What You Need to Know About Home Inspections

Today’s housing market is fast-paced and competitive, but even if you find the house of your dreams, it’s best not to jump for joy quite yet. Whether you’re purchasing a new-construction home or one that was built in 1950, you still need to have an inspection to make sure everything shakes out. Why is a home inspection so vital?

“A quality home inspection is the owner’s manual for your home. It helps you protect and forecast maintenance on your largest investment,” explains Patrick Foran, licensed Illinois home inspector at HomePro Services, Inc. “It also typically reveals areas for negotiation or budget awareness. Most deficiencies can be resolved; it’s just a matter of who and when they will be addressed.”

Get Dwell President Darryl Rose agrees: “A visual inspection of your home and property ensures that you understand any potential issues that could impact the value of your investment or any safety issues that could affect you and your family.”

So, how should both seller and buyer prepare for a home inspection?

Seller

According to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), “If you are planning to sell your home, a home inspection can give you the opportunity to make repairs that will put the house in better selling condition.” The seller should make sure that the house is clean and that there’s adequate room and access for a visual inspection, advises Patrick Casey, president of Home Buyers Protection Company. Mechanical systems should be cleaned and serviced and leaky faucets should be repaired.

The seller should also ensure that there’s a clear path to the electric panel, attic doors and mechanical equipment.

David Leopold of Pillar to Post Home Inspection recommends checking all rooms in the house for blown light bulbs, including in the attic, garage and furnace room so the inspector doesn’t waste time debating if a light fixture is broken or just needs a new bulb. The seller should not be present at the inspection and any pets should be removed or crated.

Buyer

According to ASHI, home inspection can identify problems in the making and suggest preventive measures that might help you avoid costly future repairs. Rose recommends having the buyer make sure all utilities are turned on and ensuring that there is access to all spaces in the house. Otherwise the inspection could be incomplete and the buyer would need to reschedule the inspection thus incurring additional costs.

As a buyer, what should you look for in a home inspector?

As the buyer, you hire the inspector. If you don’t want to use a referral from your real estate agent or a friend, you can refer to the websites of the two organizations that certify and train home inspectors: The National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI) and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).

“First and foremost, the home inspector needs to be licensed and insured within the state of the property being inspected,” says Foran. “The home inspector should also have experience in residential construction and building science; it’s important to know how a building is assembled. The inspection is a visual inspection, but any deficiencies found typically can be associated or connected to components not visible. For instance, a water stain on a ceiling could be caused for a multitude of reasons. Knowing how a home is assembled will usually expose a logical path; for example, is the roof above? A bathroom above?” 

Should the buyer attend the inspection? What should the buyer bring with them to the inspection?

It’s important that the buyer be present at the inspection to learn about the different components of the home. Understanding the layout of your new home and where certain utilities are is critical in case of an emergency. Foran has his clients join him at various times during the inspection to show and educate them about each floor and at major components (the electrical panel, furnace, water heater, etc.). Here, the inspector may point out things that are not part of inspection yet are evidence of possible issues or features you should know about when you move in.

“This is also the time where the buyer will find out where all the home systems are located including important emergency items like the fuse box, water shut-off and gas shut-off,” says Rose. “You will learn a lot about your home over the course of just a few hours so bring a flashlight (I like headlamps because they keep your hands free to take pictures or make notes), a tape measure, and something to write on.”

The inspection takes an average of two to four hours based on the size of the house. As the buyer, don’t be shy about asking your share of questions.

What constitutes a red flag in an inspection? What kinds of factors may come up that make the buyer reconsider the house?

“Beyond improper building or safety violations, we have seen many buyers reconsider if there is a mold issue in the house,” explains Rose. “While these issues can almost always be remediated, sometimes the fear of mold or the cost associated with it gives the buyer second thoughts.” 

Foran believes that family safety is the first and foremost guiding factor. Here are his 10 most important components of a home inspection.

1. Water Drainage and Disbursement

Rainwater is your home’s biggest enemy. A professional needs to inspect the control and disbursement of water, whether it’s the roof, gutters, or drain tile. Rainwater needs to be controlled and directed properly.

2. HVAC System

A standard home inspector will confirm that a home’s heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system (HVAC) is functional at the time of inspection, but will make no guarantee that it will keep working once you purchase the home. They should, however, be able to tell you the age of your home air system equipment.

3. Substandard Home Improvements

Many home improvements and maintenance projects can be completed by a “handyperson,” however some projects should be addressed by professionals. The quality of the work shows and will be evident to the inspector.

4. Electricity System

All electrical issues should be addressed for safety. Knob and tube wiring, usually found in homes built from about 1880 to the 1930s, should be recognized and noted, as should Federal Pacific Electric panels.

5. Foundation/Structural

As a buyer, you’ll want to make sure the house’s foundation is sound. Foundation issues can be extremely costly.

6. Noxious Gases

Radon is colorless, odorless and tasteless. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends all homes be tested for the presence of radon. This is typically an additional cost but worth the peace of mind.

7. Asbestos

Asbestos was used as insulation in construction for a long time, but is hazardous to human health.

8. Lead Paint

Lead paint is mostly an issue on trim and windows in older homes.

9. Waste Systems

Sewer pipes can be damaged by tree roots or separation of pipes; it’s typically an additional cost but sending a camera down the line will expose any problems.

10. Oil Tanks

If you’re buying a house that is heated using oil and you intend to keep it that way, this might not be a big deal. But if the house is heated with gas, it is important to find out if there is an old oil tank on the property. Certain municipalities might require that it be removed. If one is present, you’ll need to determine its status and make sure it has not leaked into the ground. Cleaning up a leakage can be expensive.


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