An inspection is standard operating procedure when it comes to buying and selling a home. And while a home inspector’s final report provides valuable information, does it give you an accurate picture of a home’s well-being? Maybe. But there are some potential gaps in a typical home inspection, and some of them could prove costly if existing issues are overlooked.
Whether you’re buying or selling, double-checking for potential problems known to slip through the cracks in a typical home inspection could save you money in closing. Read on to find out how to get the additional information for special inspections that you’ll need to help spot issues before you close (which could protect you from costly repairs and replacements).
Since home inspectors are not legally required to perform a physical inspection of the roof, their limited visual inspection could leave out substantial issues. Not surprisingly, according to the National Roof Certification and Inspection Association (NRCIA), roof problems are responsible for 39% of homeowners insurance claims.
If you read your home inspection report carefully, you might spot a disclaimer about the status of the roof and a recommendation for an additional inspection (which should be completed by a certified roof inspector). Inspectors who are licensed with the NRCIA may also issue a roof certification guaranteeing the life and quality of the roof. While this service may cost a few hundred dollars, requesting that the seller address any issues with the roof before closing could make it well worth the cost.
Problems with a home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC) can also be easily overlooked during a home inspection. While an inspector should confirm the unit is functional at the time of inspection, they will make no guarantee that it will keep working once you purchase the home. An HVAC specialist, however, will not only give a status of the unit but also will certify the findings of their inspection. If the HVAC unit of the home you’re considering is old or the sellers can’t tell you when it was last serviced, an inspection or presale tuneup could pay off (and give you peace of mind).
External water damage is pretty easy to spot with a visual inspection; it’s the damage hidden within a home’s walls that can be difficult to detect. Unless your inspector is using an infrared (IR) camera to locate and document any moisture intrusion, you may not know your dream home is waterlogged — and certified home inspectors aren’t required to use them.
For a more thorough inspection, seek out a home inspector who knows how to wield an Infrared (IR) camera. If they spot hidden problems, they can potentially save you thousands. That was the case for Brandon Fenton, who ran into a water damage issue when viewing a home. “My wife and I were excited about the house, but there was what appeared to be an old water stain on the ceiling of the upstairs bedroom,” he says. “The damage looked old, but the inspector’s IR camera picked up a huge water spot, which had led to a substantial mold issue.” Luckily for the Fentons, their agent had insisted on using an inspector with an IR camera. Otherwise, the couple would’ve been the proud new owners of a moldy home — an issue that can cause health complications and also be expensive to remediate.
Inspectors check for obvious signs of wear and tear and any potential issues in plain sight. But what about flooring problems that are covered up with carpet, tile, or laminate? If floors and subfloors are warped or spongy, the home may have a moisture problem — and a costly one at that.
“The homes we purchase are typically in rough shape, but core issues such as a molded-out subfloor can make all the difference between a healthy profit and breaking even,” says James Dainard, co-founder of Heaton Dainard Real Estate in Seattle, WA, which represents buyers interested in acquiring investment properties. But how do you know if you should be concerned? Use your feet to detect an issue; soft spots where the wood is weak will give way as you walk across the floor. But you can also use your sense of smell: A weak subfloor will have a moldy, musty smell — a clear indication of wood rot. If you spot the signs of a potential problem — or just want to be sure — you can find local experts through the National Institute of Certified Floorcovering Inspectors.
While a home inspector can verify that appliances are in good working order, they won’t be able to guarantee how long they will last. Understand the health of your big-ticket appliances by asking the owner for warranty manuals, original purchase receipts, and maintenance records. These items won’t provide a guarantee of performance, but they will give you the context you need to help make an informed decision.
Sellers are required to disclose any known presence of asbestos. However, the presence of asbestos-based building materials in a home isn’t necessarily a reason to call off your purchase: Asbestos is not dangerous unless the material is damaged and fibers are released and inhaled. However, while intact asbestos fibers are often obvious, it can be more difficult to know if there are disturbed asbestos fibers hiding underneath insulation or even under floorboards.
If you’re considering a home built before 1980, it’s worth asking your home inspector if they have frequently worked with asbestos and can make a reasonable judgment about whether disturbed asbestos fibers are present based on a visual inspection. If the presence of disturbed fibers is confirmed, you should seek a remediation quote from a qualified contractor — or make sure the sellers have the problem fixed before you close.
Found in homes in all 50 states, radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas you cannot see, smell, or taste — and it causes cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends all homes be tested for the presence of radon. Before your home inspection, ask the seller if they have already tested for radon. Sellers often test their homes before placing them up for sale, so recent test results may be available during the closing process. If not, radon tests are reasonably priced, around $40, and the test results can be processed in a matter of days. Some states offer free test kits: find your state’s radon contact on this radon map by the EPA.
Signs of drainage issues come in all shapes and sizes, from water that gushes from ill-fitting or clogged gutters to an ominous-looking flood line along a basement wall. With a little luck, cleaning the gutters will fix the problem. In the worst case, a drainage issue could be related to foundation problems.
If there’s evidence of foundation cracks caused by faulty drainage, Houston, you have a problem. Your inspector will most likely advise you to call in a structural engineer, and with good reason. A compromised foundation is not only pricey; it can also affect a lender’s willingness to approve a mortgage.
To ward off costly drainage repairs postpurchase, sewer scope inspections have become increasingly popular. Given that most sewer systems are complicated and spendy to repair or replace, savvy buyers often have the inspection for peace of mind. A qualified technician will use a scope to determine the condition of the property’s sewer line and whether the system is functioning as designed.
With so many potential missed items in a standard home inspection, it’s your responsibility to take further steps. Whether you hire a roof inspector or an HVAC technician to help round out the picture of your potential new home, the additional investigation could end up saving you thousands in repair and replacement costs. Once you have finished with the inspection process and purchased your home, your homeowner policy coverage will kick in. Given the existing gaps in the inspection process, the policy will provide the final piece of assurance to help you sleep through the night.
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