While a home inspection isn’t required for all buyers, this essential step in making a smart decision about your next home is highly recommended. An experienced, reputable home inspector can help you tell the difference between a home in perfect condition, one that needs some minor TLC, and one that you should avoid purchasing.
Standard Home Inspection Issues
Here are the important areas that your inspection should address:
Heating and cooling systems. Home inspectors often spend extra time on the heating and air conditioning systems because they are essential to the comfort of your home and are among the more expensive systems to fix. A new furnace can cost thousands of dollars. Your inspector will confirm during the inspection that the systems work and should provide you with an estimate of how old the parts are and when you might need to replace them.
Water heater and other appliances. Your inspector will check to be sure essential appliances are working properly; offer maintenance tips, and provide an estimate of when the appliances may need to be replaced. Most HVAC companies offer maintenance contracts that will provide yearly maintenance checkups. Also purchasing equipment breakdown coverage through your insurance company can cover electrical or mechanical breakdowns.
Structural Integrity. While you may be more focused on decorative elements of your home to be, an inspector will carefully check the structural elements of the home to ensure there are no expensive repairs in your future. Most houses “settle” and can have some minor cracking of walls, but larger ones can be indicative of a bigger problem.
Moisture and mildew. Water damage from any cause, especially if it causes structural weakness, can be dangerous. Your inspector should look for moisture everywhere, especially in the basement and crawl spaces. Mold can be a serious problem, so this should be a prime concern during your inspection. Water stains on ceilings should be investigated to find out if there are plumbing issues or a roof problem. Your inspector should also make sure that exhaust fans vent to the outside, because those that vent to the attic can cause mold. Gutters also need to be inspected to ensure they are clean and that water drains away from the house.
While some water issues are minor and may have already been addressed, it’s important for your inspector to assess the damage and perhaps request more information from the sellers.
Plumbing fixtures. Your inspector should test every faucet, toilet, and dishwasher to check for appropriate water pressure and leaks. Many plumbing issues are minor but, left untouched, they can add up to major water damage.
Electrical system. If you’re buying a newer home, your inspector should test the electrical panel, as well as hardwired smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to be certain everything works properly. Older homes may have electrical systems that are just as old. Faulty or failing electrical systems that are not able to handle modern demands can be a fire hazard.
Flooring. Your inspector should check flooring for signs of pests or water damage. Wood flooring is easiest to inspect for signs of termites and carpenter ants. Your inspector can also test for soft spots in subfloors. Replacing the system can cost thousands of dollars. Moldy or musty smells may indicate something wrong underneath the carpet or tile.
Don’t be afraid to ask your home inspector questions about anything you don’t understand or things you notice that could be problematic. Even a professional inspector can miss something. Plus, the inspector may be able to alleviate your worry about a tiny crack in a wall.
Special Home Inspection Issues
While the above inspections should be standard for all home purchases, you may want to hire a specialist if you have concerns about the following issues:
Roof. Not all home inspectors climb onto your roof. Some just observe the roof from ground level or from a ladder. If you’re worried about the roof, you may want to hire a roofing company to check it out thoroughly. Your regular inspector may notice missing or loose shingles— make sure to have those issues addressed, since they could indicate water damage inside the home. Roof repairs and roof replacements can get expensive; it’s wise to ask your real estate agent to find out when the roof was last replaced.
Septic system. Older homes and homes in more rural areas often have a septic system. If the ground is soft and wet, or if you are aware there’s a septic system, ask for a recent report from the owners or hire someone to make sure it’s functional. The report should show how long ago it was pumped and whether there have been any past issues that need correction.
Buried Oil Storage Tank. An abandoned and buried oil tank on the property that is leaking (or may leak in the future) can result in costly cleanup fees. You may want to request that the tank be removed by the seller prior to taking ownership of the property so you won’t be responsible if any problems arise in the process. If your inspector doesn’t see evidence of a buried oil tank outside but there appears to be evidence inside, ask for proper documentation from the seller showing removal of the tank.
Older home issues. Older homes may also need an inspection for lead paint and asbestos. Your real estate agent can help you determine if the homeowners have addressed these potential problems and have the paperwork to prove it. If not, you may need to hire specialists for one or more extra inspections.
Chimney. Your home inspector can look at the flashing around the chimney, but, if you plan to use your fireplace, you should hire a chimney inspector. Replacing or repairing a chimney can be expensive and, more importantly, you want to make sure the fireplace is safe to use.
Drainage issues around the house. Moisture issues can be caused by more than a roof or plumbing leak. Dampness could come from outside your house, particularly if the problem is in your basement. You may need a landscape specialist to check that the landscaping is sloping away from the house, particularly if the grounds are soft and moist. You could need to add a sump pump or make sure an existing sump pump is working to keep your lower level dry.
Large trees. While trees are beautiful, they also can cause damage if their roots are too big or the branches hang over the house. Roots can grow around drain pipes and cause leaks, impact underground cables, or grow under a foundation and cause cracks. A tree branch falling during a storm can injure people, crush cars, or damage your home. You may need an arborist to check out the trees and offer advice.
Keep in mind that homeowner’s insurance covers specific incidents that occur in a home, but not problems caused by normal wear-and-tear. Buying a house that’s been well-maintained and then continuing to maintain it can provide you with peace of mind — the kind that also comes with adequate insurance protection.