Choosing a home can be a very exciting time, but it's also a time to carefully avoid buying a house that has significant problems. Fortunately, that risk can be greatly reduced by working with the right home inspector. It is not just the chosen inspector, though, but what you ask that inspector that matters.
The more knowledge a home buyer has the better, from searching the MLS to signing contracts, and the inspector is one of the best people to provide information about the home's systems and any potential concerns before you proceed with the purchase. Here are 10 of the most important questions to ask the home inspector.
Is the Electrical System Safe and Current?
Electricity can be very dangerous, and if it is not handled properly it can even be deadly. Older electrical systems are more vulnerable to problems and may need to be upgraded, which can be a big expense.
One of the most common barriers that homeowners encounter in older homes are outlets and breaker boxes that are not within current compliance with National Electrical Code standards. These regulations outline set practices in regards to both commercial and residential electrical installations, and it is by these guidelines that inspectors will base their assessments upon during their visit.
Are There Plumbing Issues or Leaks?
A plumbing problem can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to repair. It's best to know if a house has these kinds of issues before signing a contract to purchase it. Some plumbing issues may stop a loan from going through, as well.
However, plumbing issues need not halt a home deal, as certain minor issues can often be resolved rather easily and affordably such as:
- Dripping Faucets
- Minor Pipe Leaks
- Running Toilets
- Slow/Clogged Drains
- Low Water Pressure
In contrast, more serious issues such as major tree roots impeding underground pipes or old galvanized steel and iron pipes that will require costly replacement should rightly cause buyer hesitation.
How Many More Years Should the Roof Last?
Because a roof is a costly item, it's important to know how long it will probably last before buying a house. Then a budget can be put in place to replace the roof at the appropriate time, or you can ask the seller to pay for it as a condition of the sale.
Contract conditions of sale are known as real estate contingencies, meaning that the potential buyer has requested either the seller make the repairs or they are asking for compensation for the expected expenses through a price reduction. These made not only be made for roofing issues, but for any concerns found during a property inspection.
Is There Evidence of Termite or Other Pest Damage?
Termites, carpenter ants, and other insects can eat and destroy wood. This can leave a house vulnerable and weaken its structural integrity. Your home inspector may not be trained to treat these insects, but should be able to spot evidence of them.
If such evidence is found, you should insist on calling in a pest control professional. While these types of issues are not typically required during the home disclosure process, it’s a good idea for sellers to do so to prevent issues down the line. Any pest problems should be eradicated immediately due to both the structural concerns and the potential health risk of certain pests like rodents and cockroaches.
How Solid is the Structure?
Even if there are no wood destroying insects, the structure of a home can still have problems. If it has been compromised in any way, that is something a buyer should know before they purchase the home. Repairs may be costly.
In worst case scenarios, severe structural issues can require the complete removal of walls and ceilings and replacement of core beams throughout the home. Not only is this a money pit type of situation, but it catch a new homeowner off guard which can find them displaced from the home for weeks a time while the repairs are made. Homes such as these might be best avoided—period.
Are There any Noticeable Foundation Issues?
A home's foundation is vital to its stability. If there are cracks or other types of issues, it's very important for you to find out how serious they are and whether they're in need of repairs, as well as the cost of those repairs.
Beyond asking the home inspector for his opinion, take a look around during your property tours and look for any signs of vertical or horizontal cracks on the walls or upon the ceilings. While all are indications of foundation damage, horizontal and ceiling cracks are indicative of sinking foundation, which is likely to require a costly repair process.
Are There Potential Drainage Issues on the Property?
Even if there's nothing wrong with the house itself, you still want to make sure the property is safe, and that there is a healthy environment there. Some homes have drainage issues that can result in a lot of standing water. That could cause damage over time, along with a lot of frustration.
Most lawn drainage issues are sourced due to an inadequate slope or pitch within the landscaping that prohibits ample water runoff to keep it diverted from the home. Drainage problems caused by city sewer lines could be impossible for owners to fix, while minor slope issues can be resolved through solutions such as adding grass, mulch, native plants and additional drainage after grading the yard.
Is Wood Rot a Concern?
Anywhere there is standing water or a lot of humidity or dampness, you could end up with wood rot. If your inspector finds any of this, you'll want to determine the source of it and the cost to repair it before moving ahead with the purchase.
Wood rot is a particular concern for potential buyers who are considering investing in a home with wood siding and/or wood decking. While it has a high aesthetic appeal, wood siding and decking that is more than 10-20 years old is likely to require replacement soon—and this is not a cheap investment. Be sure to pay close attention to the types of materials the inspector lists on their reports, as many mock materials closely resemble wood but is resistant to rotting.
Is the House Settling?
Older houses may settle and shift some over time, but excessive settling is a problem that will have to be addressed. It can lead to cracks in the drywall or plaster, doors and windows that don't work well, and other issues throughout the home.
House settling can often be confused with a foundation issue, although house settling can cause foundation issues over time. Sound confusing? The best way to get a solid answer is to ask the home inspector to look a little deeper into the issue, and they may recommend contacting a structural engineer for an inspection to confirm any suspected problems.
Will the House Need to be Brought up to Code?
Most homes are "grandfathered in" based on the code that was required when they were built. But if you make changes or do renovations, it may be necessary to bring the rest of the house up to current code, as well. That could be much more costly than you bargained for, so it's always worth asking the home inspector about those types of issues.
What buyers and sellers need to understand is that home inspectors may look for signs of code violations, but they tend to not look too deep for them because they aren’t code enforcement professionals like city inspectors are. Those who suspect code violations and want to get current should request a separate inspection from the appropriate officials.
Buying a home is a huge decision. It can really pay off to be extra careful in the steps leading up to the signing of contracts.