4 Your Home

4 Red Flags to Consider Before Buying a Home

It can be tempting to rush the buying process in this market, but there are a few things to watch for before you take that leap

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The competitive housing market is making it challenging for prospective home buyers — with some going as far as to waive home inspections in the hopes of getting an advantage over other buyers.

According to the National Association of Realtors, 20% of buyers across the country waived home inspections in January.

"The market is crazy," realtor Yolanda Muckle said.

But skipping an inspection can be an expensive mistake, leading to unexpected costs down the road.

"Unless you have a professional go through the house as a realtor, as a potential purchaser, everything could look pretty and nice and fixed up. But we really don't know," Muckle said.

Getting a home inspection is important, and with a few simple clicks, information about home repairs, construction permits and any skeletons in the closet can be found online.

Ernest Chrappah is the Director of DC's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, or DCRA, which offers free, online tools to help prospective buyers.

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Before you gamble with the biggest investment of your life, Chrappah encourages people to do a little digging.

Here are four red flags to watch for:

Renovations Without Permits

"If I go to the property and I see that it's been renovated, but there's no permit in an inspection history, that is a red flag that tells me that there was illegal construction," he said.

Home Designated Vacant

Another red flag is when a home has been designated vacant or receiving vacant tax exemptions.

"If you don't get that classification changed, once the property becomes yours, you will be responsible for bigger property taxes," Chrappah said.

Historic Districts

Is the property in a historic district? Improvements to homes in these areas are often more costly and time consuming.

"We have historic districts like Georgetown and what it means is that if you plan on doing any renovation, your permit timeline will likely be longer than the average person's. So you want to plan ahead," Chrappah advises.

Past Contractors

Lastly, if the home has been remodeled, who did the work and are they reputable?

"We have a contractor rating system, a five star rating system, that grades objectively, whether that be a contractor missed or failed a lot of inspections, or whether they submitted plans that were not in good compliance," Chrappah said.

Similar online tools are available in Maryland and Virginia, too. The bottom line: Chrappah tells buyers to do their homework, making sure they’re armed with information before falling in love and submitting an offer.

"The District is a beautiful place to live, work and play. There's a reason the market is hot in the District of Columbia. But you, as a buyer, have tools at your disposal that will not cost you anything so they can make the best informed decision," he said.

For information on how to research a property and see D.C.'s contractor rating system, visit the DCRA's website.

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