What Is A Home Inspection?
A home inspection is a thorough and systematic evaluation of the condition of a residential property. It is a complete physical exam of the general integrity, functionality, and overall safety of a home and its various components. The purpose of this process is to ensure that home buyers know exactly what is being purchased, prior to completing the transaction.
During the home inspection, the inspector will evaluate the foundation, framing, roofing, site drainage, attic, plumbing, heating, electrical system, fireplaces, chimneys, pavement, fences, stairs, decks, patios, doors, windows, walls, ceilings, floors, built-in appliances, and numerous other fixtures and components.
In all homes, even brand new ones, some building defects will be discovered during the inspection. All pertinent findings will be detailed in a written report for the buyer’s reference and review, and the inspector will make a complete verbal presentation of these conditions for those who attend the inspection.
This information enables a home buyer to make educated decisions about a home purchase: whether to complete the transaction, whether to ask the seller to make repairs, or whether to buy the property as is. Buyers can also determine how much repair and renovation will be needed after taking possession, which problems are of major concern, which ones are minor, and what conditions compromise the safety of the premises.
A thorough inspection enables a home buyer to avoid costly surprises after the closing. It is an indispensable component of a well-planned purchase.
How To Choose A Home Inspector
Home inspectors are not created equal. As with any profession, some inspectors outshine others. To aid in choosing a qualified home inspector, interview each prospect, using the following criteria:
1) Professional Affiliation: The home inspector standards are those enacted by professional associations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI). Membership requires adherence to strict standards of practice and participation in ongoing education. Make sure the home inspector is a member of one of these associations.
2) Inspection Experience: Home inspectors are often perceived as general contractors who happen to inspect homes. This view underlies an essential misunderstanding of the home inspection process. Although building knowledge is essential to a home inspector, construction itself has little or no relation to the skills of forensic investigation. A home inspector is primarily a property detective – someone who observes and ascertains defects. The average apprenticeship for a home inspector is approximately 500 homes.
3) Errors & Omissions Insurance: A critical aspect of professional accountability is insurance for a faulty inspection. Undiscovered defects can range from minor maintenance problems to structural failure; from leaking faucets to major fire hazards. Inspectors who take their business seriously carry insurance for these untimely mistakes. Note: There are two types of E&O insurance. The best of these is a ‘per occurrence’ policy, because coverage remains in effect, even after the inspector goes out of business. The other type is called ‘claims made.’ This can be effective on the date of inspection but can possibly be invalid when it’s time to file a claim.
4) Building Code Certification: The primary focus of a home inspection is not code compliance. Nevertheless, property defects often have their basis in code-related standards. To ensure inspector competence in this area of knowledge, seek someone with knowledge of local town codes.
5) Ask for a Sample Report: The proof is in the product: So request a copy of a previous report. The best format should be not only detailed and comprehensive, but easily interpreted, making a clear distinction of defective building condition. Some reports are so encumbered with maintenance recommendations and liability disclaimers, that pertinent information about the property is obscured. A quality report lets defect disclosure stand out distinctly, in contrast with less pertinent data.
6) Let the Choice Be Yours: When choosing a home inspector, don’t rely on others. The final selection should be your own. You want a meticulous, detailed inspector — the one who will save you from costly surprises after the closing.
7) Avoid Price Shopping: Inspection fees vary widely. The price of a quality inspection is typically between $300 and $500 for an average size home. Lower fees should be regarded with suspicion, as they often identify those who are new to the business or who spend insufficient time performing the inspection. A home is the most expensive commodity you are likely to purchase in a lifetime. One defect missed by your inspector could cost 100 times what you save with a bargain inspection.
What’s The Big Deal About Home Inspection?
Why does my Real Estate Agent harp on getting a home inspection? Do you think this is a needless expense? Think again.
Every home, regardless of age or quality, harbors a small, medium, or large list of defective conditions. Some are obvious, while others are only apparent to those who know how and where to look. When you hire an experienced, qualified home inspector, there is no question as to whether unknown defects will be found; but rather what, where, and how serious, dangerous, or expensive the defects will turn out to be.
Most homebuyers spend fifteen minutes to an hour walking through a home prior to making an offer. At best, this provides a general impression of the overall physical condition. What about the foundation, structural framing, insulation, ventilation, and roof conditions? These are just a few of the hundreds of considerations included in a home inspection.
Above all, let’s not forget building safety. An inspector can alert you to red flag issues involving the electrical wiring and fixtures, fireplaces and chimneys, gas/oil furnaces, water heaters, cook tops, and ovens, railings at staircases and decks, tempered safety glass in required locations, and automatic reverse of garage door openers.
Furthermore, an inspector can forewarn you of problems involving faulty ground drainage, defective plumbing, substandard construction, firewall compliance, building settlement, leakage, general deterioration, inoperative fixtures, and so much more.
Clearly, your agent understands this process and the importance of equipping you to make an informed purchase decision. Be thankful that your agent is working to protect your financial interests. With a detailed home inspection, you will know what you are buying, before you buy it. And that could save you thousands of dollars and years of regret.
Do New Homes Need Inspection?
The belief that a new home is flawless, simply because it is new, is an unfortunate piece of popular mythology. Since when is a brand new product exempt from possible defects? We often hear of new cars recalled by Toyota. As for new homes, anyone who has worked on new construction knows that contractors and trades people are human and are prone to occasional errors and oversights.
Even when the builder warrantees the work for up to six years, such guaranties are of no benefit unless inherent defects are discovered. Unfortunately, many types of building problems and safety violations do not become apparent for many years. A faulty wiring condition might not be revealed until it damages your computer or causes a fire. Other defects might only be discovered when you finally resell the property, and the buyer decides to hire a home inspector.
The best advice is to take nothing for granted. The cost of an inspection is incidental when compared to the price of a new home. Better to discover a problem now than after closing.
Inspection Report – Not A Repair List For Seller
The inspector did a thorough job and disclosed some problems with the home. There is a common misunderstanding about the purpose of a home inspection. People often view an inspection report as a mandatory repair list for the seller. The fact is sellers are not required to produce a flawless house. They have no such obligation by law or by contract.
With a termite report, requirements are different: Real estate contracts usually obligate a seller to repair conditions discovered by the termite inspector. This includes instances of active infestation of termites/carpenter ants, fungus and dry rot. Also, repairs to damaged wood are usually required to be corrected in a real estate contract.
With a home inspection, some repairs are subject to negotiation between the parties of a sale. Typically, buyers will request that various conditions be repaired before closing, and sellers will usually acquiesce to some of these demands. But with most building defects, sellers make repairs as a matter of choice, not obligation; to foster good will or to facilitate consummation of the sale. There are, of course, those few rigid sellers who will flatly refuse to fix anything, even at the risk of losing the sale. Fortunately, this response is the exception, rather than the rule.
Sellers maintain the legal right to refuse repair demands, except where requirements are set forth by state law, local ordinance, or the real estate purchase contract. Contracts usually stipulate that plumbing, heating and electric is to be in working order and the roof to be free of leaks. Before you make any demands of the seller, evaluate the situation. Did you get a good deal on the home? You might not want to rock the boat. If the contract specifies an “as is” sale, the sellers may refuse to make repairs of any kind or to adjust the price in any way.
The purpose of a home inspection is not to corner the seller with a repair list. The primary objective is to know what you are buying before you buy it. All homes have defects; it’s not possible to acquire one that is perfect. What you want is a working knowledge of significant defects before you sign a contract.
Should You Negotiate After A Home Inspection?
When you get the inspection report, what are your options?
1) You sign the contract without asking for repairs
2) Ask the sellers to make repairs
3) Ask the sellers to reduce the sales price
4) Decline to purchase the property
If you request repairs or a price adjustment based upon the home inspection report, the sellers also have choices. What are the seller’s options?
1) Agree to all of your requests
2) Agree to some of your requests
3) Agree to none of your requests
4) Decline to sell you the property
Ultimately, the decision is yours. You can speak with your attorney or if you are working with a buyer’s broker, you could ask their advice. The sellers’ only obligation is to address defects that are named in the purchase contact or required by state and local laws.
Home Inspection Limited To What Is Visible
ASHI (The American Society of Home Inspectors) has established accepted standards of practice and codes of ethics, which define the general scope of a home inspection. These guidelines have come to be the acknowledged standards by which qualified home inspectors perform their services.
According to these criteria, a home inspection is limited to conditions that are visually discernible. Specifically excluded from an inspection are conditions which are concealed from view, such as items contained within walls, ceilings, and floors, or which are buried beneath the ground. According to ASHI standards, inspectors are not required to perform dismantling of construction or excavation of ground surfaces to discover conditions that are not normally visible.
For clarification of the standards by which your inspector performed his services, I recommend that you review the inspection report. Most inspectors are careful to define the scope and limitations of their inspections. These parameters are generally outlined in either the contract or the report or both. Nearly all home inspection contracts clearly specify that concealed items are outside the scope of the inspection. Additionally, most inspection reports specifically identify ASHI standards as the basis upon which the inspection is to be performed.
Most Common Defects Found During a Home Inspection
Construction defects and safety violations are surprisingly common, but the majority of home inspection findings tend to be routine in nature. Some, in fact, rear their unsightly heads as often as the sun rises; not just in older homes, but often in brand new ones, even before the smell of new paint has waned. The following, therefore, is a list of common defects likely to appear in a typical home inspection report:
Problems with roofing material, either due to aging and wear or to improper installation, are likely to be found in a majority of homes. This does not mean that most roofs are in need of replacement, but rather that most are in need of some type of maintenance or repair.
The problem here is that you often can’t tell if the roof still leaks, unless it is inspected on a rainy day. Some stains are merely the residual effects of plumbing or roofing leaks that have been repaired.
Water intrusion into basements or crawl spaces due to ground water conditions can be pervasive, difficult to resolve, and often very damaging and can cause mold. Correction can be as simple as regrading the exterior grounds or adding roof gutters and leaders.
Electrical Safety Hazards:
Examples are ungrounded outlets, lack of shock prevention devices or ground fault interrupters (GFI), faulty wiring conditions in electrical panels or elsewhere in the home. Such problems may be the result of errors at the time of construction, but very often they are due to wiring that was added or altered by persons other than qualified electricians.
Rotted wood at building exteriors and at various plumbing fixtures: In places where wood stays wet for long periods, such as roof eaves, exterior trim, decks, around tubs and showers, or below loose toilets, fungus infection is very likely to occur, resulting in a condition commonly known as dry rot. If left unchecked, damage can become quite extensive.
Building Violations Where Additions and Alterations Were Constructed without Permits:
Homeowners will often tell a home inspector, “We added the room without a permit, but it was all done to code.” This statement is a red flag to most home inspectors, because no one could possibly know the entire building code.
Unsafe Fireplace and Chimney Conditions:
These can range from lack of maintenance, such as neglecting to hire a chimney sweep and the lack of spark arrestors to the substandard placement of wood-burning stoves. The most common violations in these cases involve insufficient clearance between hot metal surfaces and combustible materials within the home.
Faulty Installation of Water Heaters:
In most localities, less than 5% of all water heaters are installed in full compliance with plumbing code requirements. Violations can include improperly installed overflow piping, unsafe flue conditions, or faulty gas piping. It should also be remembered that today’s water heaters are designed with a shorter lifespan. In fact, leaks can develop in units that are only five years old.
Hazardous Conditions Involving Gas/Oil Furnaces:
Most Furnaces are in need of some maintenance, if only the changing of a filter or a tune-up. In some cases, however, furnaces contain life-threatening defects that can remain undiscovered until too late. These can range from fire safety violations to the venting of carbon monoxide into the home. A cracked firebox, for example, can remain undiscovered unless found by an expert or until tragic consequences occur.
Firewall Violations In Garages:
Special fire-resistive construction is required for walls and doors that separate a garage from a dwelling. Violations are common, either due to faulty construction, damage or alterations to the garage interior, or changes in code requirements since the home was built.
Minor plumbing defects:
Loose toilets, dripping faucets, slow and leaking drains are very common.
Failed seals around windows:
This condition is routinely found at dual pane windows, resulting in fogging. This is most common with windows manufactured during the 1980’s.
An unabridged list of likely home inspection findings would probably fill a few volumes. For home buyers, this underscores the importance of a thorough evaluation prior to contract. This is why your agent will strongly advise you to obtain a Home Inspection.
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