The paisley wallpaper and cracked linoleum flooring may be eyesores, but those types of small cosmetic fixes are easily handled when compared with the real deal-killers in a home. To avoid having your home become a money pit or a house of horrors, watch for these 5 red flags in a home inspection.

1. Environmental hazards

You want your home to be a safe haven, a healthy place for your family. Unfortunately, many older homes have toxic issues that can cost a bundle to eradicate. Things to watch for include lead-based paint, asbestos, and radon. Make sure you test for all these substances during your home inspection. The last thing you want is a house that makes you sick, and remediation, particularly for asbestos, can be spendy at $200 to $700 an hour, so buyer beware.

2. Mold

Yes, this is an environmental hazard, but it’s such a major one that we’re giving it its own paragraph. You might think that mold is caused by an old, damp house, but it can actually sprout because your home is too energy-efficient the airtight envelope of many newer homes restricts air movement. While most molds are “allergens,” rather than toxins, you should still have a specialist examine the problem and provide remediation if needed. If your wood siding has mold, for example, you may need to replace it all (an expensive fix to say the least).

3. Electrical problems

An old electrical system can be a major fire hazard and expensive to update. You want to make sure that the wiring is up to current code to protect your home and family. Be on the lookout for threats like outlets that don’t have the modern “ground fault interrupter” (GFI), as well as aluminum wiring, overloaded plugs, and even wiring that looks like it was done by an amateur.

4. Poor drainage

If the grading slopes toward the home rather than away from it, you could be in for a host of problems, such as a damp basement or crawlspace or even foundation issues. In addition, improper drainage can create mold or rot in the framing and walls of the house. Check that downspouts flow away from the house and rely on your home inspector to identify any foundation issues one tell-tale sign is doors or windows that aren’t quite straight.

5. Roof issues

The point of a home is to keep a roof over your head. But what if that roof is faulty? You could be in for some major issues and repair bills a new roof costs an average of about $7,000 but can easily go up from there, depending on size and materials.

Some roof issues can be spotted from the inside, like water damage on the ceiling. But others can’t be identified from the street, so it’s important that an inspector really checks it out, watching for loose or curling shingles and other problems that could spell trouble for your roof.

The bottom line is that you should always have your home inspected professionally before you make an offer. And then make sure that you protect your investment with the right homeowners insurance.

Homeowners insurance policies underwritten by Esurance are available only in certain states. Esurance Insurance Company and its affiliates: San Francisco, CA.

Safe and smart | Home safety


about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.