13 Critical Things to Look for When Touring an Open House

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Homebuyer family with a baby tour a new house with a real estate agent
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When touring an open house, it’s easy to become distracted by things that don’t matter much. What’s with the orange-and-red shag carpeting in the master bedroom? Why the porcelain owl collection?

But there are other, more important things to look for when walking through a house. Some are obvious, but others are not.

Here are some bright red flags — and more subtle things — to check when touring an open house.

Signs of water damage

Water damage
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Signs of water damage may not be as obvious as pictured here. Look for brown water lines across ceilings and on walls.

If the home has a basement, pay attention to the carpet, walls and flooring. Don’t be afraid to reach down and touch the carpet in the lowest areas of the basement to see if it’s wet, especially if there’s just been a big rainstorm. Musty smells can also indicate water has found its way into the home’s lower level.

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Nearby bodies of water

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If you have children — or will someday — research whether there are bodies of water near your proposed new home. This can be a wonderful benefit: Ice-skating on the neighborhood pond! Wandering down to the local beach!

But kids can wander out of eyesight quickly, and a body of water that looks enticing and fun can be deadly. So, take not just the benefits but also the risks into consideration when considering a new home.

Too many stairs

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Staircases are beautiful, and when you’re young and healthy, they’re easy to run up and down. But think twice about too many staircases. Grandma may not be able to climb them easily — and neither will you as you age. Also, reconsider a house that doesn’t have at least one main-floor bedroom.

Window issues

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Older windows may not close tightly, which can make for high utility bills. Test a few windows to see if they open easily and securely, and close in a similar way.

The neighbors

Neighbors chatting outside
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You can do many things to improve your home, but you can’t improve the neighbors. So, cast an eye over at the neighboring homes.

Our real estate agent once warned us away from a particular block because a home a few houses down was known for having the police show up on a regular basis.

The neighborhood

People walking a dog in a nice neighborhood.
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We all know the real-estate agents’ mantra: Location, location, location. There are many details to consider when picking a neighborhood.

If you or anyone in your home will take public transportation, check how far it is to the nearest stop. If the home doesn’t have a garage, is street parking plentiful? How are the local schools?

For more on this subject, check out “20 Tips for Buying a Home in the Best Location, Location, Location.”

Funny smells

Bad smell
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Home sellers are trying to put their best foot forward. If their house stinks, that means they likely tried, but couldn’t extinguish a bad smell. It could be mold, mildew or pet accidents.

A tip: Also sniff for overly false good smells, like a bunch of scented candles burning, or the old freshly baked cookie trick. It’s possible the sellers are leaning hard on good scents to mask the bad ones.

Closet space

Clothes closet
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We all need room for our stuff. Try to picture how full your closets are at home and envision whether those items will fit into the new home’s closet space.

Also check out “12 Smart Tricks to Organize Every Room of Your Home.”

Chimney issues

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A fireplace was one of the non-negotiables in my first home. We lived in a wintry climate and wanted a cozy hearth where we could enjoy the crackling flames on a December night.

But we soon learned that the chimney was damaged and had never been relined. When we went to buy our second house, I insisted on a chimney inspector taking a look inside the fireplace and chimney before we signed on the dotted line.

If you need to hire for a major repair or construction job, check out “11 Tips for Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor You Can Trust.”

Water pressure

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Lackadaisical water pressure can be a sign of a problem you can’t see — possible corrosion or other problems deep inside the home’s pipes. Test the faucets by running them at full blast to see how the water runs. It’ll be a good preview of what showers might be like.

Storage space

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Where are you going to store holiday ornaments, camping gear and out-of-season sports equipment? Think seriously not just about regular closet space for clothes, but about space to store all your extras.

Most of us have at least a few boxes of items that we can’t yet bring ourselves to toss. They need their own space too.

Natural light

A young woman smiles while opening a window and curtains to let fresh air and sunshine inside
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You may be touring a home in bright daylight, but try to get an idea of what it’ll look like on a gloomier day. Are there enough windows and doors to let in natural light, even in lower levels and rooms with small windows? You won’t want to spend time in a gloomy home.

On the other hand, if you are looking at homes in a desert climate, think about what shade or other sun protection you will have in the home.

Leakage around the toilet

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When you’re in the house’s bathroom, examine the floor around the base of the toilet. You’re unlikely to find visible water, but you might see stains indicating there’s been a leak.

The floor around the toilet shouldn’t be soft. Also, the toilet bowl should be tightly secured, so that even if you try to gently shake it, it doesn’t move.

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