After you’ve made an offer on a home and it’s accepted, you might want to start packing your bags. But hang on—you’re not home free yet. Before you close the deal, it’s wise to hire a home inspector to check out the house for major flaws that might need to be fixed. After all, even if a house looks like it’s in great condition, appearances can be deceiving.
So what does a home inspector look for, anyway?
In short: a whole lot. “We’ve got 1,600 different items on our list that home inspectors are supposed to look at,” says Claude McGavic, executive director of the National Association of Home Inspectors, which trains and certifies home inspectors throughout the country.
And their discoveries can help home buyers big-time: Provided you have a home inspection contingency in your offer, you can renegotiate with the seller to fix certain problems or to lower the price. Or, if the problem is more than you want to handle (think faulty foundation or roof on the verge of caving in), you can walk away from the deal with your deposit in hand. Either way, it’s a win-win for the buyer.
What does a home inspector look for?
Inspectors run down a checklist of potential problems. While we won’t list all 1,600, here’s the boiled-down version:
- Grounds: Inspectors are looking for current or future water issues such as standing puddles and faulty grading or downspouts. They check out landscaping to see if trees and shrubs are in good condition (an arborist will give you a more detailed assessment); and evaluate pathways, retaining walls, sheds, and railings.
- Structure: Is the house foundation solid? Are the sides straight? Are the window and door frames square? This part of the inspection is particularly important when you’re considering buying an older home.
- Roof: The inspector’s looking for defects in shingles, flashing, and fascia, all of which can cause ceiling drips; loose gutters; and defects in chimneys and skylights.
- Exterior: The inspector will look for siding cracks, rot, or decay; cracking or flaking masonry; cracks in stucco; dents or bowing in vinyl; blistering or flaking paint; and adequate clearing between siding and earth, which should be a minimum of 6 inches to avoid damage from moisture (although dirt can be in contact with the cement foundation).
- Window, doors, trim: If you want to keep heat in, cold out, and energy bills low, windows and doors must be in good working condition. The inspector will see if frames are secure and without rot, caulking is solid and secure, and glass is undamaged.
- Interior rooms: Inspectors are concerned about leaning walls that indicate faulty framing; stained ceilings that could point to water problems; adequate insulation behind the walls; and insufficient heating vents that could make a room cold and drafty.
- Kitchen: Inspectors make sure range hood fans vent to the outside; ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection exists for electrical outlets within 6 feet of the sink; no leaks occur under the sink; and cabinet doors and drawers operate properly.
- Bathrooms: Inspectors want to see toilets flushing, drains draining, showers spraying, and tubs securely fastened.
- Plumbing: Inspectors are evaluating pipes, drains, water heaters, and water pressure and temperature.
- Electrical: Inspectors will check if the visible wiring and electrical panels are in good shape, light switches work correctly, and there are enough outlets in each room.
How you can help the inspector
Bring any and all concerns about the property to your inspector before he begins, so he’ll keep a sharp lookout for possible problems. If the seller has disclosed damage, give your inspector a heads up about that, too.
Another smart move is to accompany the inspector during his rounds. It’s in your best interest to understand the home, its systems, and potential problems. For instance, an inspector can introduce you to electrical panels and shut-off water valves (which the seller may not know how to operate or forget to show you), and if he spots a problem, he can show you exactly how a system is malfunctioning and what it means. And this info will serve you well not only before you buy, but afterward as well.