ScoreCard Research Brett Romero - The Penny Hoarder

Purchasing a new home can be an exciting time — especially if it's your first home.

You’ve been inside the house and know it’s the one. Negotiations have started, and the home inspector has even been out to take a look.

I have family in real estate and home building, and I’ve learned quite a bit through the years about buying a home — and the problems that come with it.

Even with a thumb’s up from the home inspector, you’ll want to personally check out a few things before signing a contract.

Home inspectors have a list of items to check, but each has their own method -- some are more thorough than others. Your hard-earned money is on the line, and knowing a few areas to double check could save you thousands of dollars.

1. Open All Doors and Check for Water Damage

Home inspectors can miss tucked-away areas, like a built-in bookcase that has doors at the bottom with shelves inside.

Take a look in the far back of these shelves and similar hidden areas. You're looking for any paint buckling or discoloration. These can be a sign of water damage.

Better yet, go back to the house during a good rain storm. This is a good time to find leaks. Bring a friend along for an extra pair of eyes, and don’t be afraid to go over what they just looked at.

If possible, bring a wood moisture meter. They’re about $30 and well worth the investment. Take measures of wood surrounding the area in question to prevent a false reading. Wood often has some level of moisture in it, so this helps you get a baseline for the home.

Look for any readings outside the norm of the surrounding wood. Take note of any suspicious areas, and come back with a carpenter who can provide more feedback.

Dark discoloration could be a sign of mold. A mold remediation company can test suspicious spots for a few hundred dollars -- much better than the thousands it can cost to remove mold.

2. Check the Roof

You can eyeball the roof from the ground. If it’s tiled, check for any cracked, missing or out-of-place tiles. For a shingled roof, check for any cracked, curled up edges or missing pieces. Owens Corning has some great images to help identify these types of issues in shingled roofs.

Or go one better and have a roofing contractor check it for you. They can identify problems and note potential design issues to give you some idea about when the roof might need to be replaced -- which would easily cost a few thousand dollars.

The roof’s design could also cause drainage problems and premature wear. A roofing contractor can spot design issues your home inspector isn’t likely to call out.

If you can go back during a rainstorm, note how rain comes off the roof in various places. Is a gush of water constantly pouring off right at the front door, for example? That’s a big problem.

3. Test the Driveway

Yes, the driveway can definitely have issues, even if it looks pristine. This is another time when having a contractor — one who pours driveways — could come in handy.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Weak concrete. Tap the concrete with the handle end of a screwdriver. It should sound solid. If it doesn’t, and the top layer gives and rebounds where you’re tapping, it’s a big issue.
  • Any area where the top layer seems to be flaking off. This will only get worse.

The problem with driveways is there isn’t a solid way to repair them.

Any type of driveway repair is only temporary and usually cosmetic. The repair will eventually degrade and probably doesn’t do anything for the underlying problem. It’s also difficult to match the original driveway color.

To fix a concrete driveway, you basically have to remove the old concrete and start over — for a few thousand dollars.

4. Record the Age of Major Appliances

Appliances aren’t made to last forever. Note the manufacture date and condition of any major appliance, including the refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, air conditioner and furnace.

Do your research for life expectancy on these items. Especially in an older home, some major appliances could be due for replacement.

Knowing the condition of appliances can give you negotiating power on the home price.

Do Your Due Diligence Before Buying a Home

If you can bring a contractor with experience to look at these sneaky spots, you could save a boatload of money. Write down your findings, and take photos during your walk through. You can also send photos to someone else for another opinion.

Depending on what you find, it can mean saved money and bargaining power -- like a longer home warranty or even a lower price on your next home.

Brett Romero is a small business consultant and freelance writer specializing in finance, business and IT-related topics.