September 30, 2016 at 11:00 am EST | by Valerie Blake
Style vs. substance in your new home
surface, gay news, Washington Blade, homebuyers

A beautifully staged home could be masking hidden problems like water damage and mold.

You walk into the lounge, anxious to spend the evening with the man you met on the latest dating app. Looking around nervously, you spy him leaning against the bar, sipping from a martini glass.

He’s tall and fit. He’s wearing the latest fashion from head to toe. He’s meticulously well-groomed, with whitened, evenly spaced teeth, hair stylishly tousled, and the stubble of a beard at just the right length.

As you approach, he flashes a brilliant smile, extends a perfectly manicured hand and says, “Good evening. I’m Francisco.”

He guides you to a table by the window where he has ordered the chef’s tasting menu with wine pairing. During dinner, he encourages you to talk about yourself and hangs on every word.  He makes you laugh and feel at ease.

In the morning you awaken Chez Francisco to find a slightly paunchy bedmate with grimy hair and bad breath. His elevator shoes are tossed in the corner, the shirt he wore is frayed around the cuffs and his pearly white teeth are in a glass of water on the bedside table. You rise and begin your walk of shame, wondering how Cinderfella from last night became a pumpkin by morning.

Now imagine Francisco is a house.

He is young, fresh and vibrant. His ceilings are vaulted, his roof is new and he’s built like an exposed brick wall. His kitchen has a steely, come-hither look and his lawn is beautifully manscaped.

But like the morning-after in our first scenario, you need to prepare yourself for what’s behind the façade before you invest in your future home and end up with only the lipstick and the pig.

Many homebuyers learned a valuable lesson in the early 2000s when self-appointed rehab investors flipped properties like pancakes, taking construction and design shortcuts along the way, so begin your due diligence by assembling a “househunting bag o’ tricks” to take with you when you visit potential suitors with your agent.

Your bag should include, at minimum, a 20’ tape measure, a pocket level, a marble and paper towels. These items will be helpful in looking for “things that make you go hmmm” in each home and the camera on your cell phone will help you remember specific information about each one after speed dating through several.

Upon entering the house, take a sniff.  Do you smell fresh paint, new carpet, mildew, pet urine or air freshener? Could a good smell be masking a bad one? Are your sinuses or allergies affected?

Look up and look down in each room. Initially your eye will be drawn to a lovely kitchen, a sunny window, or elegant staging and you may miss the water stain on the ceiling or the gap in the hardwood floors.

Count the number of electrical outlets in each room to avoid surprises later. Open and close windows and doors to see if a) they actually open and close, b) they lock securely and c) they’re not cracked or obstructed.

Measure doors, hallways and stairwells to be sure your furniture will fit. Place your marble on each hard surface floor; it should not roll significantly downhill. Use your pocket level to check other surfaces such as countertops and window sills.

Flush toilets to see how long their tanks take to refill. Run water in sinks to check for good pressure, slow-running drains, or plumbing leaks in the cabinets below; keep your paper towels handy.

Open the doors to the dishwasher, stove and refrigerator. Does one appliance obstruct the other? If the refrigerator is placed against a side wall, is there enough clearance to remove shelves and bins?

Don’t risk the safety of your future party guests. Walk on any porches and decks and move about normally to see if they feel sturdy and their handrails are secure.

Look at concrete walls and floors in the basement. They may have been recently painted to freshen up the home or the paint may be covering a more serious problem such as water intrusion or mold.

All good so far? Then have your agent assist you in making an offer and call a professional home inspector to conduct a thorough check-up.

But if you’re ready to run because your Francisco home is not who you thought he was, then perhaps Old Joe down the street is your perfect match. He’s a warm, solid, interesting man of character who, with just a little TLC, will stand by you for years as you form a long-term relationship. And he’s open next Sunday.

Valerie M. Blake can be reached at 202-246-8602 or Each Keller Williams Realty office is independently owned and operated. Equal Housing Opportunity.

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