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The Secret Guide to Finding The Right House

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Nobody will care more about the function and structure of your next house than you. That's no knock on professional inspectors, but you're the one living there. Your inspector and he should be yours, not the agent's, will give your next home a bill of health. However, you can save yourself time, money, and frustration by knowing what pitfalls to look for even before you put an offer in.

Listen
Two bad news sounds; a water drip you can't find (plumbing leak in the walls) and a buzzing service panel (probably overheating, definitely a fire hazard).

Follow the water
Check that rainwater from the roof drains away from the house including once it hits the ground, which should slant down from the edge of the foundation.

Walk the perimeter
Scan the foundation for cracks, the siding for peeling paint or rot, and that the surrounding foliage doesn't touch sides or extend over the roof.

Scan the roof
Walk across the street and check the roof for missing, cracked, or curling shingles. Use binoculars.

Green light
A basement full of old cardboard boxes indicates that water has never pooled on the floor.

Uncover hidden leaks
To check for an out-of-sight plumbing leak, make sure nothing is running in the house and check the water meter.

Key the wood
If any wood looks suspect possible water or insect damage, press the point of your house key into a discreet spot. Healthy wood won't yield, damaged wood will feel spongy.

Find the service date
Large mechanical systems, such as a water heater, should bear their last service date in Sharpie.

Uneven floors
Use a large marble to test floors for slants or low spots. This can indicate a house settling unevenly and possible foundation damage.

Test the electrical outlets
You're the only one who will take the time to check every outlet is wired correctly. A simple outlet tester will cost about $10.

Light up water damage
Check for water damage in hard-to-view or dark spaces: behind toilets, basement corners, and the attic ceiling.