With houses selling quickly in the Vancouver area right now, Henri Belisle, President of TQ Construction provides his insight on what to watch out for in a hot market when buying a home.
Real estate sales in British Columbia are predicted to boom this year—rivaling 2016 when home sales made international headlines for their insane climb.
As a Vancouver local, I’m watching multi-million dollar houses fly off the market. Interest rates are low and homebuyers are eager. They are walking into subject-free offers on old houses—and that can be more than a little risky.
We’re in a red-hot seller’s market.
Buyers are battling for Vancouver homes, which means that the sellers have a great deal of leverage. As the subject-free offers roll in, we’re seeing more and more homeowners make rushed decisions about expensive houses.
My question is, are people doing due diligence on these older homes? Or are they getting swept up in this blistering market, making quick decisions in bidding wars, and failing to conduct serious investigations?
Already, we have people coming to TQ Construction sharing serious problems with their older B.C. homes. So, I thought it seemed timely to do a little post on the biggest red flags when buying a home—especially in a seller’s market like today’s.
Red Flag #1: It Doesn’t Seem Like the Past Owner Cared
I always tell people that they want to buy from a homeowner who was “house proud.”
That doesn’t mean that the owner had the nicest house on the block or that they installed all the fanciest gadgets. It means they cared.
The floors are in good shape. The paint is relatively new and clean, not cracked or peeling. The yard is well maintained and there’s no moss growth on the roof. These may all seem like minor points of pride, and they are all certainly things you could fix if they’re not already in good shape.
However, these signs of “care” are a huge indicator of how this past owner treated the house.
If they’re the kind of owners that cleaned their gutters and waxed their floors, then they are likely also the kind of owners who properly cared for important things like the house’s plumbing, HVAC system, furnace, etc.
Don’t be fooled by homes that have a brand spanking new kitchen or a bathroom that screams recent remodeling. Although this might be appealing at first glance, recent renos could be a cover for poor maintenance in the past.
Pay attention to the places the realtor and homeowner don’t really want you to examine. Look for signs of house pride, and laziness. You want to know you’re buying a house that was tended to properly—not one that just had a new coat of paint slapped on last minute.
Otherwise, you run the risk of unearthing serious problems later on. Generally speaking, signs of neglect or laziness can be extremely subtle, but are one of the most important red flags when buying a home.
Red Flag #2: Homes That Are a Little Too “Unique”
We all want to walk into a house and think, “Wow! That’s special.” So many Vancouver home shoppers love looking for quirky, older houses that have real character—and that’s great.
The only problem? Houses that are truly “special” can also be unpredictable.
In the 1940s and 1950s, many homes were constructed in the Vancouver area after World War II. People bought land and built their own homes on post-war loans, and although many of these are still standing today, remember that they weren’t necessarily built to last.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that Vancouver homes were held to stricter standards and safety procedures. As much as you might love that house from the 30s with its unique character—its interesting layout and old-fashioned setup could be a problem later on when you want builders or designers to make changes.
I’ve seen many homes nearing 100 years of age in the West Side of Vancouver. They were renovated since their original construction, but that was 60 or 70 years ago when building codes were less stringent and enforcement of non-permitted work was much less.
Now, homeowners are realizing that their upper floors are poorly structured and that their newly purchased home needs tens of thousands of dollars in repairs. Sure, that old house was beautiful in its special way—but it also held secrets that the seller might not even have known about.
Red Flag #3. Expired Home Warranties
One of your first questions when looking at a house should be: “How much time is left on this home’s warranty?”
When it comes to home warranties, you’ll find two types you need to understand.
Your first is the “everything warranty,” which lasts for the first two years after escrow closes. This covers everything from squeaky floorboards to water damage. It’s comprehensive, but likely not that necessary since you just purchased this home.
The second kind of home warranty is the “Building Envelope Remediation” warranty. In British Columbia, this kind of warranty either lasts five or ten years, and it’s important.
This is what’s going to be covered:
- Defects in materials
- Non-compliance issues in the building code
- Unintended water penetration
- Other serious issues
My recommendation is to always look for a house that’s at least in the initial phase of this envelope warranty (three years or more left), especially if you’re putting in a subject-free offer on a house that could have hidden problems. With the envelope warranty, you’ll be safe should big problems arise.
Once your warranty expires, you’re in big trouble if you find problems like water in the walls or foundation cracks.
Red Flag #4: Vague, Unexplored Problems
Lastly, I want to remind everyone that a vague problem should be considered a serious problem – and one of the major red flags when buying a home.
I hear about too many homeowners that buy an old house knowing that it has some issues, but they don’t understand the extent of these issues. They find themselves pulling at one small thread, only to unravel a bigger, messier problem than they ever expected.
Don’t take the seller’s word that there’s a “small electrical issue” or that “the shower just leaks.”
You need to fully investigate and understand every issue that is brought up. The best way to do that? Hire a professional, qualified inspector. Learn the ins and outs of the problem so that you truly understand what you’re facing.
Additionally, I recommend researching contractors who could address the issue. If it’s a heating problem, talk to an HVAC specialist who can tell you how much it will really cost to handle. If the house’s plumbing system is faulty, ask a plumber how deep the problem goes.
The bottom line is that when you rush into a house purchase, without a proper inspection, you run a high risk of encountering hidden problems. Always, always get a professional inspection—especially if you don’t fully understand the extent of the home’s issues.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember when buying in a hot market is that you still need to do your own research—especially if you’re putting in a subject-free offer.
A seller will very likely not reveal all of their property’s problems from the get-go. If you rush into the sale, you could miss many of the red flags when buying a home.
Be wary of homes that have unexplored risks. Ask about their warranties. Hire a professional home inspector. Even if doing due diligence makes it harder to compete in this hot market, it’s always important to know what kind of situation you’re walking into.
If you’ve already purchased a home, and you’re beginning to consider renovations, give us a call at 604-430-9900 or reach out online. We’re ready to help you design the Vancouver home of your dreams.
About Henri Belisle, President of TQ Construction
Henri inherited the family-operated construction business from his father Ralph Belisle. What started as a business built on firm handshakes grew into a nationally acclaimed company. Today, Henri upholds TQ’s foundation and tradition of excellence.
Under Henri’s leadership, TQ Construction has continued to evolve as an innovative and progressive design-build firm. He’s an industry leader when it comes to quality craftsmanship and uncommon service. If you have questions about Vancouver construction or real estate, let him know – this is his area of expertise.