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What to Look for When Buying a Cheap House

Buying a cheap house
Written by Oana Schneider

For almost anything that you buy, the rule “You get what you pay for” applies. Although there are some items which are okay to buy cheap, there are other things which are worth every cent, especially if the quality matches the price.

What about when it comes to buying homes? If you’re not having a house built from the ground up, your option would be to purchase an already existing house. If you have a limited budget, then a cheap house is what you’re looking for.

The good news is that your dream house does not have to turn into your worst nightmare just because of limited funds. By knowing exactly what to look for when buying a house, you can make sure that you won’t have to spend a lot of money on repairs. Here, we will take a look at the top ten factors that you should consider when buying a cheap house.

Top 10 Factors to Consider when Buying a Cheap House

If you must buy a cheap house, here are the things to take into consideration to ensure that you will not be spending more on repairs or renovations in the long run:

1. The structural integrity of the house as a whole

When buying a cheap house, the number one thing that you need to consider is the overall structural integrity of the house. Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as “just” a bathroom or a kitchen remodel.

If the seller claims that all the house needs is some work on the bathroom, there’s definitely more to it than that. Again, your goal is to not spend any more than you have to on repairs and remodelling. If you do that, there’s no sense in having bought a cheap house – you should have simply invested in a brand new house.

To give you an idea about how to check on structural integrity of the house, here’s a quick checklist:

  • Are the ridges of the roof not bowing and are the eaves not sagging?
  • Can the windows be easily opened?
  • Do the doors open and close easily?
  • Do the floors have significant bowing?
  • Is there bowing between the siding and the basement walls?
  • Is the chimney separating from the walls?
  • Are there large cracks in the foundation walls and plaster?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, there could be significant issues about the structural integrity of the house that may lead you to spend more on repairs later on. It pays to seek the help of a professional or someone who is knowledgeable about building or construction, so that you can have a second opinion of how sound the structure still is. 

2. The electrical system

Next, when buying a cheap house, see to it that the electrical system is still good. An electrical contractor who has experience in residential construction can help assess if there are any electrical hazards in the cheap house you are planning to buy.

Let’s say that new wiring was added on the house during a remodelling project. There should have been permits issued and a final inspection should have been conducted. Check out public records to this effect. If you see new-looking electrical panels, there should be a label indicating when it was installed.

A knowledgeable electrician can also check if the grounding system is intact, or if ground rods were installed to replace the grounding electrode water pipe.

As a potential buyer, there are things that are simple enough which you can check on for yourself. For instance, make sure that all the junction boxes have covers or that the existing lighting fixtures have the correct wattage.

Higher wattage lamps than what a fixture is rated can be a fire hazard. Is the existing electrical wiring around the house neat, or does it look disorganized? If you have any concerns, it is best to consult a licensed electrician.

Buying a cheap house

Always Check The Electrical System!

3. The water filtration system

You should also check on the water filtration system. The newly-installed ones should have no problems in giving your family healthy, clean water to drink. If the water filtration system is old or non-existent, think about having it replaced.

4. The air conditioning units

During the hottest months of the year, you need air conditioning units to cool the interior of your house. Before buying a cheap house, make sure that the AC is still in good operating condition. Otherwise, you might have to replace the existing units to save on electricity and make the cooling system more efficient.

5. The heating system

Most old homes are heated using oil and if the house you’re buying falls under this category, you do not necessary have to convert from oil to gas. Doing so will be very costly, and is a very big project to undertake.

Consult a professional what the best solution would be if it turns out that the heating system in the cheap house you’re buying turns out to be inadequate, or defective.

6. The condition of the walls and floors

What kind of material was used to finish the walls? If it’s hardwood, for example, all that it might need is a good sanding and refinishing.

For the walls, make sure that under the paint, there are no layers of wallpaper. If paint is layered over wallpaper and paint again, it might take you months before you see the condition of the actual walls. If all the wall needs is a fresh coat of paint, then you’re good to go. 

7. The storm windows and screens

You should also check on the condition of the windows. You’re lucky if the windows installed are relatively new. For this, all you have to do is add weather-stripping to make them winter-proof.

8. The overall insulation

Insulation is what keeps homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer. If the cheap house you are buying has old plaster walls, it is highly likely that there is very little or no insulation at all. If this is the case, hiring a contractor to insulate the house for you may cost you money – but the savings that you will enjoy from heating and cooling bills will be well worth the investment in the end.

9. The plumbing system

If you plan to add bathrooms or kitchens to the house in the future, check on the existing plumbing system. If you w ant, you can hire a professional to check the sewer line into the street. This is a preventative measure that you can take to prevent any messy sewage-related projects in the future. If the sewer is problem-free, check on the plumbing system inside the home.

Check on the water supply which comes into the house. If the pipe is galvanized steel, that’s a very old plumbing material which needs to be replaced immediately. Copper or plastic is a better bet, because it is relatively new.

You should also check if the pipes are of the right size, inspect the inside drain lines, check on the size of the pip on the main water supply, and test the water pressure by turning on all faucets at the same time.

Buying a cheap house

And Don’t Forget About The Plumbing!

10. The condition of the roof

More importantly, check on the condition of the roof. This is one of the most expensive parts of a house to replace. You don’t want to spend the next winter season dealing with holes on the roof and having to spend than you actually have to on heating bills.

If you are trying to buy a cheap house which has mold or moisture on the roof, it’s better to let it go and look for a new one. These are very dire, expensive house problems to deal with. If the condition of the roof is still good, then you are in luck because you don’t have to spend anything on having it repaired.

Other Things to Look for

When buying a cheap house, there are other things that you need to take into consideration. How many years do you anticipate living in the cheap house that you are planning to buy?  If it’s longer than five years, you would not want to purchase a residential unit with extreme problems because it would end up being costlier in the long run.

If you’re considering remodeling the cheap house, are you doing it for resale purposes or to suit your own living habits? If you stumble upon a cheap house with ornate, intricate details, these might need to be restored to retain the character of the house – something which might be costly in the end.

When buying a cheap house, knowing which factors to consider before finalizing the sale will help you out a lot. You don’t want the house to be a burden in terms of repair and remodeling costs, so make sure that it still has that structural integrity to be able to handle being lived in for the next few years.

If not, then you might be better off waiting until you have the necessary funds to buy a slightly more expensive house, but will not give you the headaches associated with a cheap house which has a lot of structural problems.

About the author

Oana Schneider

Oana Schneider is a published author located in Chicago, Illinois, who currently works for DontPayFull.com as a communication specialist and blog editor. She writes about lifestyle, family budget, has a degree in Communications and advocates for women’s rights. Her future plans include getting a Labrador and losing a few pounds.

34 Comments

  • Those all are great things to look for. I also found in my part of the country that the smaller towns tend to have really cheap homes because of the lower taxes and such. Most of them are really nice with updated roof, windows and more too so it seems like a good buy.

  • The condition of the plumbing system is doubly important when you realize that not only can faulty plumbing be an inconvenience, it can downright destroy houses when it fails. Your investment will be wasted if that happens. Same goes for the electrical wiring systems but I feel that folks are already aware enough about those.

  • Well, I definitely believe that ALL of these things are common sense requirements when checking into buying a “cheap” house…but I’m thinking neighborhood and history of the house should be checked out as well. Y’all might think I’m utterly nuts saying this, but making sure there isn’t any paranormal or supernatural issues going on with house and land is a big ol’ must in my book simply due to personal experience. Nothing like sinking all one’s savings into a piece of property only to have to leave it because it’s haunted to the gills. Making sure the house isn’t dirt cheap because realtors can’t get rid of it because of those very reasons isn’t necessarily a bad idea.

  • I think that it is very important to know what you’re paying for, and what work might need to be done on a house before you’re able to move into it. This is because, if you buy something cheaply, and then find that you’re going to need to spend tens of thousands on it before it’s even safe, then it wouldn’t work out as much of a bargain at all. It is certainly worth trying your best to get a survey done, as this will give you all of the information that you need about what might need to be done to the place. Taking the time to find all of the information now will certainly save you money later.

  • I really like that you mention the roofing. I had put in an offer on a home when we were first time home buyers that I probably shouldn’t have. Our offer wasn’t accepted and we had to move on with our house hunt. Come to find out about a week after we lost out the roof in that home had leaked badly and needed to be completely replaced. My agent had found out because he had spoken with the agent for the other buyers we were bidding against. You can say that I was relieved. Always get a home inspection. It might cost a bit up front but it is worth every penny, especially when you are looking for a good deal.

  • It is definitely a good idea to make sure that the house has a good electrical system before you buy it. You don’t want to buy a house and then realize afterwards that it has a lot of problems. It is a really good idea to hire and electrical contractor to come inspect the houses electrical work. This could definitely help save you from a lot of stress down the road.

  • I am really big on bringing an electrician with me that knows their stuff. Sometimes you can even get a good reaction from the seller. If they start to feel uncomfortable, then you know something is up. This mostly so they can check how the electricity in the house is doing. You want a house the runs at its tiptop shape.

  • It makes a lot of sense to have an electrical contractor come to take a look at the electrical system. There are a lot of things that go wrong with the wiring that you can’t see unless you get into the guts of the system. That’s also an issue that you don’t want to take your chances with.

  • That second section was super helpful with seeing how many defects with the electrical system there potentially could be before buying a house. They’d have to be able to make sure the breaker and the outlets work properly for our house before we buy it. You said to find an electrical contractor that has experience with residential electrical issues. How much would this detail matter if an electrician didn’t have much residential experience? Thanks so much for sharing a lot of advice and ideas to try!

  • I totally agree with you when you said to make sure you check the roof to see if it is good shape. Like you said, a roof is one of the most expensive parts of a home, and you really need it to stay in good condition. I’m going to be moving into a new home here soon, so this will definitely be one of the first things I check. If I have a roofing contractor, do you think it would be smart for me to have him look at it too?

  • When buying a cheap home, my wife and I would get into the habit of checking out the outdoor features of the home. Such as the air conditioning unit, gutters, sprinkler system, the roof itself. Just now, we are in contact with several roofing companies to help us do a roofing upgrade and change the roof shingles that we have now.

  • Buying older homes can be less expensive, but it can also mean that the fixtures of the house such as the foundation and roof can be worn beyond safety. The second tip about verifying that the electrical system of the house is still intact and viable is crucial to buying the right house. It can be replaced if the wiring is no longer good, but that shouldn’t be the norm. My husband and I are looking for an older home with character, so I will be sure to take your advice and hire an electrician to take a look at the wiring of the home before making an offer. Thank you for making me aware of this possible fault in cheap homes.

  • I definitely agree that when you’re looking into buying an older home, it’s important to make sure that it’s plumbing systems is made with quality materials and are connected where they need to be. You talk about how if you are planning on adding any bathrooms or kitchens to the house, it’s necessary to get the plumbing system checked out, however, I would say that it’s important to get this checked out prior to any home purchase. This will give you insight on whether or not the system needs to be replaced or if you will face any issues down the road. Thank you for the insight!

  • Before buying a house, a good and thorough inspection is a must. They know where and what to look to avoid being scammed. Some houses sell cheap because they got something hidden. It is a good practice to be very meticulous also at times and look. It may need repairs or more.

  • My husband and I have been thinking about buying a cheaper home and then doing some renovations to it overtime. The tip about hiring an electrician to make sure the grounding system is intact seems like a good idea. We will have to keep that in mind!

  • I need AC, so it’s a must. I can withstand snow in my underwear, but if you put me in the same place wearing the same thing, but it’s 70° F or hotter, it’s too hot for me. So, if the air conditioner in a home doesn’t work, then I would not buy it.

  • Thanks for your tips about how to save money while buying a home. You make a great suggestion to check the condition of the roof before you buy. The roof can be one of the most expensive home repairs/replacements, just as you mentioned. It does a lot to protect your investment. If you do buy the home and the roof needs repairs or replacing, make sure that you hire an experienced roofing company. That way you know the job will be done correctly.

  • My husband and I are looking into buying some cheap homes and renting them so we can become landlords. I really appreciate this list of tips because it gives us a good starting point in knowing what to look for! I wouldn’t have even thought about checking the public records for electrical work. I’ll definitely have to make sure we check over all of that very carefully with each property, and we will probably have an electrician on hand just in case. Thanks!

  • Thank you for sharing tip number 10. My husband and I recently moved into a new home that needs some minor roof repairs. Hopefully, we can find a roofing contractor that can give us a fair price.

  • I have absolutely no knowledge about electrical systems. I’m glad to see this tip about checking for things like disorganized wiring, higher wattage lamps than what is rated, etc. I’ll have to have an electrician come and look over everything, but these are some good tips to keep an eye out for.

  • I like your tip about checking the plumbing. My wife and I are looking for a used house to buy. We want to start our own family. I can see how the plumbing system plays a big role if we were to expand the house. We need to make sure that the existing plumbing system is working properly.

  • I agree with you that it is best to consult a professional electrical contractor if you have any qualms about your present system. With something as dangerous as electrical shock, it is not worth it to take any chances and do it yourself. Plus, if you had a professional opinion, you could be sure what condition the electrical system is in.

  • I definitely agree that checking the condition of the roof of any house is important. There’s no point in buying a cheap house if you spend all the money you “saved” to pay for roof repairs. Making sure that the roof is sealed, in good repair, and mold-free will help you avoid expensive repairs for at least a few years. Thanks for the article.

    • If you’re looking to improve the look of your home without the painting, vinyl siding is a popular, affordable choice. Many homeowners and builders choose it because it’s long lasting, durable, inexpensive and relatively easy to install and maintain. Vinyl comes in a variety of grains, thickness and colors making it also a practical choice for many homeowners.

  • Having an electrician look over your new home to ensure there are no hazards, I would agree is important. Electrical wiring being pretty complex seems like it would best be taken care of in the hands of a professional. I like your tip about making sure that your electrician is licensed.

  • Looking at the electrical system is a great tip, one that I think a lot of people overlook when buying a house. Hiring an electrician to check out the system is definitely worth it, to avoid future problems. Finding the right house really takes a lot of different factors, so thanks for the good advice!

  • Hii,

    Nice post. I totally agree with you. In my opinion inspector check is the best way to make your home secure. An inspector checks the safety of your potential new home.Generally, an inspector checks the electrical system, plumbing and waste disposal, the water heater, insulation and Ventilation, the HVAC system, water source and quality, the potential presence of pests, the foundation, doors, windows, ceilings, walls, floors, and roof.It’s a good idea to have an inspection before you sign a written offer.

    Regards,
    Robert Gill

  • These are great things to look at when buying any house. Checking the electrical either yourself or with a registered technician is very important to make sure it is safe. Thanks for putting this together.

  • Professional plumbers will also save you money by offering you advice on the latest high quality, energy-efficient, money-saving products in the market, that come with a guarantee of both service and maintenance.

  • All great points! its important to buy the house in top condition otherwise euphoria of buying it cheap would evaporate soon once the reality will start to sink in. There is one more factor, neighborhood, in the more affluent places, prices of the houses will be high. So always opt for neighborhoods with houses with in your budget.

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