DC’s housing market is full of houses and condos that have been recently renovated by developers. The quality of these renovations varies greatly, and we wondered if there was a way for house hunters to tell the good renovations from the bad.
Martin Ditto has done his share of renovations while developing houses and multi-family buildings through his company Ditto Residential, and he gave us a few pointers.
These tips are not foolproof: a home may have fancy appliances but shoddy workmanship where it counts, or be well done throughout but have mid-grade fixtures. Still, here are ten tips that we hope will help:
- Look at the locks. Schlage and Baldwin are the “gold standards,” said Ditto, while a Home Depot or Quickset lock may indicate a renovator who wasn’t willing to spend the extra money.
- The quality of appliances vary greatly. Write down the serial numbers and see what the developer paid for the appliances.
- Take note of the bathroom fixtures, and do some research on the price and quality. Kohler is widely used and respected, and a rain shower often costs significantly more than a typical shower head. Again, a mid-range product doesn’t necessarily mean that the house is not well done, but a high-range product shows that the developer was willing to invest more.
- The quality of plumbing fixtures can be determined by weight; the heavier the fixture, the more metal used, which generally translates to a more expensive product. You may not be able to pick up mounted fixtures, but holding a handle may give a sense of the weight.
- Doors also fall into the “the heavier, the better” category. Swing the interior doors to determine their weight; solid core doors are heavier than hollow core, and are more expensive.
- Cabinets and kitchen drawers also vary. One trick is to look at the drawers to see if they are dovetailed. Dovetailed woodwork indicates a higher quality, though a lack of dovetailing doesn’t necessarily indicate a poor job. Here are a few ways to check out the cabinets.
- Perhaps the biggest worry when buying a renovated home is whether the developer has covered up large problems — mold, cracks in the foundation, a bad electrical system — with drywall or quick fixes. Look for water damage, which may indicate mold, or bring a trusted inspector or experienced real estate agent with you.
- To that end, get your hands on the inspection report if you can.
- An A/C system can be a good indicator of how much the developer cares. The difference between the cheaper systems and the nicer ones, like Trane and Carrier, can be just a few hundred dollars and is sometimes determined by the installer; seeing a Trane or Carrier means that you have a developer who insisted on a better system.
- Finally, a good developer is usually willing to put their name on the product. If you have a hard time finding out who is responsible for developing or renovating the home, you have a right to be suspicious. Don’t be afraid to ask for references of past work, and call the current owners to find out if they are happy in the home.