This winter has been especially harsh for all corners of the country and like most years, with the cold winter, comes some sure-fire clues to the condition of a property when you are purchasing. Winter normally brings cooler, wet weather which are great conditions to check homes for energy sapping deficiencies, drainage issues, over-due maintenance, town service issues and over-all status of the systems in a house. What appears to be a wonderful, comfortable home in the Spring and Fall, can be a nightmare in a cold winter and lead to unexpected costs in the more extreme weather months.
Here are 5 things to watch for when home shopping in winter to help hold those future costs down and assist with making a great buy!
1. Home Sealing and Insulation.
Home insulation and proper sealing are two areas that can lead to increased costs and unexpected utility bills after purchase. A nice thing about purchasing a home in winter is your ability to check for drafts, air leaks, holes in the attic at the corners or along the soffits and facia board meetings. You can also look for moisture along the roof near openings for vent piping. Stand near doors and windows and run your hands along the openings. If you feel cool air coming in the openings then you know the property needs to be sealed. These are all tell-tale signs of a home that needs to be properly sealed to help hold down heating and cooling costs after the purchase. Replacing windows, sealing doors, adding insulation to an attic & sealing roof openings are all negotiation issues that you can raise when making an offer.
2. Look for property drainage issues.
Winter, in most areas of the country, tends to be a wetter season with more moisture falling and that can assist you with checking the drainage of a property. If it has been raining around the time you are looking at a property, drainage issues are easy to spot. Standing water, depressions in flower beds and low lying areas around a property are all issues that you need to take into account as a future property owner. If the weather is dry when you are looking at a property there are other ways to check drainage. Low lying areas are obvious, but if you see dirt on the sidewalk or driveway in a rounded pattern, there was water standing in that area in the recent past. Downspouts need to be filtered away from the house so that water is not funneled beneath the foundation. If the property has a basement, make sure there are no signs of water on the floors, the walls or in the corners. Many properties with basements have sump pumps and a proper inspection will determine the working order of a sump pump.
3. Inspect the house for signs of over-due maintenance.
Winter time often brings paint wrecking cold and windy weather. Look for signs on all the exterior surfaces of a property for cracking and flaking paint. Several seasons of neglect can quickly turn into a property in need of a complete scrape and repaint. If a house appears to have fresh paint, be sure to have an inspector feel the facia and soffit in areas that they meet the roof line for wood rot. Paint can cover up neglected wood surfaces that need to be replaced. On the interior, always inspect for water leaks under cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms as well as any cracking along the flooring and shoe mold. These are signs of moisture in the house and could be caused by poor insulating and ventilation.
4. Town and neighborhood services.
Some areas of the country get a lot of winter storms. This winter in particular has seen snow in 49 of the 50 states during February and many of the southern states, that traditionally do not receive snow, have received large amounts of snow and ice. Those winter storms leave behind piles of snow as well as debris from downed branches and trees. This gives you as a property buyer a great opportunity to see how a particular community and neighborhood handles the clean up process. Are tree limbs and debris left sitting for weeks or cleaned up quickly? Is snow removed in a timely manner and streets cleared of ice and snow or are they left for days to melt. Winter brings challenges for communities and neighborhoods and this is a great time to see how those communities perform basic services.
5. Check all systems for performance issues.
All systems in a home (heating/air, furnace, hot water heater, piping) have to be checked periodically for performance and maintenance. If you are buying a property in Winter you can check for a few signs of the performance of the systems. Based on what you would have already seen and found out on issues 1-4, you will know if the systems of a house are having to work over-time to keep a property heated. You can also check for certain winterizing techniques to know if the owner is serious when it comes to the maintenance of the systems. Check the filters on the furnace to see if they are clean, dirty or have any signs of recently being changed. Check the water heater to see if it has a thermal blanket to assist in keeping water heated inside the tank. Look at the outside A/C units to see if they are covered to keep out the winter elements. Take a special note of the water faucets outside the property to see if they are properly insulated and covered.
Purchasing a new home for your family or for investment, no matter the time of year, is a serious matter and needs to be done with careful consideration of what additional costs come with ownership. Being prepared with what to look for and how to analyze a property in all seasons, is a great first step in making a good purchase.
Chris D. Clothier
Co-Owner of MemphisInvest.com
Director of Sales & Marketing
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Chris is an experienced real estate investor who has purchased over 50 properties for his personal portfolio and assisted hundreds of investors with purchasing over 700 homes in the last 5 years. Today, he resides in Memphis with his family and continues to assist investors nationwide with developing their wealth building portfolios.