Queue the dramatic music, a flash of lightning and a scream—the nightmare of house hunting begins. It really can be a nightmare when you’re house hunting. Everyone knows someone who bought a house that was a total disaster, or you’ve seen Money Pit.

The only way to turn this into your ideal dream: preparation. Doing your research is your first big step in fighting off the truly dark and terrifying homes. So grab a pen and paper and take notes about these 7 classic dangers, and how to watch out for them.

#1: Research the Area

This might seem obvious, but how can it help you avoid danger? In many ways, actually. There might be:

  • landfills being created (or already in existence)
  • new construction areas coming up to drive you mad
  • zoning laws that could prevent you from doing home renovations
  • damaged drain installations—Toronto houses are prime culprits for these
  • flood hidden zones, and more.

The point is that you won’t know unless you do the research. Ask your homeowner family and friends what kinds of issues they’ve experienced, talk to people who live in the area you’re interested in, search online and set up some Google alerts to find out what’s been happening there.

#2: Test Everything

It can be awkward walking through a stranger’s house and judging it. You’ll need to get over that, though. Open up the closets and take a look inside. Open and close doors and windows and check for stickiness. Test everything you can think of to test and you’ll be able to avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls.

#3: Use Your Nose and Eyes

Ok, it might be slightly inappropriate to walk in somewhere and sniff the air, but you’ll need to do so to detect any musty odours. Look for strange sounds emanating from the drain installations that could indicate rats in the drains. Also, check around walls and especially in basements for little piles of sawdust that could be termites.

#4: Investigate Drains and Pipes

While you’re poking around your prospective new home, make sure you look up and check for watermarks, bubbling and peeling paint. These are classic indications of poor drainage, drain leaks and expensive future repairs. Go ahead and flush the toilets, turn on the taps, maybe even turn on the shower! You want to test the water pressure and also the color (rusty pipes, anyone?). Find out if any trees on the property have caused problems with the sewer pipes.

#5: Check for Cracks

A crack in the wall doesn’t necessarily mean a crack in time and space, but it could mean that the house’s frame has warped over time or that the foundation has shifted. Both can be expensive to repair and could be potentially risky. Look for cracks larger than 1/3” long, which is usually an indication of dangerous cracks.

#6: Play With the Lights!

Everyone loves flicking lights on and off! Go ahead, test those switches! Find out if any of the light switches control any power outlets—or vice versa. Take a look at the circuit breaker box. Beware of knob-and-tube or aluminum wiring! These are fire hazards and have to be replaced!

#7: Dare to Get Disclosure

Get a disclosure packet. This will tell you everything important about the house from foundation issues through drain installations and recent home renovations, to whether or not it’s haunted! Well, maybe not actually haunted, but if there have been any deaths or crimes committed on the property. Those are all important things to know!

Don’t let yourself get swept up in finding the right house based on your feelings alone. Also, don’t let house-hunting for your dream home become a nightmare.