Fooled By Great Photos?
Chances are that you already know a beautiful home photo shoot can conceal a lot of imperfections (probably through sad experience). Some photo changes are against the rules—for instance, it’s acceptable to touch up a small nail hole in the wall or make the sky bluer, not to photo-shop power lines or change paint colors/flooring materials—but a good photographer doesn’t need those tricks to make sure a house looks its best.
Realtors have plenty of reasons to keep their photos honest. One sale (not mine), for instance, almost ended in court when the buyer demanded a kitchen countertop replacement, claiming a conspicuous mark must have occurred after the contract, or else been deliberately concealed prior to closing. The agent redirected the buyer to his online photos to show the mark had been there from the start, proving that blame rested with the buyer’s oversight, and not the seller’s deception.
But no agent will use home photos to showcase the flaws of a property s/he is trying to sell, so there are some things you won’t see pictured. Other unknowns can also affect the personal and actual value of a property so—always take an extra set of eyes to your showings, and tap into your agent’s resources to pinpoint any other unknowns before placing an offer. Here are three things to look for:
Red Flag #1: Subtle Signs of Poor Construction
Not every agent or buyer knows what to look for, but from my personal areas of expertise (see Ask A Realtor: Can I Buy A Historic Home, Part 1) for a little about one of my own projects as a woodworker and home renovator), I’ve learned to spot certain things a love-struck buyer might miss through rose-colored glasses. Many signs require a trained eye (HINT: Call me!), but I’ll give you two of the more obvious “tells” here.
• Separation between floor/wall or ceiling/wall, joints, or even between the backs of cabinets/furniture and the wall. This can indicate a lack of squareness to the construction, somewhat expected in a much older home, but unacceptable in a newer build.
• Uneven surfaces. Find an angle where the light catches the dry wall. Is it “wavering”? A good builder won’t let that happen. Countertops or flooring will show the same thing. Fewer surface variations indicate that the builder knew what s/he was doing, but the opposite should warn you that the home probably has other less-obvious construction issues as well.
Red Flag #2: Hidden Information
One homebuyer with “privacy” at the top of his wish list wanted to know what I thought of a particular property that seemed ideal. The luscious green, very private lot featured a cute vintage home with shiny hardwood, just the right number of bedrooms, and a welcoming outdoor space. However, the biggest privacy “buffer” was a large nature preserve adjacent to the front yard—so I wanted to make sure that land wasn’t going anywhere before making a recommendation.
After a little digging, though, I found evidence of an unmarked city-owned easement for the connection of a road that—if built– would run right between their front yard and the nature preserve. Goodbye, privacy! Considering that crucial detail, it made sense for this particular family to look elsewhere.
Many details aren’t readily available to the general public, but a good realtor knows how to find out about things like easements, restrictions, upcoming public works projects, and other factors that might impact the value of your property. Use your agent’s expertise—avoid invisible pitfalls and get your money’s worth of that commission!
Red Flag #3: Easy Fix- Hard Fix
Don’t automatically rule out a property that needs a little work—but unless you’re really up to a full-scale renovation, be careful you have all the facts before assuming something is an easy fix.
HGTV’s continuous loop of contractors, designers, and flippers leads many people down this mental garden path. Don’t get me wrong—would-be buyers should stay open to creative possibilities. With time and practice (and good training, for the really hard stuff) you, too, can DIY like the pros. But make sure a “little home improvement project” isn’t going to turn into a huge, costly ordeal if that’s not what you anticipated.
Here’s an example.
A colleague recently mentioned to me that some specific hardwood floor imperfections shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for homebuyers, because “they can just get them refinished.” However, I’d actually been in the property she referenced, and had seen the conspicuous deep gouges (probably made by dog claws). As someone who has both installed and refinished wood floors, I explained to her that flooring damage has no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Deep damage requires deep sanding, and the flooring would be too thin for sanding out those huge gouges.
There are other options—a filler could work, but that changes the look of a floor when stained. Likewise, a buyer could try to replace just the damaged portions, but without the exact wood and matching stain, the new boards wouldn’t blend. A meticulous buyer would need to replace the whole floor to get the desired look, and that gets expensive.
Whatever the project, make sure you understand the situation clearly, and that you are comfortable with the outcome you will achieve with an “easy fix” vs. a “hard fix.”
Every home is a perfect fit for a specific buyer, regardless of its condition (although some are the perfect fit for a bulldozer). Just make sure you know what you are getting into before offering to buy. Don’t make any assumptions!
As a realtor, I always consider my clients’ need list together with hidden information and any personal expertise they may bring to the table before giving my two-cents on specific properties.
Give me a call if you have questions about whether or not a home may be right for you.
Posted by L. Lathrop for Jim Burns