Kitchen appliances: What to consider when buying a home

A kitchen can sell a home. But don’t base your decision on appearances alone -- kitchen appliances that look great may function poorly. Since they are expensive to replace, you should test and inspect them thoroughly, and ask your REALTOR® to find out when they were purchased and whether they are still under warranty. You can also ask your home inspector to have a look at them.

Ideally, the seller will give you receipts for the purchase of the appliances and any repairs that have been done, allowing you to confirm their age and reliability. Past energy bills can also indicate the age of the appliances, as older units typically use more energy.

Here are signs of aging and damage you should look out for when inspecting used kitchen appliances, along with prices for buying new ones:

Dishwasher. Pull out the racks and see if the vinyl is wearing off. Vinyl begins to rub off after about seven years and becomes quite worn by 12 to 15 years, which is about the time the dishwasher will probably need to be replaced. Also note any rust on the racks; it can wash into the pump and cause problems. Turn the dishwasher on to make sure it goes through all the cycles; look for signs of leaks.

Refrigerator. Check to make sure the door closes completely and there are no cracks in the gasket. Replacing the gaskets could cost you $100 or more and is not a simple job. Bring an appliance thermometer with you and check the temperature in the fridge and freezer. The fridge should be between 38 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer should register zero.

The average refrigerator has a life span of 18 to 20 years, but even if there are still years of good service left, you might consider replacing it as soon as you can afford to do so. A new fridge uses less than half the energy of older models, and can save you as much as $180 a year on your electric bills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Microwave. In the typical 10-year life span of a microwave, the most common problem is a gradual loss of power. This is not a major concern, as most people tend to adjust the time they heat food accordingly. A more serious problem of older microwaves, however, is radiation leakage. Look around the microwave, especially around the door, for pitted or worn gaskets, which could cause the microwave to leak radiation.
stove. Turn the oven on to see how long it takes to heat. Make sure the oven gasket isn’t worn or cracked and the door seals shut. Check that all the burners turn on and heat evenly. Use an oven thermometer to check that the oven heats to the right temperature. Older electric ovens will also usually cook hotter than the set temperature while cooking in an older gas oven will take longer.

If it’s an electric range, look at the wiring for signs of damage or overheating. Any of these can indicate a potential fire hazard. If your oven and cook-top are gas, look for signs of carbon monoxide leaks, including a flame that’s yellow instead of blue, soot buildup or unfamiliar smells or sounds. A typical range or oven will last about 18 to 20 years.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission warns that an older latch-type fridge or freezer can pose a danger to small children: kids can climb in and get stuck inside. The insulation and seals cut off oxygen and also muffle the child’s cries for help.

If you have an appliance that is more than 40 years old, or does not have appropriate safety features, consult the CPSC guidelines for child-proofing appliances that are in use, as well as those you are discarding.

A home inspector can estimate the age of the appliances in the house and assess their operation. Don’t rely solely on his or her assessments, however. Take it upon yourself to be thorough and know what you’re getting.

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