta, president of A&A Design Group Ltd., an architectural firm and general contracting company in Chicago.
That includes a solid foundation, sound roof, quality windows and 2-by-6 construction (use of 2-inch by 6-inch studs in the framing of exterior walls).
Today’s buyers who are looking for a “fixer upper” can assess curb appeal and interior finishes on their own, and they might be willing to overlook an outdated kitchen or too-small master bedroom. However, these structural elements can be expensive or impossible to fix, and could make or break a deal.
Most buyers are not experienced enough to know the difference between good or poor construction, says Fiona Dogan, an agent with Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty, Rye, N.Y., so it’s best to enlist the aid of a reputable home inspector who is experienced at spotting red flags and problem areas.
“There can be defects in a house that aren’t immediately visible without a thorough inspection by a professional,” says Michael Watkins, real estate agent with Keller Williams, South Beach, Fla. “Signs like water marks in the ceiling and hairline cracks in the floor and walls should clue you in that more in-depth inspection by an expert is necessary.”
Other red flags include slanted floors, foggy windows, cracks and water infiltration spots in the foundation or loose wires in the basement, Laporta says. “Those are all signs of the foundation shifting and precursors to overall problems with the house in the long run.”
Although new construction and energy efficiency standards are higher and building codes are more stringent than in years past, don’t assume that recently built homes are more structurally sound than older resale homes.
Some properties may be updated to look modern and well appointed, but they could still have structural problems hidden underneath.
“These days, nothing should be taken for granted. Even reputable contractors cut corners to bring the house in on budget,” Laporta says.
That’s where a home inspector can make all the difference and alert a buyer before the purchase is made. “If homebuyers don’t pay attention now, they’ll pay the price later after the warranty has expired,” Laporta adds.
Dogan adds that “good bones” can be a subjective criteria based on how much homebuyers can spend to update or fix problems. “A buyer should also be looking for an idea of how much they will have to spend to get a home to the condition they want,” she says. “Good bones do not matter if you have to spend $500,000 updating a house.”
Mark M. Callazzo, president of Alpha Funding Solutions, LLC, a Lakehurst, N.J.-headquartered real estate lending firm, agrees that structural integrity isn’t the only factor buyers should consider.
Some homes have a “functional obsolescence,” or features that make the home useless to owners. These problems could be impossible or financially infeasible to fix, he says.
“For instance, a home may have a seven-foot ceiling height on the first floor,” Callazzo says. “Having such a low height will severely hinder the home’s marketability in certain markets.”