Apr 03, 2016
Before you sign on the dotted line to purchase a home, request an independent inspection by your choice of inspector. A pre-sale inspection means the seller must address the problems before the sale. When making your written offer, make the home purchase contingent on your approval of the independent home inspection report. That way, if the report uncovers negative items, you have choices:
- reduce your offer,
- require the seller pay for needed repairs,
- back out of the contract.
Don't simply accept the seller's inspection report. Also, don't use the inspector your realtor does as they have a vested interest. The right inspector is licensed, if the state or country offers licensing; a member of the national industry group, for example, in the US, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI); and a licensed contractor or retired contractor. Ensure the home inspection covers four main areas, at a minimum:
- the electrical system,
- the plumbing,
- the property's structural elements,
- the heating and cooling system.
Your independentinspection should include a comprehensive examination of the home's wiring, electrical panels, and presence of appropriate emergency warning systems, such as a smoke detector. Generally, these exams do not include inspection of renewable energy systems like geothermal, solar, or wind energy installations. At a minimum, your inspector should examine the:
- arc fault circuit interrupters,
- ground fault circuit interrupters,
- lighting fixtures, switches, and receptacles,
- main disconnects,
- overcurrent protection devices,
- service drop,
- service entrance conductors, raceways, and cables,
- service equipment,
- service grounding,
- service panels and sub-panels.
Your report should also describe the location of the main disconnect and sub-panels; the presence (or absence) of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms; the branch circuit wiring method(s); and the service's amperage rating. The home inspector probably won't test the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. That will be up to you. Ensure the seller immediately addresses electrical items in disrepair since these cause a fire hazard.
Plumbing and Drainage
The home inspector should also thoroughly check the plumbing including drainage systems. Important areas to check include the:
- faucets, fixtures, interior water supply, and distribution systems,
- interior drain, vent, and waste systems,
- hot water supply system and water heaters,
- chimneys and flues,
- fuel distribution and storage systems
- sewage lines, ejectors, sump pumps, and piping.
A proper report also describes the drain, vent, water, and waste piping materials; the water heater and related equipment and its energy source; the location of fuel and water shut-off valves; notes water stains or corrosion on shower or bath walls as these indicate leaks or moisture penetration; exterior drain holes in the home's walls. Negative items in this area may require the seller to fix something simple like to clear blocked drains, or something larger like leaks in the piping beneath the home.
With respect to the structural elements, that is the ceilings, walls, foundation, and roof, you can do a cursory inspection of the home when you visit it for the showing. Your inspector should also look at the same areas though to look for:
- sagging ceilings,
- damp or wet areas inside cabinets,
- mold or mildew inside cabinets,
- cracks in walls, both large and small,
- mold in bathrooms, kitchen or bedrooms,
- fine cracks in the internal wall plaster,
- straight external roof lines with no deflections,
- rust on the inside edges of roof gutters,
- unfettered drainage from the roof downpipes to the storm water drains,
- signs of past flooding from stormwater discharge.
Exterior water drainage systems like the roof gutters and downpipes should discharge water flow into soak wells or storm drains, not onto the ground in the yard. Ponding or recessed areas in the yard indicate flooding tendencies. This could indicate the need for soak well cleaning or a larger soak well.
Heating and Cooling System
The heating, cooling, and ventilation system, or HVAC is the final major inspection area. The inspector should examine:
- access panels and ensure they're readily opened,
- heating and cooling equipment,
- fuel-burning fireplaces and stoves (i.e. natural gas or propane),
- ventilation and exhaust systems, chimneys and flues,
- insulation and vapor retarders in unfinished spaces, such as the attic or basement,
- air distribution systems.
If it sounds daunting, don't let it. Hiring a well-recommended professional ensures you'll enter into your purchase fully educated about the health of the home. While an inspection costs between $200 to $500, that's a small investment when buying a home. More than 90 percent of home sales involve a home inspection which tells you how vital it is to the process. This tool can help you make an informed decision and ensure the seller makes needed repairs before you take possession.