5 Things to Look Out for When Buying a Home

2-Family Home in South Buffalo


Home inspections in Buffalo NY, West Seneca, and other parts of Western New York often times put me in a unique position. A home inspection is usually the first time that a buyer will step foot inside of the house after their offer was accepted by the seller.

Most of the time, my clients are excited to get to know the house better.  But they also can be nervous and want to make sure that the house isn’t about to fall apart.

There are lots of things to look out for when buying a pre-owned or new construction house in the Buffalo area, buy what are the 5 biggest ones?

Roof Problems

Home buyers and real estate agents alike always are interested to know what I find after inspecting the roof of a home.  It’s fair to say that shingles and roof sheathing together make up the single largest item on a home that wear out over time eventually will have to be replaced.  

You may often hear about “the roof being replaced X many years ago”.  This phrase can mean many things, stretching anywhere from the roof structure being partially repaired, to new shingles being nailed on top of old ones.  

Most shingle roofs will last anywhere from 15-25 years, with the best ones lasting over 30.  

As a home buyer, it is advisable to have a clear picture of what was actually replaced.  Your home inspector should give you a clear picture of the relative age of roofing materials and the general condition of the structure. 

Ideally, if shingles are worn out and are to be replaced, the old ones along with tar paper or other substrate should be torn off and the underlying sheathing should be inspected by the roofing company.  If the sheathing appears to be damaged then it should also be replaced. 

My advice is to use plywood sheathing instead of lesser materials such as oriented strand board (OSB), as it holds up better to moisture intrusion.  

Factors such as attic ventilation, materials, and workmanship all factor into the quality of a roof.  Be aware of as many of these as possible in order to enable you as the home owner to plan out your finances for possible repair down the road

Foundation Issues

Without question, the second area of concern by home buyers is the foundation.  Minor problems here are common, but major foundation issues can be extremely heavy on the pocket book.

Home inspectors are not structural engineers, but we do our best to assess the condition of the foundation and help you understand your investment. It can be difficult to determine if a foundation problem is serious, but this is why it’s a good idea to hire a qualified home inspector. (especially in the Buffalo, NY area where many homes are built on questionable foundations)

Foundation materials vary, and range from large stones (commonly used in the 1800s and earlier) to precast concrete walls that are delivered to the job site.

No matter what material is chosen, there are certain things I look for during a home inspection in the Buffalo NY area.  

Do the walls appear to be leaning or bowing? If they do, then that is a major issue that needs to be repaired.

Fortunately, this is not a common problem in Western New York.  It does occur, and most often it is due to poor design of the foundation wall, or unusual pressure from the surrounding soil.  

Many times these situations can be repaired without replacing the foundation.  

Home inspections often find cracks in foundations that are not a cause for concern.  Cracks develop as concrete cures and settles.  

Narrow vertical cracks are not generally a concern, unless they are leaking water. 

Horizontal cracks and diagonal cracks require assessment by the home inspector, and may require repair in order to ensure safety and to prevent major issues from occurring.

Old Plumbing

I often find several generations of plumbing in older houses in Buffalo and other Western NY towns.  In houses built in the early 1900s, cast iron was used for drainage lines and lead was used for both supply and drain plumbing.  I rarely encounter lead, but in South Buffalo I could see portions of lead plumbing on the drainage side.  

Lead used for drainage is not a direct health threat to the home’s occupants, but it does contribute in a small way to increased lead levels in lake Erie.  

The biggest plumbing problem I see during home inspections is leaky galvanized supply plumbing.  Galvanized pipe is made of steel and dipped in liquid zinc.  This zinc forms a coating on the inside and outside of the pipe.

Over time, the coating wears away, leaving raw steel constantly exposed to water under pressure.  The steel rusts from the inside, and eventually develops leaks.

The good news is that galvanized pipe can be replaced in sections, if that fits with your budget better than ripping it out of the house all at once.

Other common plumbing problems include rusted cast iron drain pipes and small leaks.  If you find a leak, have a good plumber professionally repair it.  There is a wide spectrum of plumbers out there, so look around and get referrals from friends and neighbors.

Electrical Nightmares

It’s rare that I actually encounter a nightmare-ish situation when I inspect an home’s electrical system.  But, it’s a catchy headline so it made sense to use it.  Seriously, though, unsafe wiring, receptacles and service panels are things that I frequently see. 

The most common condition of all that I include on my home inspection report is an un-grounded outlet.  Grounding is a safety feature that causes electricity to flow away from you if certain faults occur with a device or appliance.  

Grounding was adopted as a requirement in the National Electric Code in 1968, meaning that any new outlets or new homes built were required to have their outlets all grounded. 

I test at least one outlet in every room of during home inspections in Western NY, and it is amazing how many ungrounded outlets I find in new homes.  

I think that some electricians don’t understand why it is required and choose not to connect that one simple wire to the back of the receptacle.  

The other common electrical problem that I find would be receptacles in kitchens, bathrooms, outside walls and near sump pumps that are not equipped with Ground Fault Circuit Interupter (GFCI) technology.  

Without this type of outlet in a bathroom, if a hair dryer was plugged in and it fell into the bathroom or sink, someone would most likely be electrocuted and die.  GFCI outlets can quickly detect small changes in current and disable the flow of electricity.  My home inspection checklist and report both include looking for these outlets at all the required locations.  

Professional Home Inspections Find Problems

I encourage every home buyer to hire a home inspector who is able to identify and report on the above issues, and many others.  Make sure that your home inspector produces a modern, detailed and picture-rich home inspection report, and does not use a paper-based inspection process. 

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About the Author:

Bradley Beck

Bradley is owner of Alto Home Inspection, LLC.  He lives just south of Orchard Park, in Western New York’s Southtowns, and inspects homes throughout the Buffalo area, and is NY Licensed Home Inspector #16000086029, NY Certified Mold Assessor #MA01313.