We’ve all heard the expression ‘let the buyer beware’, and no where is that more true than in the purchase of a home. Whether purchasing a brand new home in the suburbs, a downtown high-rise condo, or a 100 year-old lake side cottage, a home inspection by a trained professional will not only provide a clear picture of the condition of the property, but could save you thousands of dollars.
What is a Home Inspection?
A home inspection is a detailed examination of a residence and the immediate exterior area that identifies both health and safety concerns and system or structural problems that might require repair or replacement. The report is usually broken down into categories such as electrical, plumbing, roof, HVAC, foundation, etc. Within each category, the items inspected are identified and commented on by the inspector. So for instance, when examining a furnace, the inspector may note that it is only 10 years old and functioning properly, but he might also note that it should be serviced. He would then make the recommendation in his report that servicing take place.
It should be noted that most home inspectors are generalists, and often suggest further evaluation by a licensed contractor in a specialized area. Most home inspectors do not climb up on your roof to inspect every valley, nor do they test wells or attempt to explain cracked walls. Their job is to report any anomaly that might, in the worst case, be a symptom of a larger problem, such as water stains in the attic.
The length of time required to complete the inspection will vary according to the type of home, the size, and the age. These factors will also help determine the price. A 20 -30 year old, 2000 square ft. home with three bedrooms, two baths will probably take about 2.5 – 3 hours to inspect and condo inspections are generally completed in a shorter inspection period. If ordering a home inspection as a buyer it is recommended that you be present, along with your agent, so that the most important findings can be discussed with the inspector. It is also somewhat easier if the seller is not present and all rooms are accessible.
How to Choose a Home Inspector
Many home inspectors come from some type of background in the trades, or are licensed contractors. It is also desirable that they have specific training from an accredited inspection training program and are members of one of the professional inspection organizations. In Massachusetts licensing is required.
It is also a good idea to inquire about the format of the report itself. For any item that an inspector comments on, it is useful if there is an accompanying photo included in the report that specifically identifies the problem. Without a photo, you may be scratching your head a month from now asking, ”Which pipe is he referring to?” Hand written reports are becoming a thing of the past. A well organized report created through a computer generated software program that is saved as a pdf is the new industry standard. This is a report that is legible and can be easily saved for future reference or sent to the listing agent or a contractor for comments or quotes.
If you’re unsure about where to begin your search for an inspector, ask your agent for one or more recommendations.
What Does the Seller Have to Repair?
Unless you are purchasing a brand new home with a builder’s warranty, the answer is, not much. If you are purchasing with a VA or FHA loan, there may be some items that your lender will require to be in working order prior to close of escrow. That being said however, it isn’t always the responsibility of the seller to fix those items and repairs may be a matter of negotiation.
One thing to keep in mind when you first see the inspection report is that no home is perfect, especially a re-sale home, and over time the number of flaws generally increases. The inspection report is not a laundry list to hand to the seller with a request to repair everything. Rather it is a reference guide that provides a broad picture of the condition of your home and helps you prioritize repairs and improvements.
The process of determining what to ask the seller to repair should start with what you are paying for the home and how many repairs are necessary. If you are paying top dollar for the home you are in a better position to expect the seller to make repairs or cover the costs of repairs. On the other hand, if you got a steal of a deal on the home, or purchased a foreclosure or REO it is unlikely that repairs will be made or a credit provided.
Another thing to consider is whether or not you had knowledge of the needed repair prior to writing your offer. If it is obvious to even an untrained eye that the roof needs to be replaced that should have been taken into account when writing your offer and it is unlikely the seller will cover that cost. However, if as a result of the home inspection you discover that the entire HVAC system is inoperable, that is likely not something you knew prior to writing an offer. That would be an expensive repair and one that you might ask the seller to make, or provide as a credit.
Repairs are negotiable, but when asking for seller repairs or credits it is in everyone’s best interests to be reasonable. Ask for the big ticket repairs if appropriate and just figure that you’ll take care of the smaller items like a broken outlet cover or a torn window screen.
A home inspection is always important for even an experienced investor. Not everything is immediately apparent on a walk through. Think of it this way: A home inspection is rather like being able to fast forward in a marriage by five years and learn all about your spouse before the wedding day! Certainly not an opportunity to be missed.
As the days grow shorter, it’s easy to forget that your home needs a little TLC before winter comes calling. By taking care of essential upkeep and repairs now, you can avoid problems during winter!
Days are Shorter!
Because the sun sets earlier during the winter, you’ll be leaving your lights on for longer stretches of time. Prepare for the increased energy consumption by swapping your incandescent bulbs for LEDs . You’ll spend a bit more per bulb initially, but LED bulbs last longer and save energy
Time to Paint!
Thanks to cooler, more comfortable weather, fall is the perfect time to touch up your home’s exterior. Be sure not to ruin the renewed finish by using the wrong techniques. Select a high quality exterior paint with an acrylic base, and don’t choose a windy day for the job. If your house doesn’t need an entire paint job, consider touching up bare spots, splits, and board ends to protect them from winter weather.
By sealing the gaps around windows and between siding boards in the fall, you can lower your heating bill and eliminate uncomfortably cold drafts in the winter. But before you start patching the holes, remember to remove all existing caulk, because new caulk needs a clean surface to seal properly. Use a razor blade to cut away the old caulk, then wash the area with a good degreasing detergent. Let the spot dry completely before applying new caulk
Change Those Filters!
Not only do clean furnace filters improve air quality by removing allergens more effectively, they also maximize the operating efficiency of your heating system—and a well maintained heating system is a necessity during the winter. Most furnaces need a filter change every one or two months, but you may have to do it more often if you have a very dusty home or pets that shed. Replacing your own filter is relatively simple (with help from the furnace manual), but you can also hire an HVAC professional to clean the furnace, check for the presence of hazardous gases, make any necessary repairs, and replace the filter.
Winter can wreak havoc on a roof that’s seen better days, so it’s important to make repairs before the colder weather arrives, bringing with it the threat of ice dams and accumulations of snow that can cause structural damage. Many homeowners don’t realize, however, that reusing old roofing materials can sabotage repairs. Although recycling a gutter apron or flashing is a tempting way to save money, used materials (especially metal ones) won’t last as long and can increase the risk of weather damage to the roof. Spring for new materials now so you won’t have to face a worn out roof later
Clean That Chimney!
Creosote buildup in the flue of a wood burning fireplace can trigger a dangerous chimney fire. To ensure your safety as you snuggle next to toasty flames this winter, have your fireplace checked and cleaned by professionals. Chimney sweeps are always busiest in the fall, so be sure to schedule your cleaning early.
Check Those Batteries!
Protecting your family from dangerous fumes and fire hazards should always be a top priority. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic byproduct of the incomplete combustion of fuels, including natural gas, coal, and wood. It can’t be seen or smelled, so it’s essential that you keep your CO detector (as well as your smoke detectors) working well. To be certain that your detectors never run out of juice, change the batteries when you change your clocks, starting this fall when daylight saving time ends.
Get Rid Of Those Leaves!
Left to pile up in the gutter, decomposing leaves and debris can block downspouts and trap water. As temperatures drop and the water freezes, these blockages can lead to damage to the house as well as the gutter. To clean out your gutters in preparation for winter, wait until all the leaves have fallen from the trees, and pay special attention to safety. Always use a sturdy ladder and wear shoes with nonslip soles. The ladder should be tall enough so you don’t have to stand on the top rung or overreach, both of which increase the risk of falling. Recruit an assistant who can steady the bottom of the ladder and hand up tools.