13 Signs That a Home Has “Good Bones,” According to Construction and Real Estate Pros

Home buyers are always told to look for properties with good bones, but what does that really mean? Real estate pros weigh in.

By Glenda Taylor | Updated Feb 14, 2022 6:34 PM

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Fresh paint, new carpeting, and other cosmetic touch-ups can hide a wealth of material defects in a house. When evaluating an older home, buyers need to look beyond the carefully curated facade to discover the house’s underlying qualities—its “bones.” In the real estate and construction industries, a house is described as having “good bones” if it doesn’t have any major defects that could lead to expensive repairs. To dig down to specifics, we consulted a number of experts to get their ideas about what constitutes good bones in a house.

1. A Solid Foundation

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If a home’s foundation is sound, that’s a big plus. Rinal Patel, licensed Realtor and co-founder of We Buy Philly Home, is sold on the idea of good foundations. “A solid foundation is crucial for me,” Patel says. “Without this, you’re facing a hefty renovation cost.” She adds, “If you have a great house and a faulty foundation, it’s going to be a lot harder and more expensive to fix.”

2. Functionality and Structure

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Robert Taylor, owner of The Real Estate Solutions Guy, a house-flipping company near Sacramento, California, looks for two main qualities in a house: functionality and structure. “Good bones start with the basic structure,” Taylor says. He looks for beneficial layouts, level floors, and walls without cracks. He’s also big on finding “hidden gems,” like hardwood flooring tucked beneath carpeting, in a home. He advises buyers not to get “hung up on cosmetic issues,” because those are often easy to fix.

3. Good Drainage

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Good drainage is one indication of good bones. “Water can wreak havoc on a house,” Taylor notes, so he tells buyers to “look for possible drainage issues, especially if the home is on a sloped lot.” He also suggests inspecting the basement or other below-grade rooms for signs of water intrusion. “Lastly, always have your Realtor check to determine if the property is in a potential flood zone.”

RELATED: 9 Things You Didn’t Know About Flood Insurance

4. Skeletal Structure

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When Jonathan Faccone, real estate investor, developer, and manager of Halo Homebuyers in New Jersey talks about “good bones,” he specifically means the skeletal structure of the house, including its foundation. When evaluating a house, Faccone’s first priority is to check the basement. “We look for signs like wide horizontal cracks, which can be a sign of hydrostatic pressure,” he says. “Second, we look at the wood structure itself, such as floor joists and subflooring.” Faccone concludes that the house has good bones if these elements look good.

5. Problem-Free Roofing

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“They don’t build things like they used to,” Kurt Grosse notes. And Grosse, a real estate agent at HomesForSale.Vegas and former building engineer, thinks that’s a good thing. Especially with older homes, be on the lookout for minor defects that can be signs of serious problems. For instance, a noticeable sag in a home’s roofline is an “absolute dead giveaway to tell if the house you are looking at has good bones,” he says. “Any visible sagging is an indication that there are possible issues with the framing.” No matter the age of the house, Grosse recommends buyers get a home inspection.

RELATED: Solved! This is How Long You Can Expect Your Roof to Last

6. A Sensible Floor Plan

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According to Kelley Decowski, Realtor with RE/MAX of Stuart in Florida, “One of the ways a house has ‘good bones’ is if the floor plan makes sense and does not require a lot of change. Moving walls, plumbing, and electrical can all become costly very quickly because it starts the rabbit hole of renovation—‘if I fix this, I might as well do this,’” Decowski says. She looks for a well-designed floor plan to cut down on renovation costs.

7. Like-New Plumbing

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Buying an older home to renovate involves both work and risk, so Zach Blenkinsopp, owner of Digital Roofing Innovations, looks for a few telltale signs that the investment is sound. In his opinion, “intact plumbing” is among the most critical factors, along with a sturdy roof and great floors. “Good pipes for your sinks and bathrooms are a big deal,” Blenkinsopp says, “especially when buying a new home.” If everything is in great condition and the pipes look new or good, you have a home with good bones.

8. Good Use of Space

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Space is at a premium in many homes, so Ryan Reed-Baum, CEO and founder of TruLog Siding, looks for rooms that make good use of space. As he evaluates the overall floor plan, he notes inefficient or wasted space. He also looks for “oddly shaped rooms” and considers the potential solutions for reclaiming that space quickly and efficiently. “The cost of changing the layout depends on the structure of the house, the number of levels, and the size of the rooms,” he says. Reed-Baum pays close attention to the locations of bathrooms and kitchens because relocating plumbing can be a challenge.

RELATED: 11 Ways to Gain Square Footage Without Changing the Floor Plan

9. Corner Clues

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“Building quality can be difficult to judge,” according to Corey Tyner, real estate investor and founder of Buy Yo Dirt. “But I usually take a quick peek at the corners of windows, stairs, doors, and other openings,” he says. In these areas, “large, diagonal cracks indicate that something is stretching unusually and may need significant labor (and money) to fix the fault.”

10 Original Elements

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Sometimes, the presence of a home’s original features can indicate good bones. “Original features are what you want to look for,” Tyner says, “but features are not the same as finishes.” Original features include woodwork and built-in cabinets that are original to the home. Finishes, on the other hand, are simple to remove or replace: These are items like bathroom vanities and faucets. When original features are in good shape, it’s a sign of good bones.

11. A Sense of Solidness

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Paige Elliot, a Realtor with Elliot & Elliot Real Estate Group and Dave Perry-Miller Real Estate, clarifies that she is not a foundation, roofing, or masonry expert. “But we are in so many houses that sometimes we can feel or see things that give us a sense of a solid home,” Elliot says. She starts looking while still outside the home, checking for cracks in the exterior. Then, she inspects the inside of the house for cracks in walls or around door frames. Elliot also looks for level floors. Those are “always a good sign of good bones,” she says.

RELATED: How to Level a Floor

12. Good Wiring

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Mark Luongo, master electrician and field safety representative for his company, Luongo Electric Inc., located in Vancouver, British Columbia, wants buyers to know that good bones are about more than just sound foundations and structures. “The electrical system can be equally as important,” Luongo says. “A house fire caused by faulty electric in a balloon-framed older home can overtake the home in a matter of minutes.” Wiring is one of the first things he checks in any house.

13. Captivating Character

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While a sound foundation and structure are vital to the long-term durability of a home, having good bones can also mean that a house is filled with character and charm. Features such as floor-to-ceiling windows, ornate architectural trim, and high Victorian ceilings lend personality and charisma to a home. When they’re in good shape, desirable features like these are definite selling points.

RELATED: Solved! The Standard Ceiling Height for Homes

Remember to Overlook Cosmetic Concerns

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Even though charming features can be an indication of good bones, don’t get too wrapped up in decorative details. Things like grungy carpeting, paint, and wallpaper can all be replaced without spending too much money. Don’t be deterred by a kitchen full of dingy, avocado-colored appliances. Instead, look at what lies beneath the surface, particularly the home’s foundation and structural and mechanical aspects.