Look Out For These 12 Renovation Red Flags

Stacy Randall
by Stacy Randall
Credit: Shutterstock / Pedal to the Stock

If you’re hunting for the house of your dreams, maybe you’re looking for something more turnkey than a fixer-upper. The idea of purchasing a renovated home sounds appealing but renovated doesn’t always equal no problems. If you notice any renovation red flags, more issues are likely lurking beneath the surface.

Issues with space planning and flow, hidden water damage, poor tilework, and sticky doors and windows are signs of a poor renovation. Other red flags are exposed wiring, weird placement of lighting fixtures and components, misaligned cabinet doors, and shoddy paint jobs. Lack of attention to detail and use of cheap materials are also good indicators of a rushed renovation.

Purchasing a brand-new home may seem like the way to go if you don’t want any problems. However, a newly remodeled home isn’t always as gleaming and rosy as it appears.

Renovated Homes Aren’t Always Hassle-Free

You’re bound to find some problems when you purchase a home, especially if you choose an older house or one without recent upgrades. But if you’re looking at recently renovated homes, you expect to move in with little to no work needed.

Unfortunately, in a world full of fast flips, that isn’t always the case. Many people want to make as much money as possible. Furthermore, they want to get the money as quickly as they can. This desire for a fast turnover typically translates to renovation shortcuts, cheap materials, and inexperienced labor.

Are You Dealing With A Poor Renovation?

When you plan a renovation, you have control over who you hire to do the work. If you do your due diligence on the front end and hire a well-respected, reputable, and reliable contractor, you will likely save yourself from plenty of headaches and hassles.

There are red flags to look out for when you interview potential general contractors and other professionals. For example, if a contractor tells you they can start work in a couple of days, they likely aren’t a pro (or at least not a very good one). Other red flags are not sticking to the schedule because of constant personal emergencies, multiple excuses, or making unrealistic promises.

But what if you’re house hunting and looking at recently renovated homes? You didn’t have any say in who the contractor was, so how can you tell if they did a quality job? This is when you need to play detective and look for clues. If you know where to look, you can spot renovation red flags that tell you the work isn’t well done.

1. Poor Space Planning And Flow

When the main goal of the person doing your renovation is to make a quick buck, they aren’t focusing on the things that really matter. You might see gleaming granite countertops or shiny new fixtures, but look beyond these.

The odds are good that if you start testing out the flow in the space, it won’t work well. The kitchen layout might be awkward, with cabinet doors blocking appliances or drawers unable to open fully.

When you sit on the toilet are your knees in the shower? Is it impossible to open the shower door because the sink is too close? Poor planning and a bad layout are indicators that the contractor didn’t know what they were doing. At the very least, their main focus wasn’t the homeowner or the quality of the work.

2. Messy Tilework

Check out any tilework in the house, including backsplashes, floors, shower and tub surrounds, and walls. If the tiled surface doesn’t transition well to the wall or surface next to it, this is a red flag.

Other signs of a shoddy tile job are uneven grout lines, loose tiles, or mortar or grout spots on the tile. These things all point to a rushed tile job.

3. Door And Window Problems

When you’re looking at houses, open and close the windows and doors. If they stick, are tricky to open and close, or won’t close all the way, it could be they weren’t installed properly. Doors that won’t stay open or are difficult to shut are also signs that someone rushed the job.

The reason for this is a contractor that simply wants a quick flip will try to cut corners anywhere possible to bump up the money in their pocket. One way to do this is to only replace the doors and leave the old jambs.

However, it can be tricky to align a new door with the existing jamb, hence the issues. A reputable contractor who takes pride in their work will usually replace the jamb as well as the door. If you spot fog between the window panes, this is another sign that the work isn’t solid.

Remember, this applies if you are noticing these things in a brand-new renovation. New doors and windows should not have these problems.

If you’re purchasing an older home with the original windows and doors, it’s different. There’s always a possibility that settling over time and broken or deteriorating window seals contribute to similar issues. However, in a new renovation, you simply shouldn’t need to worry about these things.

4. Hidden Water Damage

A major red flag when you look at houses is water damage. If you happen to spot a visible water stain, beware of potential poor plumbing work. But what if you don’t see any water stains? Does this mean you’re free and clear? Unfortunately, no.

Reckless house flippers know water damage is one of the primary things that send house hunters moving on to the next place. Therefore, they will try anything to hide signs of water issues.

Although this doesn’t mean there is still an active leak, it’s still a problem. It opens the doors to further damage and hazardous issues like mold. Keep your eyes peeled for warping, peeling or bubbling paint, or a musty smell.

If a contractor’s main goal is a quick renovation, they'll cover up water damage instead of repairing or replacing the parts. But paneling or painting over water damage is like trying to put a band-aid over a gaping wound.

5. Uneven Floors

Look at the floors closely as you walk through a home and concentrate on how they feel as you walk. Do they feel uneven or wonky? If floors don’t lie flat or are uneven around the perimeter or near molding and trim, the installer likely did the job in a hurry.

Another classic way unscrupulous flippers try to cut corners is to install flooring around existing baseboards, trim, and door jambs. The correct way is to remove these items before installing flooring, then put them back in place.

6. Poorly Installed Cabinet Doors And Drawers

Cabinet doors and drawers can also signal an amateur or rushed remodeling job. Check to see if the doors don’t line up with each other, look crooked, or shut strangely. Likewise, if the drawers don’t open and close smoothly it could be because of poor installation or improper hardware.

7. Messy Paint Jobs

Painting is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to make a big change in a house. A good paint job gives a home an instant face lift.

So, if you see drips, paint spots on trim and ceilings, and uneven lines, these point to sloppy work. Although you can easily fix a messy paint job, it’s a good sign that other components of construction were also done hastily.

8. Bad Plumbing

Turn on the faucets throughout the house and let them run for a little bit. Look for leaks around the handle bases and the pipes under the sinks.

How’s the water clarity and the water pressure? Don’t be afraid to test everything when looking at a house. And if the person showing you the house doesn’t let you turn on faucets or dig deeper, this in itself is another red flag.

9. Questionable Electrical Work

Problems with electrical systems aren’t just red flags; they’re major safety hazards. Anything that makes you second guess the integrity of the electrical work is a reason to pause. Exposed wires are a major no-no, but unfortunately, you can’t always see problems.

Turn on all the lights and look for flickers, which could indicate too many fixtures wired to a circuit. Strangely placed switches and outlets are also things that should make you raise an eyebrow. It could be they were an afterthought, put in at the last minute post-framing.

10. Cheap Materials

If the contractor or flipper uses cheap materials (likely if their main goal is to make money), they probably went cheap on other aspects of the renovation. Cheap materials might look good in the beginning, but it’ll wear out faster over time.

11. A Dirty HVAC System

During construction, it isn’t uncommon for dirt and debris to end up on air filters and other areas of the home. Good contractors and renovation professionals clean things thoroughly when they complete a job.

During certain aspects of construction, they also take precautions to ensure mechanical systems like the HVAC don’t end up coated in dust and grime. If your HVAC system is full of dust, this could signal that the people doing the work didn’t take the right steps to protect other parts of the house during construction.

12. Missing Permits

If you discover crucial parts of the renovation are missing permits, this is another reason to walk away from the home. No permits often mean the person doing the job wasn’t doing it up to code, leading to potential safety issues.

Things To Remember When Looking At A Renovated Home

Even though a home is brand new or recently renovated, view it as if it isn’t. Inspect everything — open doors, drawers and windows, and turn on faucets and lights. Bring a level to check windows, doors and floors.

Before moving forward on any home purchase, don’t skip the home inspection just because the house is new or renovated. Also, make a point to see the home more than once. Ideally, you’ll see the house three times before you make an offer.

The first time you look at a house, you tend to look more at the big picture. In a renovated home, it’s hard to see beyond the shiny, new things at first. The second time you see it, you can look with a more discerning eye. And if there are red flags, they’ll likely start to show up in full force by the third visit.

Renovation Red Flags That Should Send You Running

The prospect of a newly renovated home sounds great. But don’t assume a house is in tip-top shape simply because the listing says so. Stay vigilant when touring new homes, and look for signs of a poor renovation.

Problems with doors and windows, uneven flooring, questionable plumbing and electrical work, and sloppy tile and paint jobs are big red flags. Other indicators are poor planning and layout, missing permits, and a dirty HVAC system.

Although some of these issues might be easy to fix, they indicate that lots of shortcuts were taken during the renovations. Therefore, these visible signs are more than likely just the tip of the iceberg.

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Stacy Randall
Stacy Randall

Stacy Randall is a wife, mother, and freelance writer from NOLA that has always had a love for DIY projects, home organization, and making spaces beautiful. Together with her husband, she has been spending the last several years lovingly renovating her grandparent's former home, making it their own and learning a lot about life along the way.

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