Buyer Beware:
5 Warning Signs of Costly Repairs

By: Dana Gain

Buyer Beware:
5 Warning Signs of Costly Repairs

Tags: Buyer beware, warning signs, money pit, expensive repairs

Common sense would suggest that serious defects in a home are easy to spot. Surely major issues would be obvious and readily observable, right?

Unfortunately, major deficiencies in a home are often detected only after close inspection and by an expert.

Real estate professionals will strongly encourage you under all circumstances to have a full inspection performed before placing an offer on a home. However, to avoid unnecessary expense and dissapointment, it's a good idea to know a few of the signs even as you narrow down your property choices.

Here are 5 warning signs homebuyers should keep in mind to avoid potentially expensive repairs. 


Water marks indicate the presence of a leak, past or present, but this usually won't be obvious from the outside of the house. It can be seen from inside an attic, however. These are the most common problems with roofs and can be expensive to repair.

Condensation is another warning sign. Attics with good insulation but poor ventilation may be susceptible to condensation problems. Condensation will affect roof sheathing and rafters. Left unchecked, this problem has the potential to lead to structural failure.


The penetration of moisture through a foundation is a problem that can lead to serious damage. If damp-proofing fails, then a phenomenon known as efflorescence may occur on the inside walls of the home.

Efflorescence is a chemical reaction between water and concrete and indicates moisture penetration. It can be identified by a coating of salt on the surface of a porous material. From the naked eye it looks something like a white crystalline powdery or chalky material.

The presence of efflorescence does not necessarily mean there's a problem. It could be an indicator of past moisture penetration, and may be harmless. Best to consult with the appropriate expert so you know whether it's an indication of a more serious concern.


One of the most common ways to determine possible foundation damage is inspecting the structure’s interior and exterior walls. A shifting foundation can put stress on the wall systems and lead to cracking, particularly noticeable in drywall and plaster.

Cracked walls can be a sign of serious and potentially ongoing structural damage. These cracks often begin with windows, doorways, or building corners and can be identified by a quick inspection of the structure’s walls.

Misalignment of both windows and doors are also clear signs of potential foundation problems. These problems can be identified initially in subtle ways, such as doors that may stick, or windows that are more difficult to open and close.

It's important to understand that not all cracks are worrisome. Small hairline cracks may have been caused by the normal expansion and contraction of soils beneath the building and can be easily patched and repainted. These are of little concern.

However, horizontal cracks in a basement wall could be a sign of major structural failure and will likely require expert attention. Consult with a third party professional to determine which type of cracks are cause for concern and should be investigated further.


Studs constructed from poor quality lumber are more likely to warp, twist, or bow. This can affect the integrity of a framing system.
Bulging or cracked drywall is a sign that the studs have twisted or warped. This can be expensive to repair because the damaged studs would need to be removed and replaced. 

Foundation or framing specialists can provide more information about areas of concern in or around the walls. Speak with your REALTOR® for further guidance and referrals to these types of specialists.


When considering a home to buy, confidence in water systems is crucial. Water systems that bring water into the house and those that take sewage out must both be functioning well.

Know whether the home is on the municipal water system or, if you're in a rural area, what the status is of your well and septic system. Speak to your REALTOR® to understand the tradespeople involved in that case and the certifications that may be necessary.

Start with a home inspector to determine any specific issues that may exist, and continue to investigate with trade specialists as needed. Your real estate professional can help by suggesting the types of trade professionals that may be required. 

Remember, there is simply no substitute for hiring third party professionals to explore any areas of concern you have about a property. It doesn't necessarily mean that you ultimarly decide not to buy the home. Even if repairs are necessary, it can be a point of negotiation in the offer process.

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