Cast your eye high and low, to and fro, to spot cracks or leaks outside your "normal" field of vision.
- If the current owners are still in residence, move their furniture. That means pulling every dresser away from the wall, especially under windows, to check for leaks, cracks and incomplete paint jobs.
- Pull back the rugs—you never can tell what those fine threads are hiding.
- No matter what season it is, check that the summer screens and the winter storm windows are in good shape. If you're buying in the summer, turn off the air-conditioning and crank up the radiators; in the winter, do the reverse. The last thing you want is to find out, five months after unpacking your boxes, that the heating or cooling is noisy and inefficient. Running the systems will also reveal any funky smells you wouldn't otherwise notice.
- Visit at different times of the day and night to gauge street noise.
- Put appliances through their paces to make sure that everything is working—and working quietly. If your purchase includes the washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher, run a load in each of them. (Bring a few dirty dishes and towels of your own if need be.) And give the garbage disposal a spin.
- Turn on as many kitchen appliances as possible, simultaneously, to see whether the electrical system can handle the strain. Turn on every light in every room. And bring a small appliance to plug in to outlets to see if they work. (Your phone charger is handy for this.)
- Conduct a water-torture test: While the dishwasher and the washing machine are running, head to the shower and turn on the hot tap. How are the pressure and the temp? What happens when you flush the toilet?
- Ring the doorbell, and test the alarm if there is one. For the latter, ask whether it's just local or hooked up to a central monitoring system.
- Measure the garage to determine that both your cars will really fit.
- Find out if the neighbors own any dogs. If they have an aggressive breed and you don't have a fence, perhaps this isn't the best backyard for your toddler.
- If you're buying an apartment, ask residents next door, above, and below to turn on their stereos and television sets and just walk around.
- Get estimates for ongoing maintenance: In a condominium or co-op, find out how many times the common charges have been raised during the past five years and by how much. If this is your first foray into the suburbs, don't forget to factor in the cost of a gardener if you don't want to mow the lawn or of a snow-removal service if you don't shovel—same with the pool and the alarm.
After completing this checklist, if you think this home is your match made in heaven, then it's time to hire an inspector.