What are the likely problems when buying a former rental house?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A rental house that needs a few repairs can be a good starter home for a first-time buyer. However, it has been our experience from inspecting numerous rentals that investors rarely sell them until they have “burned ‘em out.” No matter what story the seller provides for putting the home on the market, the likely reason is that the property needs at least one major, expensive repair: new roof, water heater, or air conditioner. It may also be time for replacement of an old plumbing or electrical system that has an accumulation of handyman fixes to put off the inevitable.

   Some of these problems are not readily recognizable by a homebuyer, and will be noted and evaluated later by your home inspector. Yet there are many simple things to look for that will tell you how well the house has been maintained. The condition of the eaves (soffit and fascia) is one of our first clues to the overall maintenance of the house. Deteriorated paint, wood rot, damaged vent screens, or loose soffit panels indicates poor upkeep. 

   Also, a window or sliding glass door with a stick in it indicates that it doesn’t lock or doesn’t stay open. What’s the condition of the appliances? A dish drainer in the sink usually means that the dishwasher either does not work, or does not work well. Are there buckets or pans under the sink drains to catch leaks or stains under the sink trap? Are there duct-tape repairs? Stains on the ceiling that indicate roof leaks?

   Often, rental are older and smaller houses. To get more square footage for higher rent, an investor will enclose a carport, garage, or porch. These remodeled spaces are often poorly done, with limited electrical receptacles and no air conditioning vents. Check for vents in add-on rooms and look for enough wall receptacles. Extension cords running along the baseboard are a sure sign of too few receptacles. Also, you may notice a temperature change when you enter one of these rooms, because the walls and ceilings are not insulated and the lack of a/c vents. 

   A window air conditioner in a room of a home with central air conditioning indicates that the room does not get adequate air flow from the central system or the system is not working well. A dehumidifier in the corner of a room means something is wrong—there’s a water intrusion problem lurking somewhere.

   Ideally, if the house is still tenant-occupied, the tenants should not be present during your viewing of the home. Ask your realtor for it to be arranged. While it may seem that they would be a good source of information, tenants usually do not want the house to change hands and may exaggerate any problems. A TV blaring while you are there, a barking dog, or rooms you can’t go into because someone is sleeping are all distractions that make your job of carefully observing the house more difficult. 

    Also, talk to the neighbors. They will be thrilled at the prospect of a rental house changing to owner-occupied, and can provide plenty of information you will never get anywhere else. Yes, you may meet a stone-faced type that is irritated at your knock on the door, but just move on to the next house and and you will find someone glad to talk with you.

   Because most former rental houses are fixer-uppers, be sure to get a home inspection to protect yourself. You will know from your own investigation that the home needs work, but a home inspector will help to quantify the amount of repairs necessary and probably find at least a few additional problems to address.   

    Also, see our blog posts Do I need a home inspection to get insurance? and Who should pay for the home inspection?

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  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1940s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

   Visit our HOME INSPECTION page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

    Visit our SHOULD I BUY A… and COMMON PROBLEMS pages for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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