If you have a somewhat limited budget, then chance are you're shopping for homes for sale that are a few decades old and have been lived in for a while -- not brand new ones. Such homes might need a little work, and that's fine, but what you really want to make sure of is that the home has "good bones." In other words, you want to check that its major components and systems are in decent, working order so you don't find yourself facing $10,000 or $20,000 worth of repairs in a few months.
Here is a look at a home's various "bones" -- and what to look for in each one.
Foundation repairs are expensive. The major thing to look for in a foundation is cracks. A few tiny cracks are usually nothing to worry about as they're a normal effect of settling over time. However, if there are cracks longer than a few inches or thicker than the width of a toothpick, this could be a sign the foundation is failing. Leaks are imminent if you don't have them already.
Having a pipe burst can cost you thousand and can renter your home unlivable while you repair the damage. Check that the pipes are made from copper, PVC, or PEX -- not from galvanized steel. Steel was used in the 1960s, and it tends to rust out over time, leading to a greater chance of leaks. Regardless of what the pipes are made from, also make sure the toilet flushes and all of the drains work. Slow drains, overall, could point to an issue with the main sewer line, which can be expensive to replace.
If the house is more than 20 years old and has its original windows, they are probably leaky and inefficient. This could lead to water damage and sky-high energy bills. Replacing old windows is really expensive. You're better off buying a home with newer vinyl or composite windows that seal well and close easily.
The HVAC System
Furnaces and air conditioners are not cheap to replace, either. Ideally, you should buy a home in which these appliances are less than 10 years old, since they typically last about 15 years before they start to break down and become really inefficient. Avoid homes with really old boiler systems, since they tend to be leaky and expensive to repair.