Home Inspections – Getting Up Close and Personal

Last week I talked about pest and fungus reports. This week, I’m sharing information about home inspections—what they cover and why they’re important.

To find a home inspector you’ll be happy with, check references, read contracts, look at sample reports, and most of all ask your realtor for a recommendation.

Once you’ve found a good inspector, please understand that you’re hiring him to do a thorough inspection of all visible areas. Like the pest and fungus inspector, your home inspector is not Superman: he cannot see through walls or floor coverings to find potential problems. However, he can and will find plenty to fix.

He’ll inspect the electrical system, including wall outlets to make sure they 1. work, 2. are grounded, 3. have correct polarity, and 4. are connected to the breaker switch of appropriate size. (I once purchased a house where an appliance was connected to a 90-amp breaker via a 45-amp wire—a massive house fire waiting to happen!). He’ll also make sure the electrical panel is wired properly and in good condition.

The home inspector will examine the house’s foundation for cracks and how the house is connected to its foundation. In earthquake country, this is particularly important. He’ll also check to see whether the foundation is adequate to support the structure above it. If a do-it-yourselfer owned the home years ago and added a bedroom over the garage, he may have added more weight than the foundation could safely hold.

While the inspector is under the house, he’ll also inspect the cripple wall (the structure between the foundation and the subfloor). He’ll comment on whether you’d benefit from more access to the crawl space and whether you need more or better insulation. He’ll assess the ventilation, and if he sees evidence of standing water (either because it’s wet or there’s a white, chalky substance on the foundation walls), he’ll mention it. While he is not legally allowed to go into the realm of pest and fungus (don’t get me started with ridiculous laws), he can certainly identify conditions that encourage dry rot or bug infestations.

He’ll take a look at the roof to assess its serviceable life and provide valuable information about the materials and how they were applied. This is critical information when it comes to warranty claims and the ease of repairs. For example, the inspector will let you know if you have one, two, or three layers of roofing: this is one time when more is not necessarily better. I once had a roof added over an existing roof (approved by a contractor, of course). Sadly, the weight of the roof with the additional layer compromised the supporting trusses and cost a fortune to repair. He’ll also examine at the gutter system to make sure it’s installed correctly and in good condition.

Right under the roof, in the attic, the inspector will look for many of the same issues as in the crawl space under the house: is there adequate insulation? Is it in good condition? Is there enough ventilation? (By the way, you can enhance ventilation dramatically with an attic fan—cutting your cooling bill nicely.)

Throughout the house, he’ll look for code violations and any safety concerns. The inspector doesn’t make judgment calls; he provides information for you to make decisions.

Speaking of decisions, there are three things to do with a home inspection report: first and foremost, decide if you want to buy the home and at what price. Second, assuming you buy the home, use the report to make a list of weekend home-improvement projects. Third, give a copy of the report to your pest and fungus inspector. Allowing inspectors to share information only benefits you.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit our website at www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 35 years.


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