Red Flags When House Hunting

Last week, I opened up on Insta stories a bit more about the home buying and selling process and I asked what kind of blog posts you wanted to see on these topics. My life has been consumed with house hunting over the last few months (that’s an understatement…I’m literally a psycho checking every site, every 15 minutes), so I figured I might as well share useful information that might help this community in the long-run. I got some amazing blog post ideas (you guys are seriously the best!), and at least a dozen of you asked to chat about red flags when house hunting. I was sold on the idea!

But before we get to today’s topic, let’s chat a bit more about where we’re at as of right now.

Our Current Selling/Buying/House Hunting SituationTips to prep your home to sell quickly

Selling: As we discussed in this post, we decided to list our condo ahead of time so we could buy our new house without a sales contingency. I also shared tips on how to prep your house to sell (lots of great ideas in the comments too). So many of you guys have reached out asking if we sold our place, and I promise to go into more details once we close. Just know we are very happy with where things stand!

Buying: With the selling component mostly finalized, we feel really good about buying a house (it’s the finding a house that we aren’t having much luck at!). At the beginning of the year, we got everything approved with our lender so we can pounce on a property when we find it.

House Hunting onlineHouse Hunting: Here’s the category we’re sucking at the most. And it’s not because we’re not putting in the effort. Hell, I think I’ve seen at least 50 properties at this point. I keep asking myself…am I being too picky? Is the inventory bad? Do I need to stop being so wishy-washy? Will I know immediately when I walk into the right house?

I think the reason we’re having so much trouble is that we’re looking for a very particular type of single family home. We don’t want a property that is already gutted and redone (and there are loads of those in Chicago right now). And we also don’t want a house that is falling down and needs to be completely rehabbed (just too big of a project for us). Instead, we’re looking for that nice in-between zone. Sturdy. Solid. Good location. But ugly. Oh so ugly. That way we can put our own touch on it, tackle loads of DIY projects, and really make it our home sweet home.

Red Flags When House HuntingLooking at homes in Chicago

Since I’ve seen so many listings, I definitely know my red flags when house hunting. But let me preface this by saying that these are my red flags…so some of these issues might not be a factor for your house hunt. If you’re looking for a really big project and find something at the right price, then digging out a basement or replacing a roof might not be dealbreakers for you! These are just the things that I keep in mind when browsing online and when looking in person.

No Photography or “As-Is” Condition

House hunting in ChicagoEvery morning, I drink my coffee and browse the MLS searching for that diamond in the rough. While I’m definitely open to a fixer-upper, I don’t opt to check out homes that have no photography with their listing or are marked “as-is” in terms of condition. To me, that usually means it’s way too big of a project and it would need to be $200k below our budget to even consider it. If they’re not showing photos, chances are the inside is scary AF and Finn and I would be in over our heads.

Moisture Problems

Water in a house is your worst nightmare, so be on the lookout for signs of moisture when touring homes. Water stains on the ceiling, buckled wood floors, and the smell of mold or mildew are all telltale signs of a water problem. I’ve walked into so many basements that reek of mildew and I immediately high tail it outta there!

If you do spot something, ask about it. The seller’s agent should be able to explain what’s going on and if the water issue was ever fixed by the owners.

Poor Drainage

Check for pools of water so you know there is proper drainage in the yard

This is something to look at when you’re checking out the outside of the home. If there’s standing water anywhere and things slope towards the house that means the water can get inside. While you can always add a drainage system down the line (Bridget added one to her first house!), it will definitely cost you. Just something to keep in mind when checking out properties.

Foundation issues are another red flag that has prevented us from moving forward with a few properties. Structural issues are never a good sign and if you see cracks in the foundation, then you might have a big repair on your hands. This is something I never even knew to look out for, but my realtor always inspects carefully whenever we’re checking out basements or the outside of homes.

Things You Can’t Change

There have been a few homes that I’ve seen online and was sooooo excited to see in person. Then, I’d get there and immediately be disappointed. Most often, this was because houses were literally on top of one another, sometimes with only 3 inches of space from the brick of one house to the brick of the next (yes, old Chicago homes are sometimes right on top of one another!).Natural light in a bedroom

As a natural light lover, I hate the idea of missing out on light on the sides of the house because of a neighboring house. And no matter how amazing I make the inside, I still wouldn’t be able to change the exact location of the house to give it more side light. So for me, that’s a dealbreaker.

Things You Can’t Easily Change

This is the category I’ve obsessed over the most…the things you can technically change in a house, but they’ll cost you an arm and a leg. There have been a few houses I’ve liked but ultimately passed on because of the expensive changes that are needed to make it livable for our family.

Short basements in Chicago while house hunting

First, let’s chat about basements here in Chicago. We’ve gone into so many basements where Finn can’t even stand (he is 6’2″) and others where I can’t stand under the duct work (like in the photo above). For us, that’s not the greatest use of space. Yes, you can dig out a basement to gain more headroom but it will cost you. I got a few quotes and they ranged anywhere from $50-$100k to dig out the basement, not to mention hiring a structural engineer, getting permits approved, etc. I’m not saying it’s not a possibility to do it, but we would love to find a home where we wouldn’t have to dig out the basement.

We’ve also struggled with bungalows. They have pitched roofs and the second floors can be a bit tricky with headroom (again, as tall people the struggle is real). You can definitely dormer a second floor, but you want to make sure you’re preserving the history of the neighborhood and putting the dormer towards the back of the house (or else it can look like a monstrosity quickly). I asked you guys about costs and the average price to dormer out a second floor is about $75k. It definitely could be worth it for the right property, but again just something to keep in mind.For sale sign when house hunting

So there you have it, my biggest red flags when house hunting. I know some of these are definitely workable, but for us, these are the issues we’re trying to avoid when buying a home. Who knows what will happen though? I may be buying a bungalow with a short basement and we’ll be fixing lots of stuff right from the start?

Now I’m dying to know…what are your red flags when house hunting? Anything on list that makes you run out the door?


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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