Buying a house becomes one of your biggest investments. Here’s how to avoid buying a house needing major repairs in San Diego.

Hint: Bring a marble with you and do a sniff test.

San Diego Older Homes Neighborhoods

San Diego is one of the most beautiful regions in America. Year-round warm weather, lots of sunny days, beautiful beaches, parks, and mountains to enjoy. But, before going all-in when finding your San Diego dream home, make sure it doesn’t need major repairs.

A recently built home is safer than an older home when it comes to avoiding major repairs. Buyers want to know, “How old are some houses in San Diego?”

According to a February 2021 article on the site, the oldest neighborhoods in San Diego date back to the 1700s. The article describes five old neighborhoods in San Diego:

San Diego’s Five Old Neighborhoods

  1. Old Town is San Diego’s birthplace and oldest neighborhood dating back to 1769. Situated in a central location close to the I-5 and I-8 freeways, commuters enjoy easy access to the city. It contains 27 historic buildings and sites that tourists love to visit. You will find restored Spanish-style, Craftsman, and Victorian-style homes. View our post describing, Old Town for more information and current listings there.
  2. Gaslamp Quarter developed in 1867 (also called Gaslamp District by the locals) offers 16 blocks filled with history. There are 94 historic structures from the Victorian era. A popular neighborhood with bars, nightclubs, shops, and restaurants. Its residents enjoy dwelling in its historical surroundings.
  3. Burlingame consists of 10 blocks between South Park and North Park originally developed in 1912. Residents favor its pedestrian-friendly historic neighborhood setting. Plenty of early 20th century homes with over 160 different architectural styles including Art Deco, California Ranch, and Spanish Revival.
  4. Little Italy dating back 100 years is a waterfront neighborhood settled by Italian families. Its tuna industry created the “oldest neighborhood business district”. If you love Italian fountains, cuisine, delis, and piazzas, in a walkable neighborhood this is the place.
  5. Mission Valley sprung from the 1769 Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá. Since then, it grew into an extension of grocery stores, shopping malls, gyms, with plenty of dining and entertainment venues. Its Riverwalk Golf Club attracts many residents from college students to white-collar workers. View our post describing Mission Valley and its current listings.


Even if you don’t buy a home in one of these historic neighborhoods, plenty of older homes go on the market to choose from. But, as the old saying goes, “Buyer Beware”.


How To Avoid Buying a House Needing Major Repairs in San Diego


House Flippers

Besides historical homes, San Diego maintains a strong house flipping market. This is when an investor buys a fixer-up home, renovates it, and quickly sells it. Flippers always try to make the house look nice from the outside and do cosmetic fixes to get buyers’ attention. However, they may neglect to do expensive repairs.

Tip: Watch out for these “cover-ups” needing major repairs. A pretty house shows nicely but may cover up defects costing the new owner major repairs. You need to learn how to identify them.

Here are things to watch out for when previewing a home for sale.


Plumbing Problems

Plumbing issues hidden behind new materials or patch-up work can cost you lots of money. Newly painted walls and ceilings don’t mean they fixed any plumbing problems. Usually, you won’t know anything is wrong until you “smell something” musty or moldy. Newly painted and patched walls and ceilings won’t start to smell bad for several months.

Tip: The first thing to do is to turn on the bathroom shower and faucet and flush the toilet. Older galvanized plumbing usually experiences a drop in water pressure when flushing.

Likewise, check out the sewer line. Look for cracks or break in the line. Sewer repairs are expensive. Even newer houses experience sewer line issues.

Tip: Check with the San Diego city or county permit department to see when they issued plumbing permits. Sewers require permits from the city or the county.

Electrical Issues

Electrical problems lurking behind the walls. Older homes often contain unsafe outdated wiring. Just because a new electrical service panel was recently installed doesn’t mean the flipper replaced the old wiring hidden behind the walls.

Tip: You need to check with the San Diego city or county about electrical permits. None issued for many years should warn you.

Flooring and Roofing Issues

Older homes and quick flips often experience flooring and roofing issues. Poor maintenance or repairs means future problems.

A house flipper may reduce costs by putting a new roof over the old defective one. A new roof over the old roof looks nice, but it reduces the roof’s lifespan.

House flippers sometimes place a floor covering over rotten floors. This is not a permanent fix. Look at the doors for signs of shifting or misalignment. They usually indicate poor flooring.

Marble Test: Use the marble test by dropping it on the floor at different points to see if it rolls towards the wall. The faster it rolls, the bigger the problem. Uneven floors need replacement.

Extra Tip: Take off your shoes and walk around the house to feel variations in the floors.


Water Leaks

Water damage occurs from heavy rains or closeness to lakes, rivers, and watersheds. Some sellers may try to cover up water damage. Look for signs of water intrusion. Texture in the siding inconsistencies may cover up filled-in areas painted over. Bubbling paint is another sign of water damage.

Inspect the paint inside and outside the house. If you see staining, mildew, or rotting in the paint water damage causes it. The baseboards and wood paneling may show signs of water staining. Likewise, inspect all concealed spaces.

Other things to look for include discoloration or bleeding through the paint indicates a poor cover-up.

The Sniff Test: Trust your nose. Sniff around the attic, basement, and garage to see if you smell moisture. Freshly painted homes do not always hide the smell of mildew.


Got Questions?

Big Block Realtor San Diego

California Laws About House Seller Disclosures

California laws require sellers to provide a Transfer Disclosure Statement (TDS) to potential buyers when accepting an offer.

The TDS form asks about the seller’s awareness of defects or malfunctions regarding:

  • Appliances;
  • Electrical wiring;
  • Roof condition;
  • Smoke detectors; and
  • Other relevant property features.

The California Department of Real Estate publishes disclosure requirements that residential sellers must disclose to buyers.

Tip: Yet, sellers sometimes don’t know or hide knowledge of major defects about the house.


How To Avoid Buying A House Needing Major Repairs San Diego Conclusion


You now learned what to look for regarding how to avoid buying a house needing major repairs in San Diego.

Five historical districts offer older homes of many architectural styles. Older homes also appear throughout San Diego County. Here are important issues you may encounter:

  • House Flippers performing poor work;
  • Plumbing Problems;
  • Electrical Issues;
  • Flooring and Roofing Issues; and
  • Water Leaks.

Tip: In general, always look for a lack of attention to detail. Sellers covering up defects to save money often become sloppy with the details.

As a buyer, you should be cautious of an old house looking perfect on the surface.


How San Diego Realtors Help Buyers Avoid Buying A House Needing Major Repairs


Our experienced Realtors can help San Diego buyers with conducting previews of homes for sale. Similarly, our Realtors can refer buyers to competent professional inspectors.

Also, our Realtors can help with pulling up prior listings of the house and looking at the differences in the description and photos. They may reveal renovations, painting, and cosmetic work.

Help with checking city and county permits for electrical, plumbing, and structural work. If they don’t exist means the seller didn’t get a permit for the work. In that case, we may suggest that buyers look for another home.

Tip: Another way includes suggesting the purchase of a home warranty to cover hidden defects in your new home.

Big Block Realty is here to help all buyers in the greater San Diego area.

Contact us for all your real estate buying needs. We are here to help.


Steven Rich, MBA – Guest Blogger



Search Local Real Estate Below Or Use Our: Home Search Tool: [idx-quick-search format=”horizontal”]


Let us know, we love to help:

Call: (800) 550-3209

or Click:

Big Block Realty – CA BRE #01885775