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Tips for buying a home from a real estate agent: Check out this room first!

By Laura Kapp

October 2018
The house was perfect: cathedral ceilings, soft gray walls, shiny granite countertops and wood floors. But Robyn Booth, real estate agent, dragged her buyers past all that to the basement.  

“I don’t want them to fall in love with the kitchen and then we find out the foundation is cracked! We always check out the basement first. A crack in the wall or a puddle on the floor reveals this house has some issues,” she explained.

What to look for

Realtor Robin Booth

Robyn has been a real estate agent with Vesta Advisors in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin for 3 years and an appraiser with the City of Milwaukee before that. She knows and understands what makes a home worth the asking price. 

She gives the following tips for buying a home:

  1. Always check the basement first. Don’t even go in the kitchen! Check for water on the floor, cracks in the wall or floor, musty odors and leaks. Foundation repairs can cost $10,000 to $60,000 or more.
  2. Consider the condition of the roof. Replacing a roof is a big-ticket item. Missing shingles and discoloration could indicate that a new roof is needed.
  3. Landscaping is another surprisingly big expense, especially if grading is needed to slope water drainage away from the house. Overgrown trees, shrubs and weeds are costly to remove, trim and replace.
  4. Open and shut the windows. Are the windows painted shut? Or are they foggy? That could mean the seal in those double pane windows is broken or defective. Picture windows and bay windows can cost thousands of dollars to replace.
  5. Flush the toilets and turn on the shower. Slow draining sinks or toilets that overflow indicate plumbing problems, which are costly to fix. Robyn said one recent home promoted a huge spa tub that was filled via one tiny pipe. “The water would have been cold by the time enough water dripped into the tub. Plus, their water heater was only 40 gallons and couldn’t heat enough water at a time to fill the tub. It was one of those things that looks good on paper but was impractical in reality,” Robyn said.
  6. Don’t get all romantic about a fixer-upper, especially if this is your first home. Those HGTV shows make it look a lot easier than it is. “I tried really hard to convince one couple that the old farmhouse was going to be a lot of trouble. They didn’t listen to me and now they are living in a hotel because they can’t live in their “new” home. They encountered so many unexpected problems during the renovation that they ran out of money to get it finished!” Robyn said.
  7. On the other hand, how handy are you? Robyn gets to know her buyers so she can show them homes that fit not only their budget but their lifestyle. For instance, she knew that one couple would be perfectly comfortable fixing up a house with an outdated 1970s kitchen because they both worked in the building industry. Either they could fix it themselves or they were connected to people who could.

Understand what you’re getting into

Basement, roof and landscaping issues can be fixed, but Robyn really wants her clients to know and understand the costs in both money and time before they make an offer. In a tight market, sellers don’t always have to make concessions to fix anything because buyers are often willing to buy a house “as is.”  

“But this is one of the biggest expenditures most of us make, so I want my clients to be know exactly what to expect. I never steer them away if they really want to buy a house, I just enlighten them as to what they are buying,” Robyn said.  

Joshua Nguyen

Very helpful.

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Laura Kapp is the former creative director of the writing and design team at MGIC. Now she works from her 1958-ranch-style home, accompanied by dust bunnies. Her messy home office proves the saying, “Creative minds are rarely tidy.”
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