Watch out for these 10 hidden problems when house hunting

House hunting can be a challenging process, because so many problems may lurk beneath the surface of the lovely home you are viewing. Before you make an offer, you will want to get a proper home inspection report. But you should also educate yourself about potential hidden problems. Here are some of the worst.

Bad Drainage

Bad drainage near the house can cause structural damage, dry rot and mold. This is of particular concern in the Vancouver area, where we have rainfall 161 days out of the year. The land needs to slope away from the house so water drains. A drainage problem can be difficult to see when the weather is dry; look for moisture stains on the walls. If the weather is rainy, look for water pooling near the foundation.

Damaged Foundation

One of the biggest nightmares you might face is to buy a house with a weak or damaged foundation. A weak foundation can be extremely expensive to repair and could even cause support beams to break.

Look for any of the following danger signs:

  • Any inclines in the floor. If you feel like you are walking upward or downward, even a little bit, this is a big problem.
  • Cracks in the walls
  • Uneven paint around the doors. If you see this, look closer for cracks in the wall you may not have immediately noticed.
  • Cabinets, windows or doors that don’t close or latch properly or are stuck.
  • Chipping and flaking in the foundation itself.
  • Cracked tiles or concrete.


Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally when uranium in the soil decays. It’s so dangerous that it’s the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Sixteen percent of lung cancer deaths in Canada are due to radon.

Professionals can reduce radon levels fairly easily by sealing leaks and installing ventilation systems. However, you won’t know whether or not a house has dangerous radon levels unless there has been a test; radon levels vary quite a lot depending on the time of day and the season. That’s why Health Canada recommends testing over a span of three months or more during the winter or the fall. Some 6.9% of Canadians live in houses that exceed the Health Canada guidelines. Don’t be one of them.

Hazardous Materials

If you are looking at somewhat older homes, you are very likely to come across homes that were built with asbestos or lead.

Lead was commonly used in paint before 1978, and it is also often found in the plumbing of older houses. Lead can affect many organs of the body and is particularly toxic to children. If you are in love with an older house but concerned about lead, you can hire a lead removal service. You may also want to consider replacing old kitchen plumbing or at least installing a water filtration system.

Asbestos was commonly used in insulation before the mid-1970’s. Though it is not used today, many older homes contain asbestos, which can cause lung cancer and other diseases. The greatest risk is when you are doing renovations that expose the asbestos. Removing asbestos can be costly. If it is contained, experts advise to just leave it. You can hire professionals to check your home for asbestos and to remove it if necessary.

Neighborhood Nuisances

It can be difficult to detect a neighborhood nuisance. The next door neighbor may only blare his stereo at 2 am. The seller of the home may have asked another neighbor to keep a usually-barking dog inside while she shows the house.

To try to discover these kinds of nuisances:

  • Ask pointed questions about the peace and quiet of the neighborhood.
  • Walk around the neighborhood on different days and at various times of the day and evening.
  • Chat with the neighbors you meet who are taking a walk or sitting at the corner coffee shop.


Termites can ravage the wood in a home if they aren’t stopped. And yes, southern British Columbia including Vancouver has termites. They are usually more of a problem in older houses, particularly where the foundation or drywall is damaged. Bad drainage near the house encourages termites. If you find a house you like with termites and don’t want to walk away, negotiate with the seller to pay for their eradication.

Look for the following signs:

  • Sagging floors
  • Tiny holes in the drywall
  • Peeling paint
  • Wood supports or floorboards that sound hollow

Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew are caused by excessive moisture and can develop anywhere. Because older houses are not as tight as new ones, seeping moisture makes them more likely candidates for mold. Cracked foundations, old, drafty windows and bad plumbing can be the starting point, but mold can even grow inside walls. You may not even see it as you tour the house. Mold can cause serious respiratory problems and must be taken seriously. It also attacks the structure of a home and can even make it uninhabitable.

Old, Leaky Roof

Replacing a roof is expensive, about $6,600 on average. You therefore need to know what kind of shape the roof is in before bidding on the house. An average roof last between 20 to 25 years depending on the material. It can be difficult to tell what kind of shape a roof is in just from looking at it from the ground; a closer inspection is required. Find out what the roof is made of and when (if ever) it was last replaced. If there is a problem with the roof, don’t assume the entire roof must be replaced; sometimes just a repair or two is needed.

Faulty Electrical Wiring

Electrical wiring doesn’t last forever. Pre-1960 wiring lasts about 70 years and newer wiring for about 100 years. When insulation deteriorates, the exposed wire can result in short circuits, shocks and even electrical fires. Old circuit breakers and service panels can cause similar hazards. Of course, electrical components may not make it to the end of their natural lives if damaged by water, pests or other causes.

Bad Plumbing

Old or faulty plumbing can ruin your belongings and cause expensive water damage to your house. It can also plague you with less dramatic, but still annoying, small leaks, low water pressure and corrosion. Pipes have a limited life span that varies according to material, so find out everything you can about a house’s plumbing.

If the pipes are made of polybutylene (common from the 1970’s to the 1990’s), you should probably ask that the pipes be replaced before you buy, because this material is vulnerable to household chemicals. It’s almost certain that polybutylene pipes will cause expensive problems.

Buyer Beware

Buying a house can be a mine field, but you may have legal recourse if the condition of a house is misrepresented. To find out what a real estate agent and seller need to reveal to you, just call us, and we will be happy to explain your legal rights as a house buyer.

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