If you’ve ever bought a house, you know how emotions can get in the way. It’s easy to get drawn to the quartz countertop and awesome basement home theatre. So here’s a reminder to pay attention to the important stuff that isn’t so sexy, but can still cost you a pretty penny.
In this crazy seller’s market, multiple offers and paying way over asking is the norm. Buyers are placing offers without an inspection and risking owning a lemon. Although I would never recommend you buy without an inspection (and I definitely recommend using the best in the industry Carson Dunlop), or at least have access to a seller's inspection report (especially if you don't have a good understanding of houses), fact is these days there’s a slim chance of getting the house if you don't go in with a 'clean' offer (meaning no conditions). If you are a buyer in a hot market such as the GTA, and you are willing to roll the dice of buying a house without an inspection, here are a few big ticket items you might be able to figure out on your own.
1. The Roof – average cost $6,000 to $12,000
When I say the roof, I mean just the covering, not the structure. The most common covering material, composite asphalt shingles, have a life span of 15-20 years (25-30 for architectural shingles). Common points of failure happen at the penetrations (flashings, chimneys, vents, etc). A roof nearing end of life is the widening of gaps between each tab (greater than ½”), and loss of granular material. Often you can see the condition from the ground or with binoculars. Generally there’s more wear on the south and west facing parts due to sun exposure.
The roof is one system I will advise on replacing before the absolute end of life because leaks and damage not only affect the covering, but also the structure, finishes and interior underneath. If you need to replace a roof, ensure there’s at least a 10 year guarantee against any leakage. The price estimates above are for a standard asphalt shingle roof. If you can afford it, you might go with a metal roof. There are about double the cost, and require specialized installers. But many companies offer lifetime warrantys, which in reality can be up to 50 years. Good installations will reduce risk of rust and fastener failure from metal roofs. If you go this route, it’s especially important to ensure that the sheathing and base materials are well installed. There are many new metal roofs that mimic the look of slate or clay tiles.
2. Heating and Cooling Equipment – average cost $5,000 to $10,000.
These have major implications on cost, comfort and safety. Most houses have forced-air furnaces or hot water boilers for heating, and air cooled or mini-split (slim jim) units for cooling. Heating equipment generally has a lifespan of 15-30 years (lower on high-efficiency furnaces and higher with boilers). Air conditioners only last about 10-15 years (depending on how often they’re used). How can you tell their age? The best way is to look at the data sticker on the appliance, which will often reveal the year. Air conditioners are easier, as it’s right on the condenser unit outside.
Furnaces can be a bit tricky – you might have to remove the panel cover. You may see a gas tag next to the furnace, which often shows the date when the gas line was put it. This often coincides with the furnace installation, but not always. Older systems also have safety implications. Old equipment has a greater chance of damaged heat exchangers, which can release carbon monoxide into the living space. This is a good reason to have CO detectors throughout your home. Heating and cooling equipment installation should come with a 10 year labor warranty. Most furnaces/boilers come with a 25 heat exchanger warranty.
3. House Wiring – cost depends on issue.
Houses built before 1950 typically have an older type of wiring called knob-and-tube. This type of wiring in itself is not dangerous, but because it is older, there’s a good chance it has been tampered with. There is also no grounding (meaning a safe path for electricity to escape if residual current is in the circuits). Further, many insurance companies are reluctant to insure knob-and-tube houses. You might get a sense of how much knob-and-tube is in the house by using a simple circuit tester (available at any hardware store) and check for the presence of grounding. Not a fool proof method, but might give you an idea if replacement work has been done. Replacing the wiring in an average home will run between $10,000 to $15,000.
If the home was built between 1965 to 1978, it may have aluminum wiring, a cheaper alternative to copper at the time, and due to its properties, are more prone to overheating. There are special outlets, connectors, and other equipment designed specifically for aluminum. Generally you don’t have to replace the wiring, but your insurance company may request an inspection and bringing it up to current safety standards, which can also add thousands. Any electrical work must have a permit and be performed by a licensed electrician, and inspected by the ESA (Electrical Safety Authority).
4. Major Structural Concerns – cost depends on issue.
Be on the lookout for major structural concerns. Major cracks on the foundation (especially horizontal cracks, V shaped cracks, cracks with one end wider than the other, any crack greater than ¼”, or cracks on differing planes are usually more severe). Sometimes the cracks happened decades ago and movement has stopped, or they may be recent and continuing. You can never be sure, but seeing any should raise a red flag. Small hairline cracks on the foundation walls and basement floors are common and are typically shrinkage cracks, with no structural concern, but may allow some water to get in.
Keep an eye for issues with the floor structure in the basement such as damaged beams, joists, and posts. Structural problems can have severe implications, so this is one area definitely not to overlook. Structural repairs need to be engineered, and work requires a permit.
We’re going to pause here, as it’s quite a bit of information here to digest. In Part 2 of this article, we’ll talk about the other big ticket items not to overlook. These include:
- Basement Water Leakage
- Major Plumbing Issues
- Decks and Exterior Structures
- Secondary Suites