Buying a house is a huge decision with many things to consider and tips to glean. In 2021 6.1 million homes were sold. And yet, in a market with low inventory and multiple competing offers on so many properties, potential buyers are still walking away over deal-breakers.
According to the most recent National Association of Realtors Confidence Index Survey, eight percent of contracts were terminated. The top reason for killing the deal: problems discovered in the home inspection.
“Major issues — foundation, cracked walls, etc. — scream that … the home is going to fall apart,” says Michelle Schwartz, managing partner of The Agency in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley. “It becomes a safety concern. It’s easier to walk away. Buyers want to feel like it’s safe and healthy to be in the home.”
A HomeAdvisor survey of 2,000 homeowners who bought within the last five years reveals these home-buying deal-breakers:
Damaged or discolored siding, chipped paint or deteriorating bricks do not make a good first impression. Jeremy Stein of Sotheby’s International Realty, Downtown Manhattan Brokerage sees this with New York City townhomes.
“Exterior work is scary for potential buyers who assume discoloration or flaws will require expensive repainting and time-consuming repairs that may even trigger landmark preservation committees to get involved, adding a layer of bureaucracy,” he says.
Deferred maintenance is another red flag. “If (buyers) see things have been noticeably ignored, what about things they can’t see?” says Emily Johnson of Sotheby’s International Realty, Los Feliz Brokerage in Los Angeles. “If you’ve owned your home for more than five years, hire someone to repair and paint the house a fresh, new color.”
Jason Krochalis of Kienlen Lattmann Sothebys International Realty, Morristown, N.J. encouraged a seller client to weatherproof their home before listing.
“Out of 30 windows, 21 required significant repair or replacement of the trim or siding,” he says. “That’s a lot of time on a ladder! Even the enthusiastic DIYer will see this as taking too much time, and possibly too much risk.”
Cracked Walls or Ceilings
Cracks can be covered by framed art during a buyer walk-through, but an inspector might flag them.
Krochalis and a buyer client noticed a ceiling crack next to a water stain. “We were told it was from an HVAC problem that was fixed and the owner just hadn’t had time to address the cosmetic damage,” Krochalis recalls. “Homeowners should feel confident the issue is truly fixed.”
Adds Johnson: “Walls and ceilings crack for reasons that have nothing to do with the integrity of the house, but they look really bad. Having a handyman plaster over the flaws is an easy fix. If the crack is more than a quarter-inch wide or runs the entire length of a wall or ceiling, it needs to be investigated.”
Flaws in the Foundation
A crack in the foundation raises two issues, according to Krochalis: The cause of that crack and the effect on the house. “Foundation flaws are typically a symptom of something that could require extensive and expensive excavation, engineering and heavy machinery,” he says.
During a recent showing, Krochalis followed a crack in the foundation wall and learn it allowed water into the home and onto the electrical panel. Had they not seen the crack, they would never have thought to investigate.
“When (buyers) see issues with the foundation, their minds immediately go to doomsday scenarios and the internal cash register in their minds starts going haywire,” says Stein.
A Significant Number of Repairs Needed
One or two repairs is one thing. A long list can be a deal-breaker.
“When repairs pile up, it causes buyers to wonder, ‘If this is what we know now, what else could we have missed?’ ” says Krochalis. The average cost of a new roof is around $8,000, for example. “If the roof is old, I recommend replacing it,” says Johnson. “Buyers are likely to pay more for not having to deal with it.”
Some renovations are fun and worth the splurge. Others are not. “Spending $12,000 on a new kitchen is not the same as spending $12,000 on a new sewer line,” says Schwartz.
Lack of Information From Sellers
Being mum about the home’s condition is a no-no. Sellers would do better to over-disclose.
“One of the issues with failed sales is a lack of information from sellers, which can lead to a feeling of distrust from the buyer’s perspective,” says Whitney Harvey of Venture Sotheby’s International Realty, Waimea, Hawaii. “I encourage my (seller) clients to provide bids or reports on issues that won’t be remedied before listing. This establishes trust with the buyer.”
Another fear and common deal-breaker is mold, triggered by obvious signs of water intrusion. “(Buyers) wonder what seeped into the walls or under the floorboards,” says Johnson. “If there are past mold problems, it’s fine to fix them, but it’s also very important to disclose them to the buyer.”
Age of the Home
A 1957 home might be referred to as such on the title. But if electrical and plumbing were recently updated, it’s akin to a new home. Updates are usually in the seller’s disclosure, but asking the agent and seller for a list of recent improvements is not out of line.
“It’s more about how it’s been maintained than the age of the home,” Schwartz says.
Bad Remodel Work
A cringe-worthy kitchen or bath remodel gets the wrong kind of attention. Buyers can’t see themselves living in the house with that kitchen or bathroom. The good news, this eyesore won’t usually cause the house to fall apart.
“Aesthetics modifications should not be deal-breakers,” says Schwartz. “I encourage my clients to focus on health and safety issues. It’s easier (for the buyer) to understand.” Assuming the buyer has the budget to redo the work and the seller lowers the asking price, it’s a win-win for both parties.
Common in homes older than 15 years (and especially those a century old), uneven flooring often causes alarm. An inspector can determine whether it will be expensive or necessary to repair. A slanted floor could be caused by excess moisture (leaky pipes?) or the ground shifting over time.