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How to Tell if a Home Has Good Bones

The term “good bones” has become synonymous with opportunity when it comes to buying a home in Greater Boston. A house with good bones is a solid structure with good systems that allows a buyer to renovate the interiors and make improvements to create the ideal living space. However, the term can be thrown around too loosely: Is the home you’re considering really just a diamond in the rough, or is your realtor trying to make you feel better about buying a fixer upper? There are a few aspects of a home you will want to examine closely in order to determine whether it is worth the hype.


For a home to truly have good bones, a solid foundation is non-negotiable. Problem foundations can be costly to fix, and they can cause problems with other elements of the home, such as buckling walls, sinking floors and cracked ceilings. As you evaluate the sturdiness of a home, look for the signs of foundation problems, such as horizontal cracks in the walls or concrete floors, uneven floors, sticking doors and off-kilter walls. If you like a home but are worried about the foundation, you can call in an inspector to determine if the warning signs are cosmetic or true indicators of a bad foundation.


Moving up from the foundation, the home should have a strong stud and joist system. Many homeowners wonder about the benefits of metal versus wood studs; both have their advantages and disadvantages. If the home’s interior support system is made of wood, the wood should be free of water, termite or fire damage. Metal studs and joists should be rust free and shouldn’t show any signs of warping or buckling. A great sign for the structure is if it was built with insulated concrete form (ICF) construction. ICF blocks are strong and durable, and they eliminate the problems that can come with metal or wood construction. ICF blocks are fire, water, disaster and termite resistant, and they don’t release harmful substances, like volatile organic compounds, to degrade indoor air quality. On top of that, ICF blocks insulate a building to lower energy bills and lower sound pollution.


Repairing or replacing systems can be costly, and a home with good bones will eliminate this potential for sinking capital. That means that HVAC, plumbing and electrical wiring are up to date, up to code, and free from any damage or deficiencies. The roof shouldn’t need to be replaced or repaired in the near future, and it should be constructed from a durable material. Windows should be leak free and in good repair. The home should have weatherproofed windows and doors to keep home-energy bills low and to keep the home comfortable on the hottest summer days and the coldest winter nights.


Often, when people refer to the bones of a home, they’re referring to the layout. A home with good bones will have a layout that makes sense. There will be a natural flow to the rooms, and rooms that are used in conjunction with one another will be conveniently located. For example, the kitchen will lead naturally to the dining room, and bathrooms will be conveniently located near the bedrooms. There won’t be awkward design features, such as doors that open into one another, awkwardly small rooms or architectural features that divide a main living space.


Location doesn’t have anything to do with a home’s “bones,” but a home usually won’t have great potential if it doesn’t have a great location. That means the home should be well-placed on its lot, and windows will make the most of the home’s views. The home also should be situated in such a way that it maximizes sun exposure. Finally, if a home is located on a busy road, near an eyesore or near a loud public venue, those are all challenges that typically won’t be overcome by great design or an expensive remodel.

Ultimately, a home with “good bones” has great potential. Its main structure and systems are in good repair, so homeowners won’t have to worry about costly home improvements. The home is well designed to be comfortable and functional. When a home has good bones, homeowners can focus on making cosmetic renovations they’ll enjoy to create a home they love that will have a strong resale value in the future.

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