Potentially Costly Issues for Home Buyers

If you are considering buying a home for the first time, you have probably been inundated with information on timelines, mortgages, contingencies, down payments, and neighborhoods--but what happens when you find that house you could see calling your home? In the rush of the process in a place like Boston, Brookline, or Newton, buyers can feel pressured to offer on a property without considering potential costs post-closing. There are 4 major sources of financial strife you’ll want to have as much information on as possible going into an offer or a P&S agreement:

The Roof

Unless you are buying a new-construction home (which generally come with a year-long builder’s warranty), be sure to consider the roof. If you see missing shingles, water damage, or other problems, you may have to replace the roof soon. The cost can vary widely depending on the roof’s pitch, the roofing material you choose (rubber versus shingle or solar tile), and the overall square footage, but in generally repair or replacement of a roof is a big-ticket item you’ll want to know about ahead of time. If the current owners have documentation on roof work, or a date it was last replaced, you can move forward with that knowledge in mind.


The HVAC System

So many people neglect regular maintenance for their HVAC systems. Before you offer on a home, it’s good to check for maintenance tags if you have access to the heating and cooling systems during a tour or an open house. If you don’t have that opportunity and have to forgo an inspection, you should hire a professional to come in and do an inspection as soon as you move in. The HVAC technician can do things like check the ductwork, clear debris out of the air conditioning unit, and measure airflow. Set up a standing appointment to have the equipment serviced every 12-18 months.

The Water Heater

A normal water heater lasts between 7 and 12 years. Most tanks will have an installation date written on them, so if you are exploring a home at a showing and see a date that is 9+ years, you are likely going to have to think about replacement. You can also look for water dripping from it which is a tell-tale sign it’s about to go. The national average cost to install a new water heater is around $1,000, but if you buy a small water heater, you may be able to find one for significantly less. Another option is to install a tankless water heater. Tankless heaters cost around twice as much as traditional water heaters, but they offer significant energy savings and never run out of hot water.

Electrical Issues

While each of the issues listed above are best inspected by a licensed professional, there is a certain amount of due diligence you can do as a buyer by yourself. This is not as much the case with electric wiring. Typically, you will only have access to the main electric panel via an inspector or electrician.

Panels should be neat and tidy. Each breaker should be clearly labeled and supply one wire only. All GFCI breakers should be tested for operation. A GFCI is typically a receptacle with small buttons on it that usually say “Test” and “Reset”. A GFCI receptacle constantly monitors an electrical circuit. If it detects even a slight flow of electricity to a grounded item, it immediately shuts off the flow of electricity. This protects people from electrocution. It is particularly important to protect people where they could come in contact with exposed grounded items such as plumbing fixtures.


It is also important to determine what type or types of wiring were used for the branch circuits in the home. Ideally, a home should be wired with copper conductors. Aluminum wire was used from the late 1960s to 70s and can be troublesome. The thing you really want to look out for is knob-and-tube wiring, which was an early method of wiring homes. This configurations typically are not well suited for today's electrical demands and can be a fire hazard and a major expense if you need to redo the home’s wiring.

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