BOSTON (MainStreet) -- That enormous McMansion or cute little Cape house that you have your eye on might look great on the surface, but a good paint job or a new custom kitchen could be hiding major problems.
"You always want to look for material defects in what home inspectors call 'The Three S's' -- structure, sanitation and safety," says Kurt Salomon, owner of Utah-based Advocate Inspections and president of the American Society of Home Inspectors.
Home inspectors typically charge about $600 to check out properties, providing house hunters with written reports detailing any problems found plus estimates of how much repairs will cost. A would-be buyer then generally goes back to the seller and tries to cut a deal to cover some or all of a repair.
Inspectors sometimes come across bigger problems, though, prompting a major renegotiation of a property's price, if not a decision by the house hunter to kill the sale outright.
"It's all a question of cost," Salomon says. "If there's a repair that will cost $5,000 and you plan to live in the house for five or 10 years, that really isn't that big of a deal. But there are other things that are."
Here's a look at five problems that can cost big bucks to repair -- and that would-be buyers might simply want to avoid altogether:
Bad synthetic stucco siding
Repair cost: $20,000 to $150,000
Salomon says the No. 1 deal killer he finds is improperly installed synthetic stucco siding, also known as "Exterior Insulation Finish System" or EIFS.
EIFS is an exterior home cladding that consists of a roughly 0.75-inch-thick piece of Styrofoam with a mock stucco surface on the outside.
European builders have long used EIFS as an inexpensive, energy-efficient finish for the continent's stone houses. Problems emerged when American contractors began using EIFS with wood-frame homes in the 1970s.
Improperly installed EIFS can allow moisture to collect on wood frames, leading to potentially serious wood rot -- especially in the Southeast or other humid climates, Salomon says.
"It's a problem that varies from region to region," he says. "In the South I'd say, 'Walk away from EIFS,' because they get so much moisture down there. But here in Utah with our high-desert climate, EIFS takes a lot longer to cause problems."
EIFS is easy to spot. It looks like stucco, but protrudes about three-fourths of an inch from the home's foundation and feels somewhat spongy
But it's hard to check for problems, so Salomon usually calls in a special stucco inspector -- which costs the would-be buyer an extra $600 to $1,200.
The stucco inspector will typically want to cut small holes in the EIFS underneath some window sills to check for moisture or wood rot. Sellers won't like that, but Salomon says house hunters should insist on getting the green light.