Seven tips for successful house hunting

Everyone's dream home is just the right size, in the perfect neighbourhood, with exactly the features and amenities they had in mind. In reality, every home'even a brand-new one'will have flaws. The question is, are they reasonable issues or signs of an impending disaster? 

Defining a job as 'manageable' often comes down to a buyer's budget; just because a problem is standard doesn't mean you can afford to fix it right away. 'It's common for a house to need a new roof or siding. The roof is more critical because it keeps the weather out, while the siding is more of a cosmetic issue,' says Blaine Swan, owner of Goodeye Inspections in Truro, N.S. Asphalt-shingle roofs last about 25 years, and replacing one starts at $5,000, with costs rising according to roof area.

Some issues are smaller than they appear. Mark Benerowski, who owns The Inspection Consultant Inc. in Toronto, says first-time buyers are often disappointed when, during the preclosing inspection, a brand-new home in a housing development doesn't look exactly like the model suite they had seen. He'll remind them that many minor problems'like an imperfect finish on a staircase'are covered by a provincially regulated new-homes warranty and easily fixed within 30 days of their move-in.

Anything that could be a safety issue is worth looking into. Investigating a home's electrical system, for example, is crucial. Insurance companies don't like knob-and-tube wiring (found in homes dating back about 50 years), which they label a fire hazard. The system must often be upgraded within 30 days of closing in order to get insurance, and it's a messy job that starts at about $5,000 per storey. Also problematic are homes from six or more decades ago that have only 60-amp electrical service, which isn't enough to support today's appliances. 'That means new masks, new wiring and a new electrical meter and panel,' says Swan. 'It 'can get very expensive.'


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