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When you’re buying a home, one of the worst possible scenarios is a dream house that turns out to be a lemon. While the term usually refers to a home that looks great but is hiding some internal, serious flaws, there are actually red flags you can watch out for—that will show up way before you even get to an inspection.

Signs of Mold or Water Damage
Use your eyes and nose to check for these environmental issues. Water damage may reveal itself in stains, in damaged wood or flooring and walls that are collapsing. Obvious mold can also be seen by a simple visual inspection, but your nose can detect it even if it’s hidden. Mold isn’t just unsightly—it can cause health issues like asthma, especially in kids.

Faulty Foundation
This is a classic, surefire deal breaker. Check the basement for large cracks (but small cracks shouldn’t pose a problem and can be due to normal settling of the house).

Outdated Electric Systems
Turn lights on and off—are they flickering, buzzing, or generally seem off? In an older house, this could be a sign of needed (and often expensive) electrical work.

A Freshly Painted Wall or Ceiling
Particularly if only one wall or part of a wall has been painted, the owner could be trying to cover something up—like toxic mold (see above).

Of course, any home you’re buying will go through a thorough inspection by a professionally qualified inspector. However, unless you really love the home or the neighborhood, you may prefer not to waste your time (and money, through inspection costs) if the home is a potential lemon. If you see any of the four red flags above, weigh the pros and cons with your real estate agent. It may be better to move on to a home that will be less of a headache!

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