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Buyers should focus on major issues, not…

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Buyers should focus on major issues, not the color of the carpet or the kitchen

Note to homebuyers: Forget the stainless-steel appliances. Overlook the wall colors. Skip over the countertop.

Contrary to what you might see on home-shopping TV shows, those things aren’t that important when evaluating a house. They can all be easily changed at relatively little cost and inconvenience.

Instead, check out the electrical box. Peer into the attic. Open the windows.

In those places you’ll find what really matters to the health, safety and ultimate cost of a home.

“Some buyers can’t get past the wallpaper or the decoration,” said Susanne Novak, an agent with RE/MAX 24/7 in Dublin. “You say, ‘These things can be changed.’ As an agent, you try to get them past that.”

Novak considers home condition so crucial for buyers that she often accompanies home inspectors through a house and insists that new agents in her office do the same.

Sure, buyers must first consider big-picture issues — location, style, size, price — when choosing a home. But after a house meets enough of those criteria that buyers decide to tour it, what should they then look for?

To find out, we spoke with Novak and three others: Rick Harrington, owner of Patch Independent Home Inspections in Westerville; Andrew Show, owner of Buyer’s Resource Realty Services in Worthington; and Todd Schmidt, owner of Renovations Unlimited in Grove City.

In addition to making a home purchase contingent on an inspection, which all recommend, they advise prospective buyers to examine 10 spots during a home tour.

• Foundation. This is the bedrock of the house.

A serious problem here can run into thousands — or tens of thousands — of dollars faster than a blink. All houses settle over time, so don’t panic about small cracks in the foundation. But big cracks, bowing along the wall and uneven concrete blocks could suggest major repairs ahead.

“This is absolutely critical to the longevity of the home,” Show said.

• Moisture. While in the basement, look for stains along the wall, floor or corners, which indicate water damage.

Some homeowners might be willing to live with a damp basement (especially in older homes), but others will find that the moisture too severely limits the use of the house.

Repairing a basement leak might be as simple as applying a sealant to a small crack or it might require a far more costly remedy, such as trenching or landscaping work.

• Windows. These might be among the most commonly overlooked and potentially most expensive features

of a home.

Replacing single-pane, drafty or dysfunctional windows in an entire house can easily cost $25,000 — as much as some kitchen renovations.

Check for cracks, functionality and clouding (in double-pane windows).

• Roof. Replacing a roof can cost several thousand dollars and can even top $10,000 depending on the size, materials and complexity of the job.

To find out whether a roof is needed, look for curled, cracked or bald roof shingles, or a patched or sagging roof. Roof granules in the gutter offer another clue that the roof might be nearing replacement time.

• Heating and cooling system. On average, furnaces last 20 to 25 years, and the outdoor part of an air conditioner lasts 10 to 15 years.

Many units include a manufacturing date or a maintenance history that will indicate age. A maintenance history also shows how well the furnace has been cared for. But even if you can expect many more years out of the furnace, you might not want to if it’s inefficient.

Replacing a furnace or air conditioner can cost $3,000 to $5,000 each, on average.

• Electrical system. More than most home mechanicals, the electrical system can benefit from a professional’s eyes.

Still, homebuyers can look for signs that the electrical system is stressed or has been tampered with, such as two wires tapped into a single circuit (although some panels allow double-tapping).

The problem with a dated electrical panel isn’t as much cost (upgrading costs $1,500 to $3,000 on average) but safety.

• Pests. Especially in homes with wood siding, look for any signs of termite or carpenter ant infiltration, which can be disastrous to the physical integrity of a building.

This can be difficult for nonexperts to identify, but rumpled paint around window and door frames and termite tunnels on the foundation suggest an ongoing problem.

• Landscaping. When outside the home, make sure the ground slopes away from the structure, allowing water to run off instead of toward the house.

For the same reason, examine whether gutters and downspouts are intact so they carry water away from the home.

• Attic. A peek in the attic might reveal structural problems with the roof and will certainly answer whether the home is insulated.

The answer speaks to a crucial detail often overlooked by homebuyers: How much will the home cost to operate?

• Fireplaces. Glass doors and a working damper help keep warm air from escaping out the chimney during the winter.

Look up the fireplace if possible for black shiny tar, which could potentially catch fire.

“You only get one chimney fire,” Harrington notes.