The home inspection is that pivotal event you hold your breath for when you’re buying a house. It’s an opportunity for a licensed expert to scrutinize every inch of your potential new place for problems—both minor ones and the deal-killing kind.
But when so much is on the line, why wait until the inspection to start investigating? Open houses and private showings are the perfect time to get a little nosy. Let us be clear: We’re certainly not suggesting you should forgo the expertise of a home inspector. But you can get a jump-start so that you can turn your inspector’s attention to some potential problem areas.
These eight crucial problems can be easily uncovered—even without a home inspector’s license. So go ahead and take a peek.
Get on your knees and examine the caulking around the sinks and tubs. While cracking could just be a sign of age, it also might indicate mold inside the wall (a no-go, unless you're up for a major challenge).
“Any cracks or holes must be taken care of before you go further,” says Bill Horne, a former landlord and commercial real estate owner. Keep an eye out for dark stains, too, which also might indicate something nasty growing underneath.
You may not get a chance to peek in the attic during a showing, but do your best to scamper up there. Access to the attic means you can check on insulation issues, storage space, and safety problems—like poorly installed recessed lighting.
Once you’re up there, find out where the recessed lights are installed. Is there insulation resting on the cans?
“It’s a fire hazard if there is,” Horne says. “You’ll have to be sure the lights are replaced or the insulation repositioned if so.”
While you’re poking around the attic, take a peek between your feet. If the home’s insulation has been installed between the joists, you’d better not see your reflection.
“If the insulation’s foil side is up, it will probably have been ruined by moisture coming up,” says Horne. Also called the “vapor barrier,” the foil-lined side should face the warm side of the house—i.e., your main rooms—not the cold attic.
To be clear, if you look up and see foil, that’s OK. Insulation installed between the roof rafters will have the foil facing down, protecting the (relatively) warmer attic from the chilly outdoors.