Getting Through the Home Inspection
Home Selling Advice
Nearly all home buyers hire a professional home inspector to take a close look at their new house before closing. You can speed things along by analyzing the condition of your home and making necessary repairs now, before the house is under contract.
Whole-home inspections cover numerous systems within the house, but there are a handful of hot-spots that seem to worry buyers the most:
Mold & Mildew
Mildew stains and odors scare buyers, especially now that toxic black mold is such a hot topic, and chances are you won’t even get an acceptable offer if mold and mildew are present. Even if the mold in your house is the normal variety kill it and fix the source of the problem.
Damp Basements and Crawlspaces
Mildew odors signal that a basement is too moist. Buyers and home inspectors will look closely at the walls and floors for patches of mildew and signs of dampness. The inspector might use a meter to determine how much moisture is present in these spaces, because moisture deteriorates building materials and attracts insects.
Cover exposed earth in basements and crawl spaces with plastic to help keep moisture levels down.
Most foundation “leaks” we see are a result of poor drainage that funnels water towards the foundation.
- Make sure gutters are clean so that rainwater flows toward downspouts instead of spilling over gutter sides along the foundation.
- Point drainage downspouts away from the house.
- Check water flow through buried drainage lines by flooding them with water from a hose. If water comes back towards you the line is plugged and should be cleared.
If foundation problems do exist, and you cannot make repairs, you might need to lower the price of the house upfront, with the understanding that the price reflects the problem. Another option is to give the buyers an allowance to make repairs after closing.
Roofs and Chimneys
Deteriorated shingles or other roof coverings are one of the first things home buyers and home inspectors notice. If the elements underneath the shingles are moist or rotted, you can bet repairs will be requested.
Make sure flashing around the base of the chimney is watertight, and that mortar and bricks are in good condition.
Inspect the fireplace to make sure it is functioning properly.
Fix leaks long before the home inspection takes place. The inspector will check water pressure by turning on multiple faucets and flushing toilets at the same time. The inspector will also run the dishwasher.
The home inspector might check the septic system. One method uses dyes that are flushed down a stool. The inspector waits to see if the dye surfaces on top of the septic drainfield, which would indicate a drainage problem.
Inadequate or Inferior Electrical Systems
The electrical panel and circuit breaker configuration should be adequate for the needs of the house.
The inspector will look for receptacles with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFI) in bathrooms and kitchens. These receptacles contain mini circuit breakers that click off during a short circuit or overload. The home inspector will likely make sure the receptacles are what they appear to be, and not “dummies” that aren’t wired correctly.
The inspector will test a portion of the remaining receptacles in the house.
Other Important Home Inspection Checks
- The home inspector will check the heating and cooling systems, making sure they work and commenting about their efficiency.
- The home inspector will take a close look at the structure and foundation.
- The home inspector will check appliances that remain with the house, including smoke detectors.
Before the Home Inspection
Do everything you can to get the house in good condition before you attempt to sell it, but don’t be discouraged if the inspection report contains a few negative statements. Home inspectors make note of everything they see.Remember that the home inspection report is not a wish-list for buyers. Read your contract carefully–it dictates which systems should be in good working order at closing. If the roof is older, but doesn’t leak, it’s in good working condition. The same is true for older appliances.
Your contract may also state that you are under no obligation to make any repairs at all–although the buyers can then likely withdraw from the contract. Don’t feel you must comply with unreasonable demands for repairs. While it’s a given that anyone buying a home should have it inspected by a pro, it pays to keep a keen eye out for potential problems yourself, even before the contract is signed. From a distance: Start with a side-of-the-road inspection. Look at how the house is sited. If the land slopes toward the house, is there adequate drainage? Check for straight roof lines and a roof in good shape, without odd-looking dips, bumps, or bubbles.
Up close: Examine the house’s exterior. If the siding and trim are painted, is there any bubbling or major peeling? Does the earth around the house come in contact with siding or trim details? Assess the condition of windows and doors. Are the storm windows intact, with all the screens and glass panels in place? Do exterior doors close flush, without difficulty? Are thresholds loose or damaged?
Inside the house: Check the ceilings and walls for signs of water damage, such as stains or evidence of mold. Is there loose plaster or peeling paint? Do stairs feel sturdy underfoot? Are woodwork or moldings splintered or damaged?
Potential problems aren’t necessarily a reason not to buy the home you want, but they should certainly affect the price you’ll pay. Uncovering a flaw might help you negotiate the sales price down. Even if it doesn’t, if you know in advance that you have an expensive repair job coming up you’re less likely to overextend yourself on the sales price.
Home Inspection Guide
No matter how fully the seller discloses, there are many things the seller themselves may not be aware of. So disclosure forms are never a substitute for a due diligence inspection.
And just because you’re buying a newly built home doesn’t mean it will be perfect. You should still have your own professional home inspection performed. Be sure to clarify with the builder how defects will be corrected and who will pay for correction or repair.
How to Word the Requirement
Next to financing, the home inspection is probably the most important contingency in your purchase contract. No matter what the housing market is like in your area, most experts would strongly urge you not to waive the home inspection contingency.
Wording of the inspection contingency varies by state, so be clear what you wish to have happen and what is written in the contract before you sign it. The contract should specify, for example, whether you or the seller will pay for the inspection; cost varies, but is usually in the $200 to $400 range.
You will also want to spell out what will happen if the inspector finds problems that were not previously disclosed by the seller. For example, the clause might stipulate that you can decide which defects you want the seller to correct, or to renegotiate the price based on the estimated costs of such repairs. The inspection clause may also be written to let you cancel the offer outright, without letting the seller try to correct or repair the problems.
Bear in mind that the seller doesn’t have to make every repair and, in fact, may refuse to make any. If both parties want the sale to go through, however, it is in both your interests to discuss and negotiate how defects will be repaired and who will pay for them.
Finding a Good Inspector
Not every state has a certification program for the home inspection industry and requirements for certification vary widely. (The American Society of Home Inspectors offers a search to find ASHI certified inspectors in your area.)
Even if you live somewhere that certifies inspectors, finding a good one is often a matter of word of mouth. Most real estate agents will be able to recommend several (get at least three names), and you can also ask friends who had an inspection done recently.
What to look for when choosing a home inspector: Experience is key. Inspectors learn something new on each job, so the longer they’ve been in business the better. Ask how many inspections do they do annually. Are they ASHI certified?
You should also try to find an inspector with a background in general contracting rather than a specialist in electrical or plumbing; he or she will be better able to inspect all areas of the home. But beware of contractors who do inspections “on the side.”
Find out what sort of report the inspector issues. You want an inspector who can explain things clearly and answer your questions as you walk around with him (and you do want to accompany the inspector on his or her rounds). But you also want one who provides a written report that gives you a clear description of the condition of each item or component (not just “good, fair, or poor”) and makes a recommendation about repairing anything seriously deficient.
Ask how long the inspection will take (2 to 4 hours, depending on the size of the house) and what will be included.
- Find out if the inspector has Errors and Omissions Insurance, which will offer some protection if the inspector misses something significant.
What Will Be Inspected
You may need several types of inspections. The most common is the professional home inspection, followed by a termite or pest inspection. If the seller’s disclosure revealed an abandoned septic tank or other potential hazard, you’ll want a specialized inspection of that as well. And be sure the inspector tests for radon.
Other Basic Tests
At minimum, a competent professional home inspector will look at the following:
- Foundation: Is it structurally sound? Are there cracks or other evidence of shifting or moisture problems?
- General construction: What is the quality of the home’s overall construction?
- Exterior: Does the house need exterior repairs or maintenance?
- Plumbing: What is the condition of the overall plumbing system? Are there signs of leaks or water pressure problems?
- Electrical: Do any dangerous electrical situations or apparent code violations exist?
- Heating and cooling systems: How old are the systems? Have they been properly maintained and are they adequate for the size of the house?
- Interior: Are floors firm and level or squeaky and slanted? Do doors and windows open and close properly? Are locks in working order?
- Kitchen: Do appliances function properly? Is the plumbing, including the dishwasher connection, in good repair (no leaks around faucets or under the sink)?
- Baths: Is there any evidence of previous or current water leaks? Is the floor solid? Is the plumbing in good repair (no badly chipped enamel, for example)?
- Attached structures: What is the condition of any attached structure, such as decks, garages, and sheds?
- Roof: When was the roof last replaced? What is its condition and its estimated remaining life? What is the condition of the roofing structure as well as the shingles?
What a Home Inspection Should Cover
Home inspections will vary depending on the type of property you are purchasing. A large historic home, for example, will require a more specialized inspection than a small condominium. However, the following are the basic elements that a home inspector will check. You can also use this list to help you evaluate properties you might purchase. For more information, try the virtual home inspection at www.ASHI.org, the Web site of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Structure: A home’s skeleton impacts how the property stands up to weather, gravity, and the earth. Structural components, including the foundation and the framing, should be inspected. Exterior: The inspector should look at sidewalks, driveways, steps, windows, and doors. A home’s siding, trim, and surface drainage also are part of an exterior inspection.
- Doors and windows
- Siding (brick, stone, stucco, vinyl, wood, etc.)
- Attached porches, decks, and balconies
Roofing: A well-maintained roof protects you from rain, snow, and other forces of nature. Take note of the roof’s age, conditions of flashing, roof draining systems (pooling water), buckled shingles, loose gutters and downspouts, skylight, and chimneys. Plumbing: Thoroughly examine the water supply and drainage systems, water heating equipment, and fuel storage systems. Drainage pumps and sump pumps also fall under this category. Poor water pressure, banging pipes, rust spots, or corrosion can indicate problems. Electrical: Safe electrical wiring is essential. Look for the condition of service entrance wires, service panels, breakers and fuses, and disconnects. Also take note of the number of outlets in each room. Heating: The home’s heating system, vent system, flues, and chimneys should be inspected. Look for age of water heater, whether the size is adequate for the house, speed of recovery, and energy rating. Air Conditioning: Your inspector should describe your home cooling system, its energy source, and inspect the central and through-wall cooling equipment. Consider the age and energy rating of the system. Interiors: An inspection of the inside of the home can reveal plumbing leaks, insect damage, rot, construction defects, and other issues. An inspector should take a close look at:
- Walls, ceilings and floors
- Steps, stairways, and railings
- Countertops and cabinets
- Garage doors and garage door systems
Ventilation/insulation: To prevent energy loss, check for adequate insulation and ventilation in the attic and in unfinished areas such as crawlspaces. Also look for proper, secured insulation in walls. Insulation should be appropriate for the climate. Excess moisture in the home can lead to mold and water damage. Fireplaces: They’re charming, but they could be dangerous if not properly installed. Inspectors should examine the system, including the vent and flue, and describe solid fuel burning appliances
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