16 Things You Can’t Afford to Ignore When Buying a Home

Watching even one hour of HGTV will teach you no one’s home-buying process is ever the same. Roadblocks and insane setbacks when buying a home can appear without warning and ruin even the most seemingly open-and-shut cases.
The housing market is ultra competitive, and first-time house hunters might feel pressure to put money down on the spot. Even those of you brave enough to tackle a fixer-upper should take the time to carefully examine every detail before you buy. For instance, you and your inspector might uncover costly repairs that’ll punish your bank account or hinder your resale. Regardless, it’s best to face these challenges head-on before it’s too late.
So before channeling your inner Chip and Joanna Gaines and diving into home ownership, know the potential cost of overlooking certain home elements. Here are 16 things you can’t afford to ignore when buying a home.

1. Bad school systems

couple move their things after buying a home
Evaluate the local schools when buying a home. | iStock.com/SolisImages

Buyers looking to get the most bang for their buck should evaluate the nearby school systems — family in tow or not. According to a Realtor.com survey, about 91% of house hunters consider schools to be an important factor when buying a home. What’s more is the majority of those surveyed are willing to pay more on a home in a good school district, even if that means sacrificing another key wish-list item. So those thinking about buying in a mediocre school district might want to reassess their financial investment.
Next: See how much crime influences property value.

2. High crime rate

Baltimore sheriffs
Crime rates directly influence the price of homes in the area. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

There’s a distinct correlation between crime rates and property value. This is a no-brainer. One study reported homes in zip codes with decreased crimes rates saw property value increase between 7% and 19%. House hunters should definitely check crime rates before pinpointing a location and making an offer. Keep an eye out for excessive cases of robbery and aggravated assault, as they heavily influence neighborhood values.
Next: Watch out for flood zones, that first step can be a doozy!

3. In or near a flood zone

Parents Giving Children Piggyback Ride
Consider the possibility of flood damage when buying a home. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Even if your short list of homes isn’t located near rivers, lakes, or oceans, that doesn’t mean you’re free to discredit any flood risks. Common flood factors that don’t discriminate based on waterfront location, such as drainage easements and slope, aren’t typically topics discussed during a walk-through — but they should be. A surveyor or inspector can examine water flow to determine whether your house has a possibility of floods.
Even the slightest chance might be a deal-breaker. Check out the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood-map database to do preliminary research on your own. Then, talk to locals who know what streets normally flood. By the way, homeowners insurance won’t cover most flooding — only additional flood insurance will.
Next: We continue with another risky body of water.

4. The addition of a pool

Man cleaning pool with a dog
Pools can either be a risk or reward depending on the buyer. | iStock.com

Certain upgrades, such as garages and pools, become a value toss-up for prospective homebuyers. Depending on a house hunter’s wants and needs, a pool can hurt the resale value on your home. What’s worse is you might never recoup those costs. Concrete pools start at $30,000, not including filtration, upkeep, and insurance hikes. While you see a backyard oasis filled with relaxation and impromptu pool parties, toddler parents see safety concerns. And money-conscious penny-pinchers envision expensive water bills and long afternoons full of maintenance.
Next: You never want to find this nasty visitor in your home.

5. Finding mold

window with black mold spores
Mold is both unhealthy and costly. | iStock.com/zeleno

Disclosing mold is sure to send house hunters running for the hills. And for good reason — it’s gross. Any sight or smell of mold should be considered dangerous, at least initially. Indoor exposure to mold can lead to respiratory symptoms and more. Mold is also a sign of poor ventilation or excessive moisture caused by hidden leaks or prior flooding.
If you find mold in a home, have a qualified inspector review the home before your expenses get too out of hand. The best-case scenario could cost you about $500. But depending on the severity, you might face a future expense of $6,000 on average to treat it properly.
Next: Speaking of common home heebie-jeebies, this next house issue could set you back thousands of dollars.

6. Termites

maid cleaning floor
Home buyers should never overlook a termite infestation. | Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Some bug infestations aren’t always reason to rescind an offer, though no one wants to wake up to roaches scattering across the kitchen floor. Luckily, those pests are easily treated. But termites? They’ll literally eat you out of house and home. Make sure your inspector checks for any evidence of infestation before signing on the dotted line. And if they identify potential risk, you might want to re-evaluate your offer. Termite inspections can range in the hundreds of dollars, while full-on fumigation tactics can creep into the thousands, depending on the size of your home. Talk about making your skin crawl.
Next: Let’s play “What’s that smell?”

7. Strong odors

man and woman smelling a bad smell
Some odors are stuck in and around your home for good. | iStock.com

Strong odors within your home are gifts that’ll keep on giving — in a very bad way. For a home that’s worth the stench of a nearby processing plant or waste center, there’s nothing you can do to squelch the drifting fumes except learn to live with it.
Indoor odors caused by pets or cigarette smoke, on the other hand, can morph into costly remedies. If you choose to ignore the odors, common fixes, such as installing new carpet, painting, or working through serious cleaning techniques, will cost valuable time and energy — without any guarantee the smells stay gone for good.
Next: What kind of neighbors are around?

8. Sex offenders in the neighborhood

Houses in suburb at Spring
Always research your neighbors. | iStock.com/karamysh

This a primary concern for almost all homebuyers, but know disclosing the proximity of an offender to your potential dream home is not required from the seller. However, buyers can take the proactive approach by researching the National Sex Offender Public Website, according to radius or address.
You must also understand the difference between Tier 1, 2, and 3 offenders, or “low,” “medium,” and “high” offenders, and verify the information is still accurate with local authorities. This is a step no potential buyer should overlook, as this roadblock is guaranteed to resurface when families look to put their home back on the market.
Next: Major electrical problems can cost you $8,000 or more.

9. Electrical systems

Outdated electrical systems will require a lot of money to replace. | iStock.com

It’s not uncommon to encounter outdated wires and faulty electrical work, especially in older homes. Unfortunately, we’re all too familiar with stories blaming these systems for sparking damaging house fires. If your inspector uncovers free hanging wires and outdated installations, it could mean big trouble for your wallet. Immediate updates are definitely in order, as they surely can’t be ignored, but you might want to ask for a price reduction. Rewiring a home is known to cost between $8,000 and $15,000 for an average-sized home.
Next: Our next costly house problem might require getting down and dirty.

10. Plumbing

Worker shows house design plans
Plumbing and septic repairs can get into the thousands of dollars. | iStock.com/ALotOfPeople

Issues with the plumbing aren’t always immediately evident, as the problem usually lies within the guts of the home. You and your inspector can work ahead of any potential setbacks by checking for leaks, water spots, and mildew up front — which are all evidence of deeper plumbing issues. Examine the water heater and septic tanks during the inspection. If major concerns surface, you might want to think again before putting up an offer. You could be in for a $7,000 to $25,000 bill if your sewer requires a complex dig and replacement.
Next: You need a good roof over your head.

11. The roof

weathered and damaged house shingle tabs
A bad or damaged roof can be a deal-breaker. | iStock.com/BanksPhotos

What good is a dream home without a solid roof over our heads to protect it? One of the most common and costly deal-breakers for a buyer is a shoddy roof. Most homeowners fork over an average of $6,600 to install a roof. Before committing to a 30-year mortgage payment, ask the seller how old the roof is, and check out the gutters for any weird drainage issues. If the roof looks well-maintained you might be good to go. But a precautionary inquiry about its remaining shelf life is a safe bet.
Next: Do you want to live with vehicle emissions and chemical particles?

12. Near highways and power lines

packed highway
Secondary chemicals from nearby highways can be damaging to your health. | iStock.com/XXLPhoto

Power lines are a common source of electromagnetic fields, and long-term exposure has been linked to various cancers (though some recent studies report mixed findings). But why risk it?
Even more, a study conducted by Boston University found residents living near highways are exposed to vehicle emissions and chemical particles that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. So not only is this type of home bad for your wallet during resale, but it will cost you your health, too — and that nice back porch view.
Next: A low appraisal will cause headaches.

13. A low appraisal

reduced price sign
Paying more than the home is worth is never a good idea. | David McNew/Getty Images

Just when you think you’ve lined up a fair-market price — or a slight deal — the appraisal comes in at $30,000 less than expected. Talk about a buzz kill. While the sellers couldn’t care less about your misfortune, buyers could get stuck finding a lender willing to take them on. Otherwise, you must determine whether you can afford a larger down payment or extra mortgage insurance to make up the difference.
Next: Is overlooking modern-day conveniences worth the stress?

14. Lack of central air

Hayden Panettiere as cheerleader Claire Bennet looks up into the sky with dirt on her face on Heroes
Sacrificing on central air might be your worst decision. | NBC

Central air might not be a deal-breaker for some homebuyers, but come summer, you might be regretting choosing the home without a working cooling system. In the dead of summer, your tolerance for minor annoyances is low. And annoyance will turn to blind rage once you realize the cost of adding central air can set you back $3,500 to $4,000. Whether that money is worth the price of comfort is up to you, but it’s probably best to look for a home with air already in working condition.
Next: Hopefully “Bob the Builder” knew what he was doing.

15. Unpermitted renovations

Unpermitted renovations fall on your shoulders once you sign the papers. | iStock.com/jnatkin

Cashing in on a previous homebuyer’s DIY streak can be largely advantageous to the upgrade factor on a home. Getting to enjoy granite countertops, sun rooms, and outdoor fire pits without having to contribute financially is a huge plus — if they’re permitted. Most upgrades require a permit from the city or county. But if the previous owner performed a sly work-around, you could be left footing any and all future costs. The insurance company will likely deny your claim or cancel the policy, leaving you, the homeowner, on the hook for any impending damage or upgrades.
Next: Big cracks can break your financial back!

16. Big cracks

old abandoned house
You’ll have trouble securing a loan on a house with foundation issues. | iStock.com

Perhaps one of the biggest home-buying deal-breakers is uncovering issues with the foundation. Big cracks in the walls, uneven floors, and sticky doors and windows could indicate foundation problems. Pay attention to these key areas of the home during your walk-through to ensure you’re not overlooking a costly repair and massive headache. Maybe you’re OK with paying tens of thousands for a lengthy repair, but lenders won’t necessarily be chomping at the bit to loan you money for a home not structurally sound.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.