Usually, by the time you schedule a home inspection, you’re at least halfway in love with a house. You’ve walked through it many times, and you’ve likely made note of any concerns you have regarding the home’s condition. The inspection is the last hurdle separating you from the house of your dreams, so it’s only natural for you to want it to go well.
Ultimately, though, you really don’t want a home that doesn’t pass the most rigorous inspection. Hire an impartial inspector who has no loyalties to anyone involved except you. The most qualified home inspectors do cost more than one you might find by happenstance, but when you compare this cost to the overall investment you’ll be making in this new home, it becomes clear that this is not the moment for penny-pinching.
Plan to be present when the home is scheduled to be inspected. Bring a notebook with your questions and concerns listed. Take clear, detailed notes of any key pieces of information.
If you’re able, we suggest making a video recording of the inspection process. Your home inspector can tell you important and helpful things about your home that you may think you’ll be able to remember, but when it’s 2 a.m. and you find yourself struggling to recall what that home inspector said about your water heater three years ago, you’ll be glad you have it on tape.
While no home is perfect (even a brand-new home can have flaws), there are a few serious issues you should consider immediate deal-breakers.
Improper Water Drainage and Water Damage
Anytime water drains back toward the home instead of out and away from it, you’ve got a real problem. Improper drainage leads to damp and wet crawlspaces, foundation displacement, dry rot, and mold.
Walls that are discolored near the floor
Windows that are no longer square
Interior doors with gaps that show at the top when the door is closed
If you observe any of these issues, we strongly suggest moving on to a new property. Water damage is difficult to assess without tearing into walls and flooring, but it is almost always breathtakingly expensive and complicated to repair.
The Stucco Home’s Vital Weep Screed
Stucco homes are popular for good reason; stucco is attractive, and, when applied correctly, will endure for a lifetime. However, when a stucco exterior is applied incorrectly, water will flow into the walls and interior of the home!
Here’s how a weep screed works: contractors know that water will sneak past a stucco exterior anywhere it can find a crack or unsealed home fixture, so they install a component called a weep screed around the home. The weep screed protects the home itself from the water by redirecting any incidental flow back down the weep screed and out of the home.
Unfortunately, when concrete close to the home’s walls has been poured too high, the weep screed becomes buried and can no longer function as intended. Instead, water will accumulate and damage the home.
During the inspection, walk around the home and trace the weep screed. If at any point the weep screed disappears into a concrete surface, wave down the inspector. The inspector should be able to tell you if the flaw you’ve detected will lead to water damage down the line.
Degraded Roofing Materials
The age of a home, the materials used, and the level of craftsmanship all must be considered when evaluating the home’s roof. If the home you’re considering has aged more than ten to fifteen years, find out when you’ll need to fully replace it.
The average cost of a full roof replacement is around $7,000. Ideally, your new home would have at least 10 good years ahead of it, but if you find a place you truly love at a price that can’t be beat, it might be worth springing for a new roof if it’s the only major repair required.
Common Roofing Materials
Life expectancy: 15 – 40 years
Red flags: blisters, cupping, and granular disintegration
Life expectancy: 15 – 40 years
Red flags: cupping and curling, lifted shingles, insect damage, rot, and missing tiles
Terra Cotta, concrete, and slate
Life expectancy: 20 – 100+ years
Durable but brittle, and susceptible to damage from rapid temperature changes
Cannot be walked on due to its brittle nature, so a very high ladder and binoculars will be required to spot damage
Cracking, missing tiles, and substandard repairs are all red flags and might mean extensive water damage
Substandard Electrical Wiring
Ask any fire chief: home fires started by older or substandard electrical wiring happen ALL THE TIME. While modern houses are usually wired correctly and amply, older homes often are not.
Warning signs include, but are not limited to:
Extension cords run from room to room
Exposed wires in any area of the home
Open splice wire using electrical tape or connectors (should be considered a serious fire hazard and must be fixed immediately)
Outlets that are not grounded properly
Aluminum wiring should be replaced and will cost thousands of dollars
These issues are the most serious and costly repairs you may encounter during home inspections, but your real estate agent will do their utmost to convince the current owners to pay for repairs. Remember, other potential buyers will encounter the same issues with the home if they have hired a skilled home inspector, so it’s likely that any sale will be made with due consideration to any outstanding repairs.
Pursue the home of your dreams by all means, but also be prepared to engage in some haggling if your inspection turns up anything serious. In the end, remember that accurate information and a skilled realtor are all you need to make a savvy decision while house hunting.