How to Tell If a House Has ‘Good Bones’

How to Tell If a House Has ‘Good Bones’
Photo: Jeffrey B. Banke, Shutterstock

Not-so-recently built homes are often described by realtors as having “good bones,” meaning a strong structure and high level of quality and craftsmanship at their core. Of course, you can’t see beneath the paint and drywall when house-hunting, so how can you tell if the home you’ve got your eye on has this desirable skeleton? Here’s where to look, and what to look for.

The roof

One of the most important (and expensive) parts of a house is the roof. In your research, find out what materials were used to construct the roof on your prospective new home (slate, cement tile, and metal will last significantly longer than wood or asphalt shingles) and when it was last replaced. Look for visible signs of wear and tear such as sags, rust, leaks, mould, fungi, and any lifting, missing, cracked, or curling shingles. Over time, untended roof problems will trickle down to inside-the-home damage, so it pays to be vigilant, or at the very least to make sure you won’t be surprised by the need for repairs.

The foundation

The foundation is literally what keeps a house above ground, level, and insulated. A bad foundation will manifest in telltale signs throughout the house. Keep an eye out for sagging floors or ceilings, musty smells, cracks along the floor or walls, a tilting chimney, doors that jam or won’t latch, and windows that either stick or won’t close completely. Also make sure any posts or concrete supports in the basement stand fully upright — no leaning.

The layout

If you plan to renovate (and even if you don’t), you’ll want to pay extra attention to the square footage and current floor plan. Is it open or closed (each separate area is enclosed by its own walls)? Consider the number of floors, bathrooms, and bedroom size and location. Do you want the main bedroom to be on a separate floor, or do you need it to be close to a small child’s room? Make sure the location of the laundry room is convenient — and assess the placement of appliances and toilets in the kitchen and bathroom, as changes in plumbing and electrical work are costly.

Natural light

Is the house positioned in a way that lets in adequate natural light? It could have a gorgeous kitchen, but is it shrouded by a nearby covered patio or screened-in porch? Take a moment to figure out which direction the home is facing and how light will flow through it from sun-up to sundown. (South-facing windows typically get more light than their north-facing counterparts; east-facing windows enjoy lots of morning light while those that face west are sun-kissed in the afternoon.)

Signs of moisture and structural decay

Moisture can wreak havoc on a home’s structure. Be on the lookout for visible effects of moisture in the home — rotten wood, mould or mildew, a damp crawl space, water stains on the ceiling, bubbling wallpaper, warped floorboards, termite damage, and musty odours are all troubling signs. Take extra heed if you see any sign of wall cracks, warped ceilings, or concrete erosion, as they can indicate structural problems that will be very expensive to fix.

Enlist a professional

While you can gather some good intel on your own if you know what to look for, when it comes to buying a home, there’s no substitute for professional inspection. A certified inspector in your area will conduct a through analysis of the home’s foundation, roof, heating and cooling systems, attic, visible insulation, ceilings, and floors, among other structural elements. You may want to add testing for radon, mould, pests, and lead. If the inspector doesn’t cover electrical issues, consider hiring an electrician to point out potential electrical problems or recommended upgrades.

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