Did you know that a typical U.P. real estate viewing only lasts for half an hour? That means you only have 30 minutes to suss out a home well enough to decide if it’s one you’d like to buy. 

Most people choose U.P. real estate based largely on two factors: location and aesthetics. That 30 minutes is enough to walk in and get a feel for the place. You’re either charmed, or you’re not. 

But looks can be deceiving.

Is the home the real deal you hope it is, or lipstick on a pig? 

Of course, a professional home inspection will tell you. But who wants to spend money unnecessarily?

Wouldn’t it be best if you could learn to walk through a house and have a good feel for whether it’s something you can handle BEFORE you hire a home inspector? 

That’s what this blog is all about. Read on to learn how even a first-time buyer can vet a piece of U.P. real estate quickly and well enough to know whether to walk away or make an offer. 

Know the 7 Zones of Concern

In this blog, we’ll discuss 7 zones of concern you should pay special attention to when vetting a piece of U.P. real estate.

Heads up: this is not an “orthodox” way to think of dividing up a home. In fact, when you see the list you may find yourself scratching your head. Don’t worry, I’ll explain it all as we go along! 

The 7 zones are: 

  1. Roof
  2. Snow 
  3. Electrical system
  4. Floors
  5. Foundation 
  6. Heating system
  7. Water

Walking into the home you need to get laser focused on these 7 things, as I will describe below. 

Remember, you only have 30 minutes! Don’t worry, you’ll get a feel for the charm while you walk through the place. But as a smart U.P. real estate buyer you will need to get rid of the rose colored glasses and put the eyes blinders on.

For these 30 minutes, ignore the colors on the walls, the floor coverings, the cozy decor. Get all that out of your head and look at the house like a home inspector would. I promise, it will be worth it in the end! 

Ready? Let’s start with the exterior! 

Zone 1: How Does the Roof Look?

A bad roof can potentially affect every single other aspect of a home. Roof failure can lead to all sorts of problems from structural damage to mold. Roofs are also very expensive to replace. So we recommend taking a good look at the roof when you first step onto a piece of U.P. real estate! 

  • What kind of roofing does the home have? 
  • If they are asphalt shingles, do they look curled? 
  • If it’s a metal roof, can you see any damage? 
  • Does the roof line look level? 

A faulty roof doesn’t have to be a deal breaker if you like the home, but it sure helps to know what you’re up against before you decide to make an offer!  

Zone 2: Where’s the Snow

Guess where all the accumulated snow from the steep metal roof on the right is going to fall? Yup – right in the entryway! Hope you like to shovel.

Yep, we’re in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. That means snow. Lots of it. And in my experience as a home inspector, almost no-one thinks about snow when evaluating U.P. real estate – but they should! 

No kidding, I’ve seen it all. My own home has a nice metal roof that creates an avalanche of snow off the back every winter. So much so that we have a seasonal door we can’t use several months out of the year. 

If it’s summer, let your imagination go wild. Where will the snow go when it falls? How hard will it be to clear? Where will the snowmelt run off to? Out to the street or into the foundation? Or will it puddle in the driveway? These things matter when it comes to U.P. real estate. 

Zone 3: Is the Electrical System Up to Date?

One of the biggest fears home buyers have is that the house will burn down. When it comes to fire hazards, the electrical system is the most important thing to vet. 

Here are a few things to look for regarding the electrical system:  

  • Are there 2 or 3 prong outlets here? 
  • Do you have GFCI outlets in the kitchen and laundry and bathroom?
  • Do you see evidence of knob and tube
  • Does the house have fuses or breakers?

If you see two prong outlets, you know you have ungrounded wiring and that’s going to need to be upgraded. Same with knob and tube, a fuse panel, or lack of GFCI outlets: they’re all indications that some wiring work is in this home’s future. 

Again, it’s not necessarily a reason to pass up on U.P. real estate that is otherwise perfect for you. It’s just something to be aware of to help you decide if and how much you should make an offer for. 

Zone 4: How Level Are the Floors

Of course, in a thorough home inspection we look at much more than just the floors. But in a quick walk-through situation, there is not time to assess everything about a piece of U.P. real estate. Unlevel floors are a quick way to get a general idea of how the structure is holding up, and whether there might be something bigger going on than meets the eye. 

If you see unlevel floors, ask: when was the home built? Was it built in 1885? Or 1995? That makes a big difference. 

Walking into an older home, we have to take into account the different types of structure that we’re dealing with and construction methods. My father in law’s house on the East Side in Marquette is a prime example. It was built in the 1880’s and there is no place you could drop a marble on that floor without it rolling somewhere. 

When we checked in the basement, we found out the dining room was out of level because the floor joists are all different heights. It wasn’t a structural issue. It was a contractor and lumber issue. Quaint, not dangerous.

So when we start to see that the floors are unlevel on a piece of U.P. real estate, it’s a cue to start asking why. That’s something that everybody can do. It’s not necessarily a deal killer, but it’s one of those things that you need to think about. For instance, as you view a U.P. home you should be thinking things like, “okay, so this house was built in 1920. I’d expect some unlevel floors. This other house was built in 2012. They should be level but they’re not. What’s up?” 

These are not questions you can answer yourself, most likely. But it will give you a foundation from which to start asking relevant questions of the seller, your real estate agent, and your home inspector when the time comes. 

Zone 5: Is the Foundation Cracked? 

This foundation crack hasn’t widened over time. You can tell by the paint still in it!

Foundations can be intimidating. You may not be able to figure out exactly what’s going on by yourself. But if you can see cracking in the foundation, you need to at least know to ask why it’s there and how long it’s been there. 

If you see a foundation crack when viewing U.P. real estate, don’t panic. New and even some experienced home buyers will often see a crack and go, “OMG, the house is going to fall in!” But a crack in the foundation isn’t always a huge concern. It could have happened in 1925 and been that same size crack ever since the foundation moved, and it hasn’t moved since. 

Again, this is something that you probably won’t be able to tell by yourself whether it’s a serious issue. But it’s something you should take note of as you view a home. That way later you can compare notes: “We saw cracks in the foundation here; in this other house we didn’t see cracks in the foundation. The slab was cracked in this house. The other house had minor cracking in the slab.”  

A cracked slab or foundation in U.P. real estate doesn’t mean it’s a deal killer. But it does mean that you need somebody with an expert eye to come in and tell you, “Okay, this crack has got paint in it. It’s been there for 40 years, it’s not going anywhere.” Or on the other hand: “The slab heaved. So we have soil movement, not just a crack. This needs attention.” 

How old does the Heating System look? 

The easiest way to find out how old a heating system is, of course, is to ask. But even if no one can tell you for sure, most people can get an inkling by going down to the basement and taking a look. 

If you’ve viewed much U.P. real estate, you’ve surely seen a few furnaces that you can just tell, “that’s been around for a while.” You can see scratch marks, dirt accumulation, and of course the tell-tale old-fashioned branding. 

In addition to the furnace and boiler, take a good look at the duct work. Are there vents in the bathrooms? Do the ducts look good? Are they even metal? Here in the U.P. I’ve seen a fair share of wooden ducts. That tells us we’ve got a pretty aged system that nobody’s really done much with.

Zone 7: Are there any signs of Water Damage

This basement is bone dry today – but how many signs can you find that moisture is an issue here?

If I had to pick a single biggest U.P. real estate villain, it would be moisture intrusion. Each time you walk through a home, you want to be super vigilant about looking for signs of water damage. 

The most common indications of moisture damage in a home include:

  • Leakage in the basement (Look for puddle residue on the floors and/or staining on the walls) 
  • Rotted window and door trim, siding, and/or flooring and floor joists
  • Stained patches on ceilings and walls
  • Damp areas under sinks 
  • Peeling paint 
  • Dripping plumbing or heating pipes
  • Obvious mold or mildew
  • Musty odors
  • Condensation on windows or floors

If you find any of these symptoms as you walk through a piece of U.P. real estate, take note. It may not indicate a current problem, but if you are interested in buying the home it’s definitely something you’ll want to ask about, and/or have your home inspector take a look at. 

So You’ve Vetted Your U.P. Real Estate Using the 7 Zones Method. Now What? 

Using the pointers above, you should be able to walk through an Upper Peninsula home in 30 minutes and come out with a pretty complete list of areas of concern. That puts you way ahead of most home buyers at this point! 

So what if you find a lot wrong with the place? Should you cross it off your list? 

Not necessarily, especially if it’s a perfect home for you in other ways. Remember that the 7 Zones exercise isn’t a replacement for an expert home inspection. What it does do is give you a very solid starting point to start having the conversations that will reveal what you’re really dealing with here. 

With your 7 Zones list in hand, you can now start asking relevant questions of the seller, your real estate agent, your home inspector, contractors, and anyone else you have access to who is qualified to assess the situation. In so doing, you will undoubtedly develop a pretty accurate picture of what is going on in the home, and whether or not it’s something you are willing and able to deal with. It will also give you all sorts of negotiating power should you decide to make an offer on the home! 

Making an Offer? Time to Schedule Your Home Inspection!

The 7 Zones method is designed to empower you to make an informed decision whether to go ahead and make an offer on a piece of U.P. real estate. But it still leaves you with a list of concerns. 

The next step from here is to schedule your home inspection. We’ll be able to take your list of concerns and help you understand which ones are fixable, and whether any actually are deal breakers. What’s more, our home inspection report is designed to help you prioritize any repair issues we may find, so that you can more easily budget and plan for repairs on the home you do end up purchasing. 

So what do you think? Does the 7 Zones Method make sense to you? Give it a try next time you view a piece of U.P. real estate, and let us know what you think in the comments section of this blog!