Ask the Expert: When buying real estate without subjects, Did they build it right?

Dear Rob:

We are looking for a home on the North Shore, and it is so competitive, we are being forced to consider buying our real estate without subjects.  When it comes to plumbing and heating most of it is hidden behind the walls.  What are some things I can look for to give me some indication as to the quality of the work?

Dear Buyer,

Your question tells me that you are an astute buyer who looks beyond the pretty to the true mechanics of the house.  When buying real estate without subjects it helps to have some knowledge and tricks.  Looking at a beautifully presented house will help you like it, but won’t tell you if it is well made. Here is a list of things to look for when you are shopping that can indicate, from a plumbing and heating point of view, if the quality is there:

  1. Check the quality of the fixtures – Do they look cheap? Are they discounted brands? Do they feel solid? Do they operate smoothly? Are they consistent throughout the house?  Or do they vary from room to room in style and brand.  Many variations may indicate that the installer used discounted, clearance fixtures that may not be of the best quality.   This can indicate that in the rest of the house, quality may have been sacrificed for price.
  2. Check the installation of the fixtures. Look under sinks and along tubs – Neatness counts. Under the sink, does it look good? Do the water lines come out of the wall under the sink (not stretched across the inside of the cabinet)? Are holes of reasonable size in relation to the pipes running through them? Is the caulking done with care and attention? Often if the job was rushed or sloppy it will show up here. DIY projects gone wrong will show here as well.  While you are under there, check for any signs of water where it shouldn’t be.
  3. Check the age of heating system – Ask the age. If the furnace is prior to 2009 check the efficiency. Mid–efficient furnaces (80%) were common in this era and are being phased out. Often it will seem as though the system is “newer” but it won’t be highly efficient. Installations from 2010 onwards should be in the 95% efficiency range.
  4. Look at the basement floor for obvious water leaks, or streaking from previous leaks. Ask for an explanation.
  5. Check to make sure the house has stop valves for each sink, dishwasher and washer / dryer, and a proper access to the tub / shower and main valves. These enable you to isolate each appliance for repair or replacement without having to shut the water off for the entire, house or apartment building.
  6. Check the age of the water heater by recording the serial number and looking it up on-line. Look for white powder on top of the hot water tank. That can indicate it hasn’t been venting properly, and will need service or repair.
  7. In addition to those, you should check how the house is heated. Many houses, especially those that have been renovated, end up with a combination of gas fireplace, electric and conventional furnace or boiler. This won’t indicate a problem, but will limit how efficient it will be to operate.
  8. Check the house service records. Gas heating appliances should be serviced annually to ensure peak performance.  If it is a new build, ask for the name and contact for the installation company and check their reputation as well.

As my mother says, “Eyes wide open before you buy, means they can be peacefully shut afterwards.”  Remember that even if you are buying real estate without subjects, you can always book a one-our service call for you and one of our journeymen plumbing and heating technicians to go through the house with you.