There’s a lot of history in southeast Michigan, especially around Metro-Detroit. There are neighborhoods that go back decades or longer, with stunning and beautiful homes.  It’s easy to fall in love with some of those older homes when they’re in a neighborhood you love, in a school system you’re happy to send your kids through, with booming business and a reputation for great arts and entertainment…

Who wouldn’t want to turn down an older Victorian home that is overflowing with character, especially if you can get it for a steal in Oakland or Washtenaw county?

Unfortunately, those beautiful homes can hide deep, dark secrets that show themselves only after you’ve bought your home. For first time homebuyers, it can be frustrating to think you got the home of your dreams only to discover ugly flaws.

If you’re buying a home in southeast Michigan, here are some things to look for to avoid surprises.

  1. Check the roof for signs that it might need repair, including sagging and aging or missing shingles.
  2. Don’t focus too heavily on paint and colors. Stay focused on the structural integrity and quality of materials. The foundation and home will be there long after the new coat of paint put on by a seller.
  3. When you’re buying a Michigan home, keep in mind that if it looks old then it probably is. Old homes are OK, but not when things like appliances and the furnace are older than you are and date back to the depression era.
  4. Don’t stay at eye level. Agents often stage homes to drag your attention to certain areas (and away from others.) Change your perspective and get below eye level. Look under cabinets and get close to the floor. That’s when you’ll find imperfections, plumbing leaks, and mold.
  5. Take the time to focus on smells. Even new homes can have problems with odor, especially if there are gas line, sewer, drainage or water problems. What kind of smells do you note in different areas of the home? If you smell mold or mildew anywhere in the home, that’s a good sign the home will need mold removal and remediation.
  6. Look at the insulation. Just because it has insulation, doesn’t mean it’s effective. Check the attic, around pipes, in crawlspaces and basements. Look at ductwork and make sure there is adequate insulation to protect your home throughout all the seasons.
  7. Touch everything. Turn on all the faucets, open every drawer and cupboard, turn on all the lights. Turn and jiggle every handle. Check every electrical outlet. Check every step, open every window. Buying a house is one of the biggest steps for many people, and you need to know how everything works firsthand. That’s the only way to address problems with the homeowners and adjust the price, get them fixed, or put them on your todo list for later.
  8. Do as much digging as possible to find out the history of the home, as well as the neighborhood.
  9. If you have children, or they’re in your future plans, take the time to check the quality of the Michigan schools in the area. You don’t want to settle into buying a home in an area with poor schools.
  10. Visit the home and that neighborhood multiple times, on different days, and different times between day and night. Use this to assess area traffic, the neighbors, noise levels, etc. Be sure to stop by on the weekend to get a feel for what neighbors are like when they aren’t working.
  11. Pay close attention for any kind of water stains, especially in the attic. The roof might look OK from the outside, but stains within the attic or ceiling could indicate leaks caused by ice damming (thanks to our Michigan winters), or age.
  12. Try to check the grade of the property, and look around the foundation for signs of water damage or flooding. If water isn’t draining away from the home properly it can lead to water damage, a failing foundation, and mold growth.
  13. Check your mobile signal as you move slowly through the home. Imagine the frustration of buying a home only to discover that the design and materials of the home completely kill cell service unless you’re standing with your nose in the kitchen corner. Being forced to talk on your porch or in the driveway is far less convenient during a Michigan winter.
  1. Keep storage space in mind, and if storage space will be used make sure it’s never seen any water damage or flooding. Whether the attic or basement, you want to ensure that your belongings will never suffer water damage from a sewer backup or regular flooding due to poor drainage.
  2. Watch for signs of pest infestations, past or present. Pests don’t often create an immediate problem, but if left untreated they can cause problems with the structure of a home – especially older Michigan homes. Signs of an infestation aren’t generally a deal breaker depending on what it is, since extermination services and maintenance plans are relatively inexpensive. It’s good to know they’re present though.
  3. Watch for random fresh paint. While you don’t want to get distracted by newly painted, flashy colors, you don’t want to completely ignore new paint. This is especially true when a room, ceiling, or wall is randomly repainted with a fresh coat. Inconsistent paint jobs often mean the homeowner is hiding something – like a water stain – and should be investigated.
  4. Be watchful for amateur repairs. While cosmetic repairs not done by pros can be easily fixed later, amateur repairs can indicate that the homeowner may have done DIY work on other things – like wiring. Never compromise safety by ignoring amateur work on plumbing, wiring and carpentry. This will help you avoid getting scammed by an amateur home flip.

Lastly, always get an inspection done. You are not required to use the inspector recommended by an agent. Find your own inspector, or ask friends and family for a trusted referral. Because home inspections aren’t that expensive (Relative to what you’re paying for a new home in Michigan), it could be beneficial to have a second inspection done by another professional to ensure nothing gets missed.