23 Real Estate Listing Red Flags That the House Might Be A Bad Choice

Browsing online through homes for sale, you see one that looks absolutely perfect. But as you flip through the photos or scan the listing description, a creeping sense of discomfort starts to settle in. There’s something about this listing that just doesn’t look right… it’s a giant red flag.

What do real estate listing red flags look like? Here are 23 examples.

A stop sign.
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General listing red flags

1. There are no interior photos

Real estate photos are supposed to capture and intrigue the viewer. Heather Kerstetter, a top-rated real estate agent in York County, Pennsylvania, says a listing lacking in interior photos is a real estate listing red flag, especially when the listing has already been live for a week or more, or when the listing doesn’t mention that the home is tenant-occupied.

“If the listing doesn’t say why there are no photos, I do tend to ask the other agents what state the home is in,” says Kerstetter. “Fifty percent of the time, pictures are coming soon, and the other fifty percent of the time, there are no photos because it’s bad inside.”

2. There are more images of the community or land than the home

If a listing is chock-full of images of the neighborhood, community, land, or views — but is weak on images of the actual home itself — you can assume the home may not be in the best condition.

3. The photos look ‘stretched’

Real estate photos can be magical, making a fixer-upper look move-in ready, or a small home look much larger than it really is. To combat being tricked into believing the latter, look at the outlets and switch plates along the walls, or the windowsills, to see if they appear wider than they should, proportionately.

If they do, the room probably isn’t really as big as it looks in the image.

Drapes closed over a window.
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4. The windows or curtains are all closed

Most real estate photos will show the curtains open to take advantage of the natural light. If the listing you’re looking at has photos with the curtains closed, the house probably does not have an amazing view and may look out on something unsightly.

5. There aren’t any pictures at all

Major red flag alert! If there aren’t any photos of the listed home at all, this could indicate that the place is a real dump or that the seller isn’t even motivated enough to take the time to add pictures.

6. It’s a short sale

A short sale happens when the homeowner is about to foreclose and needs the outstanding balance on the mortgage paid.

Properties up for short sale may not have been well-maintained. That’s because if the owner couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage, there’s a good chance they weren’t spending the money to keep the house in good working order, either.

7. The asking price is well below fair-market value

If you’ve been house-hunting for a while, you’ve likely been scouting real estate listings night and day. If you come across a home with an asking price well below comparable homes you’ve been viewing, it could be an indication that there’s a major (and costly) problem with the home.

A traffic sign showing a stoplight is partially underwater.
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8. It’s in a flood zone

Living in a flood zone is not only a signal that your home could experience some major damage in the future, but it’s also an indication that your monthly costs could be much higher than anticipated.

“If you have an FHA loan, it requires FEMA flood insurance,” explains Kerstetter.

“FEMA flood insurance is higher than private flood insurance. If you have a home that requires flood insurance, you have to get it, and your price per month goes way up.”

9. There’s an HOA

Most homeowners are trying to stick with a budget and keep the total cost of their mortgage within a certain range. If a real estate listing notes that the property you’re interested in has an HOA fee, that’s a red flag that the monthly cost of living in the home could be a lot higher than your mortgage calculator says it will be.

HOAs also usually come with restrictions, so if you were hoping to rent the apartment above the garage on Airbnb or put up a fence to keep Fido from wandering away, you’ll definitely want to check the covenants, conditions, and restrictions before signing on the dotted line.

10. There are a lot of homes for sale in the neighborhood

If there are a high percentage of homes for sale in a particular neighborhood, it may indicate that people are leaving instead of staying… which begs the question: Why?

If you encounter this situation, do some digging. Has crime spiked in the area? Is there some kind of development going in that will change the feel of the neighborhood? Ask around before you make an offer on the home.

A red stoplight.
Source: (Hermes Rivera / Unsplash)

Language-specific red flags

11. There is overly flowery language

Everyone likes a good novel, but real estate listings shouldn’t read like fiction. If the listing is filled with overly flowery language, it could indicate that there aren’t too many great things to highlight about the home, so the agent is using filler.

12. There’s a typo-ridden listing description

Listing descriptions riddled with typos is a pretty clear indication that the home is far down on the priority list of the listing agent.

“I’ve never seen a listing with any typos worth caring about,” says Kerstetter, adding that the typos she does see are usually insignificant. So if you do see a listing with a higher-than-average number of pretty significant typos, consider it a red flag.

13. The home is ‘cozy’ or ‘quaint’

Tiny houses are all the rage these days, but if you’re looking for something a bit bigger, the words “cozy” or “quaint” may indicate that the home you’re eyeing isn’t as big as you want it to be.

A drill on a messy floor.
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14. The listing says the house ‘needs TLC,’ is a ‘fixer-upper,’ or is being sold ‘as-is’

Only you know the amount of money and elbow grease you’re willing to invest in your new home. If you come across a listing that says it “needs TLC,” is a “fixer-upper,” or is sold “as-is,” that may mean that the home needs more work than you’re willing to put into it.

15. It’s described as a ‘great investor opportunity

Any home listed as an “investor opportunity” is most likely a rental home with a tenant in it. While this isn’t fundamentally a red flag, Kerstetter warns that it could mean the home may not be in the best shape.

“If it’s not owner-occupied, the house is normally trashed inside.”

16. The listing says the home is ‘kid-friendly’

If a house is listed as kid-friendly, it could mean a bunch of good things, like it has a large yard or bonus room that would make a great playroom. Take heed, however, because this simple phrase may also indicate that the house is a mess.

17. The home or property is described as ‘unique’ or ‘custom’

This is another description that could go two ways. A home described as “unique” or “custom” could be a great find… if those custom touches were done by a master carpenter. On the other hand, if the “unique” features include quirky construction or wacky design features, the words “unique” and “custom” may just be code for “nobody could love this house but the current owner.”

18. The house is described as ‘charming’ or ‘vintage’

If you’re looking for a house that is frozen in time, “vintage” may be the word you want to see. Otherwise, be aware that “charming” or “vintage” may just mean that the home has never been updated.

19. The home has been ‘updated’ or had a ‘facelift’

Many buyers are looking for an updated home, but keep in mind that the terms “updated” and “facelift” don’t really mean anything concrete. The owner could slap a fresh coat of paint on the walls and call the home “updated,” so make sure you ask about specific updates that have been done to the home (and ask to see permits, too).

An aerial view of neighborhood development.
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20. It’s in an ‘up-and-coming neighborhood’

While buying a home in an up-and-coming neighborhood may mean you’re making a great investment, it may also mean that you’ll be dealing with a lot of development and other inconveniences about living in the area.

21. The location is ‘secluded’ or ‘quiet’

Solitude sounds glorious, but it may start to get old when you have to drive twenty miles just to reach a grocery store. Check the amenities around your “secluded” or “quiet” home before you commit.

22. The house is ‘back on the market’

Kerstetter considers a home listed as “back on the market” to be a yellow flag. “Sometimes the buyer’s mortgage falls through,” she explains. “Once in a while it can be the inspections — the buyer didn’t like what they saw, so they walk. Have your agent contact the seller’s agent and they will tell you why it fell through,” Kerstetter advises.

23. The home is listed as ‘for sale by owner’

Some for-sale-by-owner deals can be great, but you never really know what you’re going to get. If you’re interested in purchasing a “for sale by owner” home, make sure you do your due diligence. Home inspections are always a good idea, but in this case, they are a must.

While none of these real estate red flags necessarily mean there are hidden problems with a home, staying aware of them will help you approach the homebuying process with eyes wide open. Happy house-hunting!

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