Buying a home often comes with surprises both good and bad — from meeting your awesome new neighbors to discovering unexpected issues throughout the home buying process.
For first time home-buyers who may have the most questions, a home inspection is an inexpensive way for all buyers to identify potential issues — and to avoid costly surprises. The inspection is an objective visual examination of the physical structure and systems of a house.
Here are some tips and considerations to guide you through successful home inspection and bring you one step closer to owning your dream home.
How to Prepare for Your Home Inspection
As you visit houses with your broker, make time after each visit to discuss issues he or she notices to get a sense of how “defects” come into play in the purchase contract. It is important that you flag these items for the home inspector.
For example, you may see that part of the ceiling or trim around a window was recently painted. This could be a sign of a past leak or water damage. Or, you may note that some of the doors don’t close properly or some windows are painted closed. These are items an inspector can shed light on.
The real work, however, is in the examination of the exterior features of the home (roof, sewer/water lines, and foundation) and the electrical, plumbing, and brickwork. These items tend to be the primary focus for the inspector. For the purposes of negotiation and remediation, identifying these issues requires a licensed inspector who is on your side.
How to Find a Home Inspector
Every home buyer should hire a state-licensed home inspector to inspect the major systems of a house — the structure, plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling equipment, windows, doors, kitchen appliances and more.
To find a home inspector, ask your real estate agent for recommendations, and tap your own network, too. Do you have any friends or relatives who have recently purchased a home and who had a good experience with their home inspector?
When interviewing home inspectors, look for one who knows the area in which the house is located, who has a good understanding of homes – single family, detached or condos/attached, how they are built, how well they have been maintained and what the biggest red flags look like.
As a home buyer, make sure that the inspector is willing to go above and beyond for you – literally! Don’t be surprised when the inspector sets up his ladder and heads to the roof. During most home inspections, the home inspector will climb the roof.
You know keeping the elements out of a house is critical, but did you know it can also be among the most expensive “fixes” if the roof needs to be replaced?? Your inspector will share insights and observations for what to expect.
Common Problems in a Home Inspection
Almost every home inspection will reveal minor issues that need to be addressed before you move forward to purchase the home.
Among the more common issues home inspectors find are issues with the electrical service, areas where water penetrates the house, faulty heat/cooling service, and even gas leaks. While some issues might be easy to remedy – such as replacing a few window screens – others may be more involved and costly.
One note: make sure you separate “defects” from “maintenance” items. Defects are systems that are not “performing the function for which they were designed.” That is language from the purchase contract and describes when a system requires replacement or repair.
These are fixes the seller will likely need to make, for you or the next buyer. However, it is also important to use your judgment and seek other opinions when reviewing your home inspection report. What might be a deal-breaker for one buyer could be an easy fix for another.
What to Take Seriously in a Home Inspection
At the completion of the inspection, the report should detail safety concerns, repairs that should be made soon, and repairs that may be needed in the upcoming years.
Some repairs can be expensive, such as:
- Replacing the roof
- Major foundation issues
- Electric wiring
- Plumbing — low water pressure or sewer problems
- Environmental issues (the presence of asbestos or Radon)
If any of these issues pop up during the course of your home inspection, be sure to consult with your real estate agent to determine next steps.
There are a handful of issues that some might consider a worst-case scenario, and which would lead you to consider backing out of a sale. Generally, these issues are:
- Repairs or replacements that would strain or extend your budget or desire to get involved with fixing them.
- Major issues (presence of asbestos, for example) that were not disclosed and the seller won’t address by fixing or giving a credit.
- A repair or work project in a condo building for which the association has no budget or plan to address. This can affect the future resale value of units in the building.
Home inspectors are tasked with creating objective reports about any potential issue they find in a house. Some inspectors will produce lengthy reports itemizing numerous minor issues. While these are important to address, the key is to identify the costliest problems so that as a buyer, you can either negotiate a credit or repair, or find a home that better suits your needs.
Once all is said and done, don’t let potential discovery of issues deter you from making an offer on the home of your dreams. As long as you keep a checklist of your top priorities when buying a home, and heed the findings of your home inspector, you’ll be able to make a fully informed decision to purchase that perfect property.