You’ve seen enough Zillow listings to know that a house that has absolutely zero interior photos or describes itself as “cozy” over and over are signs it (1) probably needs major renovations and (2) is very, very small. But what other homebuying red flags should you be aware of, particularly in a seller’s market, where you often have to decide whether to put an offer on a house within 24 hours of it being posted? We turned to real estate listings sites, insurance companies and realtors to uncover what to be aware of before you start touring homes. On their own, they aren’t deal-breakers—they’re just things to keep in mind as you search for The One.
1. All of the Curtains Are Closed
It’s common practice to turn on the lights and open (or even take down) the blinds for real estate photos so the house is as light and bright as possible—it’s a visual trick that can make the space seem larger. If the curtains are all closed in the photos, maybe the seller didn’t know this trick…but all too often, it’s a sign they’re trying to hide a bad view, warns Realtor.com. A Google Street View search of the address may provide some insights (say, whether the master bedroom overlooks a junkyard), though that imagery can be a bit dated.
2. The Trim Doesn’t Quite Match Up
If you can tell from the photos alone that the trim doesn’t match up or the floors don’t appear even, that’s a red flag—particularly if the home is marketed as a flip. “That can be a sign that the investor cut corners while improving the house—and you could end up paying for it in the long run,” according to the team at Leonard Dicks Real Estate in Lake City, Florida. Plus, if they didn’t care about how the floors looked, how much attention did they pay to renovating things you can’t see in photos, like the wiring or plumbing?
3. It Has “Great Bones”
Wait—“great bones” is a compliment, right? Yes—but it’s also realtor speak for “it has potential…that you’ll need to unearth.” If you don’t have the budget for repairs and upgrades, you might want to keep searching. Ditto if they talk about it being a “fixer upper,” and not one that’s been touched by Chip and Joanna Gaines.
4. They *Really* Play Up How Much They’ve Invested
The listing should highlight the finer points of the home, but there’s a big difference between describing the new Calacatta marble counters and beating readers over the head with exactly how much money was spent on each improvement. Knowing how expensive the marble is may make you value it more, but you should weigh it against the cost of comparable homes in the area (and how much of a must-have that marble is to you). If they’re fighting hard to justify the price, ask yourself: Is this house priced too high for the neighborhood?
5. It’s Back on the Market…Again
Maybe the original buyer had a change of heart. Maybe the financing didn’t work out. Or maybe the inspection revealed some serious issues. If the house is back on the market—especially if it’s repeatedly back on the market—that doesn’t mean you should avoid seeing it. It does mean you should investigate why the previous deal(s) didn’t work out. Finding that out ahead of time could save you from paying $300 to $500 on an inspection, if you find out early on that it needs a level of repairs you don’t want to deal with.
6. The Photos Look Stretched
A fisheye lens looks awesome in a Busta Rhymes music video or as Harry Styles’s album cover, but in a home listing, that warped effect really means one thing: The seller is trying to make a cramped space seem larger. Sure, the lens is designed to capture panoramic views, but it’s the visual equivalent of calling a space “cozy.” Double check that square footage.
7. It’s Sold “As Is”
On the plus side, at least the homeowner is being upfront with you that they’re not interested in debating who fixes what when the inspection comes back. But, as First Option Mortgage warns, “as is” means whatever home or land issues arise are your headache to deal with. Which makes it all the more crucial you hire a very thorough inspector before signing that contract.