If you’ve seen the Tom Hanks classic movie, “The Money Pit,” you know that while it’s funny happening to someone else, when your fixer-upper home becomes a money pit, it’s more like a horror movie. If you’re looking for a new property and considering an underpriced fixer-upper, you could end up with a nightmare full of endless home repairs. Here are some ways to make sure your Chicago home-buying reality doesn’t become the stuff of movies and cost you more money than you bargained for. 

Start With A Solid Foundation
One of the most important components of a home, it should stand on a solid foundation: a steel-reinforced, concrete perimeter foundation wall, and footing. The foundation should be straight and square—if you notice leaning or bulging in places, the structure could be compromised. In the basement, check for large cracks or gaps in the foundation walls. 
Large, V-shaped cracks could be a sign that the home needs extensive foundation repairs. Look out for straight or jagged cracks in the drywall, especially in the corners and around doorways and windows. These could all signify biggers foundational problems. 

The home’s floors should be level and sturdy. If you notice uneven flooring, movement, or sagging, this could indicate other structural problems below the floor. 

Look Up and Scan The Roof
Find out the age of the roof. A good roof will last several years, so if the roof is due to be replaced soon, this could be a costly replacement. Visually inspect the roof for missing shingles, holes, or any warped areas. If you notice any water stains on the ceiling or in the attic, this could be a sign of a leaky roof. 

Turn Away if You Notice Strong Smells 
If when you enter a home, your nose is overwhelmed with bad smells, this could be a problem. It could signal mold, sewer or septic problems, or even a gas leak. Remediation for all of these items is costly.

Sufficient Drainage
The home’s gutters and downspouts should move water away from the house, and the lot should be graded to direct runoff away from the foundation. If the lot isn’t graded properly, the home could have water damage. Look for rotting wood in the corners and around windows. 

Mold Inspection
Musty odors come from mold or mildew, and mold isn’t always visually detectable; it could be lurking inside the walls. If the home has a basement or crawlspace, look for signs of previous flooding, like moisture or water marks on the foundation walls. Where there’s moisture, mold can grow. Some kinds of mold are harmless and can be handled easily, while others may require expensive repairs. A professional mold inspector uses equipment that detects the mold you can’t see.

Ensure Modern Plumbing and Electrical Components
Old steel pipes can get clogged, which will decrease water pressure, so make sure the house has been updated with copper piping. Also, to avoid a costly electrical update, make sure the home has 220-volt service. Older homes will have 110-volt service, which isn’t enough to power a family.

Check the Age of Heating and Cooling System
If the heating and cooling system components are more than 10-15 years old, you might have to replace these in the near future. During your home inspection, make sure all rooms in the home are sufficiently warm or cool, ensuring good air flow and proper venting to each room. 

Professional Inspection 
Before purchasing any home, hire a reputable home inspector to explore every crevice of your home and prepare a thorough report. A home inspector will usually charge several hundred dollars for the inspection and report, and it’s money that’s well-spent. A professional home inspector has seen hundreds or thousands of homes, and they know what to look for. Based on the inspection report, you may be able to renegotiate a lower purchase price, or even have enough reasons to look for another home. While inspectors can be great, don’t rely on this alone, there are other professionals you may need to call in too.

Armed with these tips and a few professionals, you should be able to stay away from a potential money pit. Have questions about an underpriced home or need some advice on a money pit you already have? Get in touch!

This content is not the product of the National Association of REALTORSĀ®, and may not reflect NAR's viewpoint or position on these topics and NAR does not verify the accuracy of the content.