When to Walk Away: Red Flags at Open Houses

Open houses can be a great experience for a home buyer, whether or not they end up purchasing the home they are checking out. Sometimes you discover what you really want in a home that you didn’t know before going to an open house. And sometimes, just the opposite happens: you realize what you can’t put up with, what your dealbreakers are, and when you need to just walk away.

There are many different “red flags” that you could encounter at an open house, but every home buyer is going to have a different level of risk tolerance depending on their needs, desires, budget, and know-how. Here are a few of the issues that can crop up when you’re visiting a home that should give you pause if not cause to walk away from the sale.


Your First Impression of the Home is Soured

This is huge. The “curb appeal” of a home speaks volumes to the care and degree of maintenance the former owners poured into the home. If you’re already repelled when you’re parking the car, take note. That’s not to say that the home doesn’t have potential or a quality interior. But in general, the upkeep of the exterior will clue you into the upkeep of the interior.

Some specific things to look out for:

·         Roof Condition – does the roof obviously need work? This is an expensive repair that you don’t necessarily want to inherit.

·         Structural Issues – are there cracks on the home’s exterior that might signal foundation issues? What about the grading of the lot – is it even?

·         Gutters/Downspouts – do the gutters direct water away from the home? Or are you going to have to look out for a damp basement?

·         General Appearance – is the yard overgrown with weeds? Is the paint cracked and peeling? These could be simple fixes, but they say a lot about the current owners.

·         Ailing Neighborhood – are there a lot of For Sale signs on the street? Are there abandoned businesses? Lots of street noise and traffic?


Your Wallet Will Be Emptied if You Buy the Home

So you’ve made it inside the home. Don’t be totally distracted by the floor plan (or the snacks). You and your realtor® need to stay on track and sniff out any of these potential money pits:

·         Poor Foundation – only a professional can evaluate the foundation, but cracked walls, sloping floors, jammed doors are all signs of what may be a very costly issue.

·         Water Damage – Do you see any stains on the walls? Any mold or mildew? Dampness in the basement? A seller may be able to cover these things up with a good scrub and paint job, but if you see them, be alerted!

·         Asbestos/Toxic Materials – It’s not the worst of all problems, but if you see a popcorn ceiling, know that you’re going to sink some cash to make the home safe and healthy.

·         Broken Mechanical Systems – It should be a no-brainer, but try the lights and faucets – does everything work? Does the water run clear? Make sure the utilities are intact.


You Have a Bad Feeling About the Home

Feeling are definitely not everything in a home sale – if they were, you might end up buying a home that charmed you but has huge issues that are not immediately obvious. You need to talk through the home with your realtor®. They’ll help you stay focused and validate that nagging feeling that something’s just not right.

Here are a few more things that could be off-putting and give you reason to walk away:

·         Bad Smells – If you smell gas, pets, cigarettes, mildew, or the like, you can bet that the offensive scent will be difficult (and costly) to get rid of.

·         Creepy Crawlers – if you see (or see evidence of) mice, termites, cockroaches, or other unfriendly buggers, yikes! Get out of there! or be prepared to pay for extermination.

·         No Trespassing – if there are rooms that the seller or seller’s agent won’t show, or questions they won’t answer, be alarmed. They are not bound to disclose everything at an open house, but there could be something fishy going on.


As we said at the start, if you’re in the market for a new home, and it has one of these issues, you don’t necessarily need to walk away. But you do need to pay attention. Buying a home is a huge decision and should not be rushed, even if you are excited. Use this scorecard, the experience of your realtor®, and common sense to determine when to take a risk and when to walk away.

You’ll be glad you did.