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How to Avoid Buying a Property “Lemon”

How to Avoid Buying a Property Lemon


Did you ever see the movie, “The Money Pit”? Essentially it is a story about a couple who buy a mansion of a home out on a country estate for a suspiciously low price. They move in and it soon becomes apparent why it was priced so low! Everything starts to fall apart, and it becomes very clear that they have bought a property “lemon”!

Some properties look great at face value, but may hide some significant issues that may be very costly to address, after you move in. Beware the flip that has been made to look all pretty on the surface, but none of the underlying issues have been fixed or renewed!

Let’s take a look at some signs to watch out for, so that you can avoid the potential pitfalls, and make an informed decision when you decide whether or not to purchase a particuar property.

Visible Signs of Neglect or Poor Maintenance

While you are out looking at properties, don’t be distracted by the furnishings or shiny objects.

Keep a look out for signs of neglected or poor maintenance. Are there cracked walls? Water stains? Mold or mildew? Excessive wear and tear? These can be indicative of underlying issues such as structural problems, water damage and property neglect.

Unusual Smells

Pay attention to musty odors and other foul smells. These should raise concerns, as they can be a sign of water damage, mold growth or even a hidden pest infestation. 

Note any lingering smells that seem unusual or overpowering, and be a bit suspicious if there are any heavily-scented air fresheners in place.

Multiple "For Sale" Signs in the Neighborhood

Multiple homes for sale within a neighborhood might suggest a slowing market, but it can be a warning sign that there are underlying issues with the area causing homeowners to sell.

You might want to investigate with the City / County wheher there are any new developments, projects or zoning changes planned near that neighborhood. 

Incomplete or Unpermitted Renovations

If a property has undergone recent renovations, keep an eye out for incomplete work, and a lack of proper permits. You should probably also ask about who completed the work. 

This can sometimes be an issue with hastily flipped properties too. Ask whether the work was permitted and done by licensed contractors. Remember, flipped properties can be potential lemons too, especially if the work done was just cosmetic. Did they replace the roof, and renovate the plumbing and electrical systems, for example?

Signs of Poor Workmanship

During property visits, examine closely any renovations or additions to the property. 

Scrutinize the quality of the workmanship. Are the floors uneven? Are the walls crooked? Is the tiling or paint job shoddy? These could all indicate substandard craftsmanship and potential latent issues. 

Water Stains and Moisture Issues

If you see water stains on the walls, ceilings or around windows or doors, you should be concerned.

The stains may be indicative of leaks, water intrusion, and plumbing issues. 

Pay close attention to signs of moisture issues, like warped floors, and bubbling or peeling paint or wallpaper.

Electrical and Plumbing Problems

Faulty and / or outdated electrical and plumbing systems can be extremely expensive to replace or repair, aside from posing a safety risk. Ask about the age and condition of the electrical and plumbing systems.

If you are trying to purchase a property, please make sure that you hire a home inspector to evaluate the home, and to check for electrical and plumbing problems. In addition, the inspector should make sure that all the outlets work correctly,  and that the water pressure is correct.

Discrepancies in Property Disclosures

Here in California, most Sellers are required to disclose everything that they know about the property. Play close attention to those disclosures, and compare what is divulged with the condition of the property when you visit. 

If you notice discrepancies, or ommissions, consider that a warning sign, and make sure that you investigate further. 


Doing your due diligence with careful observation, research and investigation is the best way to mitigate the chances that you are buying a property “lemon”. 

Don’t skimp on your due diligence, AND hire great home inspection professionals… they are worth every penny, and will help to protect your interests, and provide great information and guidance about the condition of the property you are considering. Good luck!

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