Buying a house can be a stressful, emotional experience. This list of the top ten things to look for when buying a home will come in handy when emotions are running high. Go through the list and verify the condition of each of these items. It's not necessarily a deal breaker if one or more of these items need repair, but it does give the buyer some solid negotiating power to ensure the items are fixed or accounted for in the final purchase price.


1. Foundation

My dad often said, "I'm glad you have a solid understanding". Of course, he was talking about the rather large size of my feet but the exact same thing is essential for your home. Whether the home you are considering has a full basement, a crawlspace, post on pad, or slab on grade, look for signs of deterioration. 

Concrete is a mixture of cement, sand, gravel and water. As the concrete drys and cures, it shrinks slightly. This shrinking can cause hairline cracks which do not jeopardize the structural integrity of the foundation. Large cracks or bulging in the concrete could indicate a more serious structural problem; for those, a professional must be consulted.


Other than cracks, look for efflorescence and other signs of moisture intrusion. Efflorescence is the white flakey salt residue left on concrete where moisture has intruded. A damp, or musty smell in a basement or crawl space may be another indication of unwanted water entering the space. 

Is it really serious to have a bit of moisture in the basement or crawl space? Maybe. Moisture can cause things like mould and dry rot to appear. Dry rot, despite its name. requires elevated moisture levels to occur. If your joists and beams are subjected to dry rot their structural integrity will eventually be compromised. The continual intrusion of water can also cause erosion of the concrete itself which obviously undermines the support structure of the house. So where a little moisture might not be a big deal, a lot of moisture usually is.


2. Insulation

Older homes in the Comox Valley, let's say pre-1950 may never have been insulated. This is something that will dramatically affect the cost to heat your home in the winter. Consider as well the energy efficiency of windows and doors, are they single pane? Is there weather stripping?

These items may not be deal breakers, but will definitely give you leverage when writing the deal.


3. Asbestos

Sometimes it would be preferable to buy a house that hasn't been insulated at all versus one that has been filled with asbestos insulation. The manufacture of products containing asbestos was banned in Canada in 1979, however, products made prior to that time may have been installed in homes up to 1990.

Asbestos can be found in a multitude of building products which appear in older homes, removal of these items should be handled by a professional and may be a costly endeavour. Here is a list of potential offenders:

  • tiles
  • siding
  • roofing
  • drywall
  • spackling
  • insulation
  • fireproofing materials


4. Mould

We know that the Comox Valley is part of a temperate rain forest, so mould is difficult to keep at bay. Look carefully in the bathrooms, kitchen and basement for signs of mould. Fresh paint in some cases may be masking an area which was mouldy, look closely for paint colour mismatches to suss these out.

Is it a deal breaker? Maybe. If you are sensitive to mould as are people with allergies and asthma then yes... definitely steer clear. Also, the elderly, children and people with compromised immune systems should not purchase a home that shows any signs of mould. However, if you are healthy and willing to undertake the renovation, repairing the mould affect area may be a great way to add value to the home.


5. Wiring

Outdated wiring can be an issue when looking at older homes in the valley. Some instances of knob-and-tube wiring still exist and will need to be replaced with modern wiring. During the 1960s and 70s, due to an increase in the price of copper, aluminium wiring became popular in home building. No longer to code, aluminium wiring can heat up due to oxidation, it can cause lights to flicker and may produce odours in the areas of receptacles. Do not attempt to replace aluminium wiring yourself, a certified electrician must be used.


6. Pests

When inspecting a home you are thinking about buying, make sure to keep an eye out for signs of pests. Termites, ants, wasps, mice, rats, and even squirrels can create problems in your home. Look for rodent traps in the basement, ant traps, faecal droppings, etc. Remember to check the attic for signs of mice and squirrels and birds. Deal breaker? Probably not, but you will want to write the purchase contract to reflect the investment it will take to remove the pests.


7. Plumbing

From the 1970s to the 1990s Poly-B pipe was often used as a cheap alternative to copper tubing. At the time it seemed fine, but as time went on issues of deterioration have arisen with this type of pipe. The life expectancy of Poly-B is now known to be 10-15 years so if this is in the home you are looking to purchase, you should plan a major plumbing overhaul. 

Closely look at whatever pipework is accessible for signs of corrosion or deterioration. Old iron sewer pipes last a long time but may eventually need to be replaced.


8. Septic Systems and Wells

Many rural homes in the Comox Valley do not have access to city water and sewer services. In these cases, water may be brought to the home via a creek, a drilled well, or a shallow/dug well. Of these options a drilled well is preferred as it requires the least maintenance and usually provides a reliable water source year round.

Shallow wells and creeks as water sources may be ephemeral and not provide a sufficient source of water year round. In these cases, you may need to keep cisterns of water on the property to make up the deficit in dry weather.


And then where does the water you use go? In the city, sewer systems take it away but in rural areas, people have to deal with their own wastewater. Septic systems do just that, the water which goes down the drain and through the toilet enters a tank in the ground. Sometimes that is the entirety of the system and the tank needs to be pumped out regularly.

A septic tank with dispersal field is usually a better system as the liquid passes through the tank and is filtered through the soil. The solids which enter the tank sink to the bottom and are consumed by bacteria. Typically the bacteria cannot keep up with the amount of solids in the tank so the tank does occasionally need to get pumped out. The frequency of pump out is determined by the number of people using the system and the size of the tank. A household of four people using a 5000 litre tank would have to pump it out approximately every 3.4 years (source: If you don't pump it out, the solids overflow the tank and get into the liquid dispersal field and will cause system failure and groundwater contamination. If you smell a funky smell around a dispersal field, this may already be happening.


9. Structural Issues

Sloping floors, sagging ceilings and bowed walls are often signs of significant structural issues in a house. Take a marble with you when looking at houses, set it down and you will quickly learn how level the floor is. Houses can settle after being constructed. Whether the sloping is a major problem or not should be determined by a structural engineer.

Look for cracks in the plaster around windows and door frames. These can be signs of a house shifting and potential structural problems. A little settling is normal but if in doubt have a professional take a closer look.


10. The Roof

To cap off the list of the top 10 things to look out for when buying a house we have the roof. One indicator that might indicate roof damage are watermarks on the ceiling. To take a good look at the roof you may have to get up on a ladder. Determine what type of roofing material was used on the roof and estimate at what point in its life cycle that material is at.

Here are some common roofing materials with their average lifespans (source):

  • Composite Asphalt Shingles 15-40 years depending on the quality
  • Wooden Shakes 35-40 years
  • Standing-seam Metal Roof 30-50 years plus
  • Clay or cement roof tiles about 100 years if maintained
  • Slate 100 plus years

If the roofing material looks like it has seen better days you may want to get a quote from a roofing company and use that number when negotiating the final sale price of the house.


The good news is that most of these problems can be fixed, the bad news is that they may all cost you more than you were wanting to spend. Take the time to do a solid inspection with a reputable inspector it will be well worth the effort.