All too often, it’s the shiny features that pull us into a home: granite countertops and gleaming new appliances in the kitchen. Oh, and a walk-in shower highlighting beautiful mosaic tiles in the master bathroom.
But don’t fall in love too fast.
There’s more to a house than what first meets the eye. You don’t want to be stuck living in a money pit when you thought you were buying something move-in ready.
But how are you supposed to know if a house has foundation problems? Or faulty wiring? Defective piping? What about hidden problems you haven’t even considered?
Two words: home inspection.
It’s imperative that you get the house inspected as soon as you sign the purchase agreement, no matter if you’re buying a fixer-upper or brand-new digs. (Before you sign the contract, make sure the final purchase is contingent on the inspection findings.)
Case in point: I actually bought my last property from a housing inspector. But I hired my own inspector anyway. My inspector verified that the house was in as good a condition as any he’s inspected. It was worth every penny to have that peace of mind — especially after having just sold a money-pit home myself.
How do you find a good inspector?
When you hire a housing inspector, you also need to ensure that the inspector isn’t cutting corners, signing off on a job not well done.
Bruce Ailion, an Atlanta real estate agent and attorney, says homebuyers should be able to get a good recommendation from their agent: “I always recommend three inspection companies and ask the buyer to interview and review each and make a choice.”
Ailion says you can also go through the American Society of Home Inspectors to find someone with “professional training and credentials.”
Go from being in the dark to in the know with this handy list — but don’t take this list as a reason to cut out the inspector to do it yourself. (You can’t exactly be objective when picturing yourself in that mosaic-tiled shower.)
- Heating and cooling
- Electrical systems
Keep in mind that home inspectors can offer you only “an opinion, and sometimes their opinion suggests you seek a professional opinion,” says Sian.
Along those lines, Brent Cumberford, a real estate investor and developer, says he prefers to hire “a licensed contractor to inspect the heating/cooling, electrical, foundation/structural, roof, and plumbing.”
It costs him more upfront, but he says this method has saved him money in the long run.
Heating and cooling: These systems have a limited life span, usually between 10 and 20 years — if they’ve been maintained well. Your home inspector should let you know whether there are problems or defects or whether the systems have exceeded their design life.
The roof: Leaky roofs cause water damage. Water damage causes mold. And mold is a serious health hazard. Make sure you get a roof report.
The foundation: Some of the worst problems you can face are in the foundation. If the house is sinking, there is probably water collecting near the foundation, there are cracks in exterior walls, windows that stick, and floors that sag — Houston, there’s a problem. And it’s probably an expensive one.
Make sure your inspector checks all those areas. The more grading you need to do from a bad foundation, the more it costs.
Plumbing: The inspector is mainly looking for leaks or signs that water has been dripping from pipes, such as corrosion and stains on the bottom of the cabinet. Warped floors are another indicator of problematic plumbing, as are stains on walls and ceilings.
Electrical: If there’s an electrical problem, there could be serious ramifications, so make sure the inspector checks the wiring.
Hint: Wires and cables hanging from boxes that scream DIY job are not what you want. But other problems might not be as obvious, which is the reason your home inspector should carefully check the electrical system.
It’s your decision
At the end of the day, the inspector shouldn’t tell you whether you should buy the house. A home inspector is like what a news reporter is supposed to be: objective and reporting just the facts.
Ultimately, you must decide whether the problems found with the house are deal breakers. Few homes yield a perfect inspection, but heed what Rob Jensen says: “A home inspection report can sometimes scare buyers into thinking the home is a lemon when it’s really not.”
One final tip from Rhonda Duffy, a real estate expert and consumer advocate:
“It can be useful for the buyer to hang out while the inspector performs the inspection. Often the inspector will point out little tidbits or maintenance tips that might not make it into the report.”