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Scott McGillivray explains when it’s fixable and when to walk away.

Real Estate Editor Scott McGillivray tells house hunters which property flaws are fixable, and which ones mean you should walk away

I’ve done a lot of real estate deals in the past 15 years and I’ve seen just about everything there is to see when it comes to the condition of a property. There’s not a lot of things that can’t be fixed or remedied in some way, however for the average homeowner, there are definitely some red flags to look out for when shopping for properties. 

Structural issues

“Good bones!” That’s what you always want to hear about a house. But what does that mean? Essentially, it means your house is structurally sound. Small, hairline foundation cracks aren’t necessarily cause for concern, but when the cracks are bigger (if you can stick your finger in them) that spells trouble. Cracks can be caused by water, frost, or even from the house settling. Telltale signs of significant “settling” are present not just in the basement, but also upstairs. Cracks in walls - particularly over windows and doors - and windows and doors that may not close properly are warning signs that you have structure or foundation concerns.

Major plumbing/septic Issues

Serious plumbing issues are right up there with structural problems at the top of the list of extremely costly home repairs. When touring a home, flush all the toilets and run all the taps - low water pressure or drainage issues can point to interior plumbing issues. However, it’s once you get outside that the problems can become serious enough to be deal breakers. Old sewer lines and outdated septic systems that are no longer code compliant can cost up to $50,000 to repair (or replace), so it’s extremely important to know what you’re getting into and making sure you have the budget to cover the costs. 

Signs of past damage

Unless you’re buying a new build, chances are the house you buy will have endured a little wear and tear. And that’s OK. What’s not OK is extensive former damage that was never properly repaired, or covered up. Houses that were previously damaged in a fire and houses that were formally grow-ops can have this type of damage, specifically from water, so make sure you inspector pays extra attention to possible signs of water damage or mould growth. 

Location in a flood zone

Even if the house has never flooded, a house in a flood zone can be a massive red flag. You can’t control the weather, so you never know when a flood may happen, which is a lot to have hanging over your head. Buying a house in a flood zone will also significantly impact your insurance premiums too, so get quotes ahead of time and make sure you’re 100 per cent clear what will be covered in the instance of a flood. 

Termites (and other wood-eating insects)

Did you know that an average termite colony can have 100,000 to 500,000 workers all focused on one task: spending all day and night gnawing on the structure of your home? It only takes about four months for termites to eat their way through a 12” length of 2’x4,’ so you do the math. Before long, the structural integrity of your home can be severely compromised. Depending on how extensive the damage is when you find it, the cost to repair a termite-ravaged home might be more than you had bargained for. 

Financial concerns

Sometimes the deal breaker on a property has nothing to do with the property itself, but with the circumstances surrounding the purchase. Sticking to your budget should always be a deal breaker that you impose on yourself. Don’t get caught up in the emotional rollercoaster of a bidding war, because no matter who gets the house in the end, no one “wins” a bidding war besides the sellers. Also make sure your lawyer does a proper title search, and if there are any liens on the property, it may be far more trouble than it’s worth to move forward with the purchase.