Buying June 10, 2024

Buyer’s Remorse Rooted in Surprise Property Issues

Consumers may be distracted by fancy fixtures and finishes during a home tour, overlooking more serious problems, researchers say.

Eighty-two percent of home buyers express regrets about their recent property purchase, according to a new survey(link is external) from Clever Real Estate. Their most common regret: buying a home that requires too much maintenance.

Twenty-eight percent of home buyers say they were shocked at the cost and time needed to maintain their property. About one-third placed the blame on the seller for not being upfront about how much maintenance the home required. The second most common reason home buyers cited as a basis for their regret was that the home did not meet all their needs (24%), the survey shows.

Are house hunters getting distracted by a home’s fixtures and finishes while overlooking other key elements? Well, survey respondents rated an updated kitchen, remodeled bathroom and contemporary lighting as the most important during their home search. These home features were rated much higher than more operational aspects of a home, such as having a solid foundation or an updated electrical system, the survey finds.

“Aesthetic changes can certainly add value and style to a home, but buyers should look beyond the facade to a home’s underlying qualities,” write the researchers who authored the Clever Real Estate report. “Cosmetic fixes can mask structural problems that may cause safety hazards and lead to expensive repairs that most buyers want to avoid.”

A home with fresh interior paint—the fourth most important aspect to buyers, according to the survey—is only a fraction of the cost of purchasing a home that has foundation or structural issues, which ranked at the bottom of buyers’ home-shopping priorities.

Tips to Keep Buyers in Check

Certainly, a home inspector can provide a thorough investigation of a property once a buyer makes an offer. But during initial home tours, buyers can look for a few signs to indicate property condition. Buyers also appreciate reinforcement from their agent: Consumers say one of the top benefits of using a real estate professional is to have an experienced eye point out unnoticed features and faults of a property, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2024 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report.

House hunters should ask “plenty of questions, even if you think the answer is obvious, as this can help you to gain a better understanding of the property,” advises Bradley Mackenzie, who specializes in property valuations for Stokemont Surveyors(link is external). “Make plenty of notes—both positive and negative—throughout your viewing, as these will come in handy when making decisions in the future. If there’s something that catches your eye, take a picture you can come back to for reference and share for a second opinion. Ultimately, you want to become a sponge and absorb as much information as you possibly can.”

The home insurance firm Hippo offers a printable home tour checklist(link is external), which includes items for yard maintenance, age of appliances and home systems, that buyers can fill out during a showing. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  • Ask about maintenance costs. Since maintenance issues tend to be the top buyer regret, home shoppers will want to find out more about annual costs to factor into their purchase decision. They can ask sellers for the average utility costs (e.g. water, electricity, gas and trash collection) as well as any regular maintenance issues or extra fees, such as homeowner’s association dues. Also, a general rule of thumb: Homeowners should budget 1% to 4% of the home’s value for annual maintenance costs.
  • Check on high-use items. “The first things you want to check around the property are the things that will have had or be getting a lot of use,” Mackenzie suggests. Check plug sockets and outlets, scanning for any visual abnormalities, test switches and flush toilets.
  • Find out the age of items. How old is the roof, and has it had any previous issues or repairs? How about the HVAC? Checking up on the age of key components within the home may offer insight into how long they will last until a potential repair or replacement is needed. Check out the “Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components(link is external),” produced by the National Association of Home Builders and Bank of America Home Equity, offering the average length of time for common household systems. Also, depending on the age of the home, you may need additional checks.
  • Watch the smells. “Unpleasant odors can be more than just an unfortunate nuisance,” says Courtney Klosterman, home insights expert at Hippo. “Sometimes, weird smells in the house can be early warning signs of underlying problems that could lead to bigger issues down the road.” Be leery of fishy odors, a possible sign of an electrical issue; an ammonia smell unrelated to cleaning, which is potentially a refrigerator or a washing machine issue; or a damp and musty stench, an indication of a moisture problem, Klosterman says.
  • Check on the house’s orientation. The orientation of the house to the sun may matter to some home buyers, and it could affect heating, cooling and maintenance costs. The home’s direction will have a bearing on how much natural light flows in at certain times of the day. South-facing and East-facing houses tend to get the most sunlight. Experts say that North-facing homes may be less expensive to cool when temperatures rise, but since they tend to get less sun flowing through the windows, they may cost more to heat in the winter.
  • Judge vehicle accessibility. Is there sufficient room for your car in the garage? Is it able to adequately accommodate multiple vehicles? If you have any family members who have a disability, how accessible is your home to parking? Also, another common overlooked item that “can cause real issues down the line is how accessible the home is for delivery drivers. Is it easy to find via GPS?” Mackenzie says. “And is there enough room to maneuver vehicles in the area?”
  • Look beyond the property. Check out the home via Google Maps to see how close it is to neighborhood amenities, such as shops and gas stations. Nearly 80% of consumers rank a “house close to shopping” as a quality of their “dream home,” according to a survey conducted by Lombardo Homes. Buyers also may want to do some test-runs to get a feel for how close items are during rush-hour, such as a drive to schools and parks as well as having access to safe, walkable pathways nearby, Mackenzie says.
  • Look at the structural integrity. A home inspector may recommend further inspections if they suspect any problems. But during a buyer’s initial tour, you may spot some key indicators of poor build quality or underlying problems, such as large cracks throughout the walls. “They can be tricky to spot at times, as some tenants might attempt to cover them over. However, if you make close observations around the doorways, windows and any extensions on the house, you should pick up on any major issues,” Mackenzie says. Hippo provides the following chart to help decipher the meaning behind certain wall cracks.