One of the most stressful things about buying a home is ensuring that the property you end up with doesn’t have any hidden surprises. If you think you sense a musty smell while touring a property, don’t ignore it. Moisture issues and mold can be one of the most expensive problems to correct and, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, carry a host of nasty health problems if left untreated. Here are the signs of water damage to look for when viewing a home that you never want to ignore.

Trust Your Nose

Many homes will have their own unique odors caused by a variety of benign issues, but if your nose is detecting a more earthy smell, you may want to have a closer look. Mold and mildew carry with it a very distinct, musty odor, that smells like dirt or damp leaves. Encountering these smells in enclosed areas like a basement, crawl space, or attic warrants extra investigation into the cause. Even if you can’t see a problem, moisture meters and other probing tools can find hidden damage, so following up with a home inspection is likely the smartest move.

Stains or Condensation

Stains or spots on ceilings, walls, and floorboards may be from a prior leak that has already been fixed, but they could indicate an ongoing problem. Once water collects in a home, mold can begin to germinate after as little as 24 to 48 hours on porous surfaces. So even if the active leak has been stopped, the mold may still exist where you can’t see it, and that may mean hiring mold eradication firms to clean it up. Condensation in windows or on walls means there is trapped moisture in the air. Whether it is a bathroom or clothes dryer with inadequate ventilation, excess humidity in a home can quickly become an attractive breeding ground for mold spores.


Many energy conscious homeowners add extra insulation to attics to protect against temperature extremes, but extra insulation that blocks roof vents or is heavily compacted can reduce airflow, leaving the attic susceptible to mold growth. Check to ensure roof vents remain free of insulation and check attic beams carefully for the existence of mold.

Foundation Damage

Most importantly, having a thorough look at foundation walls is essential when looking at any home to purchase. A failing foundation can become a huge and expensive problem to solve, so catching problems early is essential. Even on a dry day, a basement that leaks will leave behind a white, powdery, salt-like substance on foundation walls and floors, called efflorescence. These stains can be found both inside and out of the home and indicate an area where water runs or pools. Make sure that the grading of the lot slopes away from the foundation walls, and downspouts are diverted out into the yard. Check the foundation walls for cracks or areas that have been repaired and be sure to point out areas of concern to your home inspector.

Strategic Renovations

New flooring and paint can add great value to a home, but if it seems that only a portion of a wall or ceiling is painted, or an odd bit of flooring replaced, be on guard. Chances are, if there was a problem, it’s been correctly fixed, but knowing what to look for will help you determine what questions to ask.

It’s important to remember that no home is perfect. But knowing what red flags to look for, and working with the right real estate professionals, will help ensure buying a home is exciting and positive.

Looking to buy or sell in the Nevada County area? Give a Coldwell Banker agent a call today!