Beware these home problems that could ruin a sale.


Kristine Gill

Photo of writer Kristine Gill

Kristine Gill

Kristine Gill is a former newspaper reporter who spent five years as a spokesperson for a law enforcement agency. She writes about homes and real estate for Better Homes & Gardens.


Published on May 21, 2024

he housing market remains hot for sellers who are still enjoying speedy sales and bidding wars that are driving up prices across the country. But no matter how good the market is, there are still plenty of red flags that could turn off buyers to a purchase—even if it’s the home of their dreams. 

“The more property buyers see, the more they recognize the red flags and understand what ‘as-is’ condition issues they might have to take on in their new home,” says agent Steven Gottlieb of Coldwell Banker Warburg.

Here are the biggest offenders on the list so you can rectify major problems in your home that could spell disaster when it comes to selling it.

1. The Need for Major Renovations

Some buyers welcome a fixer-upper, but others say a home that needs major remodeling is reason enough not to buy. 

About 62.7% of buyers said they would be put off buying a home if it needed renovation, according to a survey by Self Financial. If your home has major damage or appears outdated, buyers could be turned off.

“We sell a lot of new construction homes or recently built homes,” says Cindy Raney, founder of Connecticut-based boutique real estate firm Cindy Raney & Team. “Walking into a house that is low quality or built by an inexperienced builder is a red flag. Not everyone can spot it, but I can tell almost immediately in the finishes and attention to detail.”

Shoddy construction on new builds isn’t the only cause for concern. Major damage can’t escape buyers for long and could be a deal breaker. “In today’s market, homes are typically perfectly staged and in beautiful condition,” Raney adds. “When a house or property is poorly maintained, it’s a red flag and often indicative of other problems.”

“Any physical indication of structural damage such as a dried watermark on the ceiling is a red flag,” says Dawn David, a broker with Corcoran in New York. “It’s important to ask questions about any lingering item that doesn’t feel right once you’ve thoroughly reviewed your home inspection.”

Perhaps the most important room in the home for buyers is the kitchen, according to Self Financial. Problems with this room would be the biggest issue for 31.2% of buyers. Next on the survey was bedrooms, with 28% of buyers saying they’d be most concerned about a problem in this room and 17% percent saying the biggest concern would be the bathroom. 

2. Water and Mold Problems

The same survey showed that mold and mildew were significant concerns for many buyers. About half of buyers (47.9%) said damp homes or homes with mold would prevent them from buying. That’s likely because water damage can be costly to repair and cause major health problems. 

“Many potential buyers associate mold with health risks, remediation costs, and long-term marketability challenges,” says Opendoor agent partner and realtor Bryson Taggart. “It can also cause structural damage, such as breaking down organic materials and weakening wooden structures, drywall, and flooring, resulting in significant structural issues such as sagging floors and collapsing walls. Additionally, mold growth can cause moisture accumulation, which is dangerous around electrical wiring. Insurers may refuse to cover homes with a history of mold or charge higher premiums.”

For that reason, inspectors perform thorough checks for mold, and some buyers might request a secondary mold and mildew inspection.

While water damage can spell disaster for the home itself, it can also cause problems around the property. That goes for both natural water sources and water features. 

“Water on the property can be a red flag for potential homebuyers with young children as pools, ponds, and streams can be a safety concern.”


Taggart cited Opendoor’s 2024 Home Decor Report, which showed that not all buyers like outdoor water features.

“Some outdoor structures are ideal for some buyers, while a potential nuisance for others. For example, water elements like ponds and fountains might be ideal for one owner but potentially deter another,” he says. “Given their upkeep and installation, these often pricey features might be a dealbreaker for buyers and incur unwanted maintenance costs.”  

3. A Problematic Location

You can’t help where your home is located, but it’s good to remember that a property’s location can be cause for concern, especially if you live on or near a major road or busy neighborhood. 

“Lifestyle is important to buyers these days,” says Raney. “A busy road can be a deterrent unless the property is set significantly back from the road, and is fully fenced.” 

Fences and even sound barriers can mitigate these concerns. Taggart suggests double-paned windows and dense landscaping for soundproofing. Plus, adding a creative spin to your listing description can help. “Emphasize the home’s proximity to amenities, public services, and transportation hubs and competitively price the property,” Taggart says. 

Elizabeth Altobelli, a sales agent with William Raveis in Connecticut, has also heard complaints from potential buyers about proximity to major transportation and airports, popular dining areas, celebrity homes, and empty lots.

“If buyers dream of teaching their kids to ride bikes on your street, but the house happens to be located on a major street, this will be difficult and very dangerous,” Altobelli says. 

The same goes for those seemingly quiet locations. “If you think you may have the dream view when you move into your home, but there is an empty lot for sale across the street, you may want to think twice, or at least do your due diligence before buying,” Altobelli adds. “If the empty plot turns into a major construction site for the next five years—complete with the noises and potentially unsightly home or homes—your home value may plummet overnight.”

4. Outdated Design Choices

They say you should design your home so that you can love the space while you’re there, but there’s something to be said for designing your home with resale in mind. The Self Financial survey said that of all the design fails they’ve seen, 42.2% of buyers agree they would not want that outdated avocado-green bathroom in their home. 

Perhaps surprisingly, the second most off-putting design choice on the list is modern farmhouse homes, with 34.7% saying it would put them off buying, followed by a traditional design (32.2%).

Taggart has noted the same types of design concerns in Opendoor’s reporting. “The least appealing design features are outdated bathrooms, kitchens, and old carpets,” he says. “Updated kitchens and bathrooms signal higher potential resale value.”

Consult with your real estate agent about making small upgrades to your home’s interior, such as fresh paint, before listing. In some cases, it’s as simple as properly staging a home that has outdated features and design choices to ensure the best offer. 

5. Foul Odors

One of the biggest turnoffs for buyers is a bad smell in a home. Think pets, mold, and smoke. 

“Smoke permeating walls and carpets creates unpleasant lingering odors and raises potential health issues,” Taggart says. “Sellers can deep clean by replacing carpets and air filters or using an odor-blocking primer before repainting walls and ceilings. Pet odors and stains, especially urine and visible pet damage, also show poor maintenance. Besides deep cleaning carpets and upholstery, sellers can repair scratched doors, walls, furniture, and heavily soiled carpets or flooring.”

Sometimes, the smells aren’t even identifiable. “Undetectable smells that you really can’t pinpoint are another red flag,” David adds. “Don’t assume that when you take possession it will be all roses. Smells can indicate an issue behind the walls, like a dead rodent or mold.”

To avoid problems, agent Karen Kostiw of Coldwell Banker Warburg suggests a deep clean. “Sellers should have the home professionally cleaned, including deodorizing the property. Painting the walls, replacing carpets, repairing damaged floors, and changing out all the filters will help with the odor and marketability.” She adds that there are HEPA systems “that can be installed in the home with charcoal filters for odor control that will help with smells of smoke and pet issues.”

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6. Evidence of Pests

If your home has pests or evidence of pest damage, buckle up. Many buyers fear that where there’s smoke there’s fire, even with the smallest of termite damage or mouse droppings. Broker Andrea Saturno-Sanjana of Coldwell Banker Warburg suggests having the home inspected by a pest-control company or a mold-remediation company before listing it. 

“If any remediation needs to be done for mold or pests, many firms offer warranties or regular reinspection programs, which can then be conveyed with the sale of the home,” she says. “This can give the buyer peace of mind. In some areas of the country, termites and other wood-destroying insects are so prevalent that inspection or remediation is required as part of the preprinted contract of sale form.”

How to Avoid Red Flags When Buying a Home

Both sellers and buyers can mitigate red flags by having the property inspected

“An inspector can uncover not just water damage or moisture in the walls or ceiling but also evidence of termite damage, foundation issues, any problems with a swimming pool, sewage, and other potentially expensive problems that may arise later,” Gottlieb says.

While buyers can use inspections to opt out of a deal or haggle on a home purchase, sellers can also get a jump start on potential problems by having their property inspected before listing it on the market.