Buying a House with Hardwood Flooring: What to Look For
Although obtaining a thorough inspection on a house is always recommended before you purchase one, there are some things you can specifically do while you’re walking through your potential new home to give you some indication of what the current conditions of the hardwood floor may be. First of all, is the current hardwood flooring open and exposed or is it knowingly buried under layers of carpet or other types of flooring?
If the hardwood floor is open and exposed in a vacant house:
- Open all the blinds and drapes and turn on all the lights in the room where the hardwood flooring is located.
- Visually inspect the floor by looking over it to get a good overall feel for what you see. Notice any special designs that may be in the floor, such as accents or borders. Notice any wear patterns that may be evident where the previous tenants may have repeatedly walked. These will most commonly be near doorways and in hallways and appear in commonly traveled paths in and out of each room. Overall how faded are the planks in certain areas of the rooms compared to the edges near the walls?
- Look at the seams of the wood joints. Are they dirty? Do they have an accumulation of wax? Do the seams appear to be raised with the planks sunken in the middle? Are there wide gaps between the planks with the planks rounded up slightly in the middle? Sunken or raised planks and joints indicate potential problems where moisture issues may have effected or be currently affecting the floor. This can also happen when a house is shut up without adequate humidity control practices or ventilation in place.
- Look at the trims around the walls and notice their condition and types that are there. Do all of the walls have trims or are some missing?
- Are there noticeable blotches in the wood indicating staining of some sort? The typical rule is “the darker the stain, the deeper the stain.” These stains are most likely the result of some sort of constant source of moisture, including leaks from appliances, pipes, potted plants or pets.
- Walk across the flooring with the specific intent of feeling how “bouncy” it is in various places if at all. Does it squeak? If so, where? Excessive squeaking may be indications of age and or potential subflooring issues or foundational issues. How do you know the difference between “normal” squeaking and “excessive” squeaking? Trust us, you’ll know.
- Ask the Realtor what year the hardwood floor was installed and what type of subflooring it was installed over. Example: concrete, plywood, vinyl, etc…
- Are there any extra planks of the hardwood floor to be left behind as part of the purchase?
If the hardwood floor is underneath carpet, vinyl or other flooring:
- Pull back the corners of the carpet in each room and check for squeaks or other movements. Note that this step may not be permissible and your ability to do so will depend on your local applicable laws.
- Ask the Realtor if they know when the carpet or other flooring was installed as this will give you an approximate time frame of when the floor was possibly last refinished. Notice the carpet and or other floor and spot any stains that might be present. The hardwood flooring may have been negatively affected by these stains beneath the carpet.
- Notice if there are any odors such as from pets or mildew. If these are noticeable assume there will be some moisture damage to the hardwood flooring underneath that will need to be repaired.
The year the hardwood flooring was installed, may give you an indication that some of the installation materials used or adhesives that were used in the house may have asbestos in them. Unless you know for certain which material was used and whether or not it has asbestos in it, treat it as though it has asbestos in it. Your professional hardwood floor installer will be able to properly and safely assist you with this process. If you intend on doing this yourself, OSHA standards and rules apply when dealing with building material that potentially contains lead or asbestos.
If the hardwood floor is an occupied house:
- If the homeowner will be available during your walk through, ask the homeowner some of the above questions that you would have asked the Realtor including installation dates and what type of finish was used on the hardwood flooring.
- Ask the homeowner if you can peak into the closets to inspect the flooring.
- Come out and ask the homeowner respectfully, politely and calmly if there are any known previous moisture issues and if so where they were and how, if it all, they were resolved. Be aware the homeowner may feel apprehensive about answering those questions for fear that if he tells the truth you may not be interested in the home.
Further, in some states, homeowners are required by law to list out any known and previously known issues with the house in detail before it can be properly listed for sale on the market. In those cases, the answers you seek will be listed on a special form that the Realtor has access to and the homeowner may not be obligated to answer any further questions about any potential issues the home may have. Your Realtor will guide you in the proper procedure for these issues, depending on the local laws for real estate transactions in your state.
Determining the finish type:
The year or era the hardwood floor was installed may also provide indications of the types of care it has received over the years. Caring for hardwood floors today is not handled the same way as it was done several decades ago. Certain finishes, especially the wax-based or oil-based ones are not compatible with all types of current hardwood floor care products. Using some of today’s hardwood flooring cleaners on yesterday’s hardwood floors that contain a wax or oil-based finish may produce unintended results to the hardwood flooring. A professional home inspector or hardwood flooring installer will be able to identify the current finishes that exist on the hardwood flooring if the seller or Realtor does not have that information. The professional installer can also then guide you into proper care and maintenance for that particular hardwood floor.
Other important tips:
Always inspect the closets where hardwood flooring may exist. Pay particular attention to any rooms that may have hardwood flooring installed where water piping may be located in adjoining walls such as bathrooms, closets or where appliances may be hooked into the walls. Hardwood flooring in these places may exhibit more signs of moisture issues than in other places. This is especially true for homes that may have potential mold issues. Spotting mold in the corners of any room may indicate potential moisture issues that may have already negatively affected the hardwood flooring.
Don’t forget to open any hatches that lead to the crawl space or basement from inside the house. Make sure there are no signs of standing water, mud or other indicators that excessive moisture may be plaguing these areas. Remember that if you don’t see these indications during warm summer months, it doesn’t mean they don’t appear in the colder, rainier months.
If you are making an offer on the home, have the Realtor include a conditional clause that outlines the inspection of the home along with providing you the ability to obtain estimates needed to repair or recondition the hardwood flooring. For small repairs you may be able to “swap” planks between good ones that might be in a closet for damaged ones that might be in the center of a main room. Other small stain repairs might involve paining a design over it or using small area rugs to camouflage the stain. Get an estimate for any repairs that might be needed to be done to the wood floors from at least two or three hardwood floor installers before you finalize the contract.
- Before You Buy
- Benefits of Hardwood Flooring
- Hardwood Flooring 101: For Beginners
- Buying a House with Hardwood Flooring: What to Look For
- Differences Between Domestic and Exotic Wood
- Differences Between Solid, Engineered and Laminate Flooring
- Engineered Hardwood Flooring over Solid Hardwood Flooring: Advantages
- Floor Grades: Understanding Installation Limitations
- Glossary of Wood Flooring Terms
- Prefinished Hardwood Flooring: Advantages
- Sports Flooring: General Information
- The Lacey Act Amendment and Legal Logging
- Understanding HDF Click Flooring
- Wood Characteristics: Understanding the Basic Components of Wood
- Wood Charts: Density, Hardness, Stiffness and Strength
- Wood Species: Specifications
- Design Ideas
- Figuring out How Much Flooring You'll Need
- Installing Hardwood Floors
- Maintaining Your Hardwood Floor
- Contact us
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