House Buying Red Flags

By Mike Holmes

Mike’s Advice / Buying & Selling Your Home

Wednesday, July 27th, 2022 @ 2:42pm

Red Flags To Look For When Buying A House

Buying a home is one of the biggest investments most people will ever make, and you should know what kind of investment you’re making. I’m going to explain some red flags to look out for when buying a house.

House hunting is not easy, and it is a good idea to take your time with this purchase decision. I still hear the horror stories where homebuyers don’t get a home inspection before buying a house. Sometimes the real estate agents recommend not getting a home inspection to speed up the process.

I’ve seen it happen, over and over again, where couples think they bought the house of their dreams only to discover that it’s a complete nightmare later on.

Too many people have gone bankrupt and too many marriages have fallen apart because of one bad decision: Buying a house that needs a fortune to Make It Right.

Here are some house buying red flags to consider:

Buying a House? Look Out for These Issues

Foundation or Structural Problems

  • Hairline cracks are not an indication of a major issue, however, if the cracks are large, you should have an expert come out to check it.
  • Missing downspouts or downspouts that direct water to the roof or foundation; could lead to leaks
  • Cracked brick, including around windows; could mean moisture intrusion and rot
  • Vertical foundation cracks; more than one could mean structural problems, like a cracked footing


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foundation cracks

Pest Problem In The House

Knock on a wood surface. If you hear a hollow sound, it could indicate the presence of termites.

  • Mouse droppings & insect wings (could mean termites)
  • Bubbling paint on exterior walls is also a sign of termites

“Lipstick and Mascara” Work

  • Is there a random patch of fresh paint? It could be covering up previous damage
  • Is there an area covered with wallpaper that just doesn’t seem right? I have heard of homeowners getting creative covering drywall holes with wallpaper and wall décor
  • Patch jobs on the walls and ceiling; could mean a leak

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No History Of Permits

If you are looking at a house that’s been renovated, you can go to the city and find the permits on it. If there are no permits that means they didn’t hire a pro or they did the work themselves.

Either way, if they didn’t know what they were doing you’re stuck with the potential risk and the repair bill.

RELATED: Why You Need a Permit

Mike’s Tip: Invest in a home protection plan to cover your appliances and major systems in your house. Check out the Mike Holmes Protection Plan packages.

Water Stains In The House

Water is your home’s #1 enemy. Look around the house. Do you see any water stains or water damage on the ceilings or walls?

Until you have investigated the source of the stains, do not make a home purchase decision.

A saggy ceiling can also be a sign of a leaky roof.

RELATED: Testing for Mold

Smelly House

Here are some smells to investigate:

  • A musty smell; could mean there’s mold
  • Mushroom smell; could mean dry rot
  • Urine smell; could indicate the presence of raccoons
  • Burning smell indicates issues with your electrical system

If there are strong air fresheners being used during the open house, or windows open in the middle of the winter, chances are the homeowners are trying to cover up a smell.



Roof Problems

Look up. Do you see any shingles curling or missing? A new roof is not cheap, so if you need to replace the roof, make sure you negotiate the price of the house accordingly.

  • Bare patches on an otherwise snow-covered roof? Could be an indication of missing insulation in the attic and/or exterior walls; leads to higher energy bills and potentially mold
  • Blocked soffit venting; leads to poor air circulation and possibly mold

RELATED: Red Flags for An Asphalt Roof


A problem with your home’s exterior will eventually be a problem with your home’s interior. It’s only a matter of time.

Poor Drainage and Grading

  • Poor grading; could lead to leaks in the basement
  • Trees next to the foundation; could get into plumbing and interfere with proper water drainage around the home
  • A porch, patio, driveway or grading that slopes toward the home all but guarantees water in the basement.


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Visible Mold In House

If you can see mold as you walk through the house, that’s a huge red flag.

Mold overgrowth – especially when reproductive spores are inhaled—triggers respiratory ailments such as hay fever, nasal allergies and asthma, as well as rashes and eczema when it touches the skin.

And if ingested, significant concentrations of toxic bacteria can cause abdominal cramping, diarrhea and fever.

Electrical Work Issues

Now most homeowners can’t pick up on electrical issues, but you CAN look for these signs:

  • Lights that flicker; could mean something’s wrong with the electrical. The electrical will need to be thoroughly inspected.
  • A burning smell coming from appliances or light fixtures when on.
  • Discoloured wall outlets.
  • Outlets that spark.
  • Outlets and light switches that are hot to the touch.

Remember that an electrical inspection is different from a home inspection. If you have any concerns about the electrical work in your house, consult with a Licensed Electrical Contractor.

RELATED: Electrical Considerations For Your Home When Renovating

What’s The Rush?

I’d rather not buy a house than buy the wrong one. We all know it’s very easy to make a house look good on the surface, and you can hide a world of trouble behind the walls.

A home inspection can give you a good overview of the condition of the home and highlight any major deficiencies. I think everyone needs to get one.

Sometimes people get a home inspection and still end up buying a lemon. Why? Because they didn’t hire the right professional. Just because they call themselves a home inspector doesn’t mean they’re any good.


The 5 Most Common Issues Found During Home Inspections

Hiring Your Home Inspector

Homeowners and homebuyers need to ask the right questions, especially when hiring a home inspector. For example, how long have you been inspecting homes for? What were you doing before home inspections? (You want someone with a background in home construction.)

Are you insured? Are you certified? By who and what does that mean?

I recommend being present for your home inspection and touring the house with your inspector.


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Ideally, we should be able to rely on the advice of the pros we hire. But sometimes it’s difficult to know who’s a pro and who’s not, and by the time we find out it’s too late. Then who’s stuck with the bill? You.

So to save your own butt I always tell homeowners to educate themselves. Learn what separates the pros from the players.

Buying a house shouldn’t be like playing Russian roulette. You should know that you are making a smart investment. Buyer beware!


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