Home Inspections Are Critical
What is a home inspection?
It is a detailed assessment of the physical structure and systems of a house, from the foundation to the roof. The inspection should be completed by a licensed home inspector, an experienced home builder, or engineer. The inspection should be done when power, gas and water systems are turned on, with all areas of the home being unobstructed. Obtain a detailed inspection report in writing.
Key components of inspection
Heating system, central air conditioning system, interior plumbing (kitchen and bathrooms), electrical panel, visible wiring, electric outlets & switches, water heater, appliances included in sale, roof structure and covering, attic area (truss & insulation), walls, ceilings, floors, windows, siding, foundation, basement, attached porches or decks, driveway and sidewalk.
Routine inspections and home projects
Homeowners should schedule a maintenance inspection every three to five years to identify problems before they become costly repairs. An inspection is also recommended when you’re considering a major remodeling, renovation, or home expansion project. Your inspector may provide insight regarding potential issues or challenges you could face in making major changes to the existing structure.
Be aware of settling cracks or sink hole areas
Settlement areas or sink holes can threaten your home. Be aware of cracks on exterior walls, inside along windows or doors, or cracks in floor tiles and concrete areas, including sidewalks and driveways. If your floor begins to slope or becomes uneven, if you see deep depressions in your yard, or if you hear unusual noises under your home, you may have a serious issue. Contact a professional to investigate.
Inspecting for mold and moisture
Ask your inspector to look for signs of serious mold issues when inspecting your home. Minor mold problems can be resolved by dealing with moisture levels, or water leaks in your home that cause mold. A home that is closed up for an extended period of time without AC or proper ventilation will often have mold issues. Do some research. Understand the issues and remedies. This EPA link may be helpful. www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-08/documents/moldguide.pdf
Getting Your Home Inspected
Don't ignore this step before you buy
You've agreed on a price and removed contingencies, but have you had your home inspected? If not, it’s time to call in the home inspector equivalent of Sherlock Holmes, a trained residential sleuth who will check out what’s visible as well as what’s lurking below the floors and behind the walls. This person will also provide a detailed report about the condition of the home's inside and outside.
The catch is that you have to ask to have an inspection; it's not an automatic part of the home buying process. But it’s better to be safe than sorry and end up with a purchase that can become a monetary sink hole of repairs and improvements just to keep your new home healthy, functional and from falling apart.
Most good real estate professionals will suggest that you get an inspection. However, make your choice of which inspector to hire rather than accept a suggestion from your salesperson. There could be a conflict of interest. While sales pros may have good recommendations, they may be more invested in getting the house sold and earn a commission. Sounds cynical, but it has happened.
Instead, ask friends and family, your lender, a financial advisor in your area who may know resources, and also go online to the two national organizations that certify members: the National Association of Home Inspectors and the American Society of Home Inspectors. Both post member lists by zip code.
Only about half the country's states require an inspector to have a license. You also should know that an inspector's training varies greatly, from on-the-job to belonging to a national organization and meeting its training and standards requirements. Some go a step beyond and have an engineering background. So, ask since it can make a big difference in how thorough that person is.
Prices vary widely, too. Bob McDonough, an ASHI certified inspector and owner of Atlanta-based National Property Inspections, says he charges by the size of a home, its age, and type of foundation since a crawl space will require more time to go into and search than a traditional lower-level basement. Certain features may add on extra costs such as a lawn sprinkler system, radon and termite testing, air quality and mold checks. If you're considering a new home that should be in tip-top condition, you may be charged less, as McDonough does. But his average cost runs $450 and lasts about 2 1/2 hours, he says. So, here, too, ask in advance.
When the inspector comes to your possible future home, shadow every step of the way rather than simply wait in the wings. It’s also a good opportunity to ask questions and to learn where everything is and how it functions. The list of what should be looked at is long, but seeing with your own eyes is helpful. On most checklists are the foundation, doors and windows, roof and siding, plumbing and electrical systems, heating and air-conditioning systems, ceilings, walls, floors, insulation, ventilation, septic tank, well, or sewer lines, and common areas if your home-to-be is in a condominium or cooperative multi-family dwelling.
Your inspector should be diligent about tell-tale signs of a problem such as dark areas, damp spots, and chewed members that suggest TERMITES! You'll also want to know what kind of remaining life your appliances and equipment have since if a furnace is about to conk out, it's smart to know that.
Qualified inspectors won't just verbalize results or give a brief check list, but will write up a detailed report with suggestions regarding what needs to be remediated and why. They should also set aside time to sit and go over the report and answer questions. You may be able to get the price of the house lowered or have the seller pick up the cost on certain key repairs such as that about-to-die furnace or decaying framework in the basement.
With certain houses such as very old ones where it can be harder to detect problems behind walls and floorboards as well as structural soundness, you may want to hire extra eyes—perhaps, a general contractor or structural engineer, or both. They can detect problems and also estimate repair costs.
If your home inspector finds certain problems, you may want to hire specialists such as a roofing or HVAC contractor. Yes, this extra due diligence may add to your costs on the front end, but you will have a clearer idea of what your homeownership will entail--and cost. And just in case the inspector misses a major visible defect after you’ve moved into your home, know that many carry errors-and-omissions insurance.
Having an inspection is not just for buyers. Sellers, too, can benefit. If you get an inspection even before you call in a real estate salesperson, you have a better idea of what needs to be repaired before you find out you must do so to sell your house. These days buyers tend to be much more finicky.
Yet, too few homeowners take this initiative, McDonough says. "Most never go into a crawl space, except to change filters in a furnace, for example. But an inspection in advance can help you sell your house quicker, easier, and for more money." That trifecta is a great incentive!
Share with us any home inspection tips.
Barbara Ballinger is a professional writer, author, blogger and speaker who has long focused on real estate, design, and personal finance. She has co-authored many books, including Successful Homebuilding and Remodeling, The Kitchen Bible: Designing the perfect culinary space, and The Garden Bible: Designing the perfect outdoor space. She regularly contributes to the National Association of Realtors® Website and magazine.
Margaret Crane is a nationally known freelance writer, blogger and journalist who has co-authored with Barbara Ballinger several books and articles on real estate, design and family business. Her byline has appeared in Realtor® magazine. With more than a half-dozen titles to her credit, Margaret’s latest design book is The Kitchen Bible: Designing the perfect culinary space.