Buying a home is one of the biggest investments you will ever make and one you will have to live with for a long time. When I first entered the Real Estate World, in what seems a lifetime ago, a Buyer would bring his Father to look at the home he was considering before putting in an offer. Or maybe 'Uncle Jack' would walk through it with you because he knew a lot about fixing things. After all, he owned his own garage, was a great mechanic and was always puttering around the house. "Let the Buyer Beware" was the prevailing belief. Buyers were forced to gamble on hidden problems, unexpected repair costs, and sometimes downright major disasters!
That was then, this is now! Today's Buyers have a wealth of information at their fingertips and a team of professionals working for them. A Home Inspector is an important part of that team. Today's smart consumer demands better information.
Just what is a Home Inspection? One definition of a Home Inspection states that it is a noninvasive, visual examination of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structure and essential components of a dwelling. A dwelling could be a residential home or an investment property. It could be a Historic Home, New Construction or a commercial property. A Home Inspection should be an integral part of a building in each and every category. The home inspection is not meant to be a "Pass or Fail" test, but it is intended to further educate the Buyer.
A Home Inspection is an opportunity to learn more about the overall condition of the house being purchased. It gives you a better idea of some of the strengths and the weaknesses that the house has to offer. Professional Home Inspectors survey a property for the integrity of the internal and external components of the dwelling. They will visually inspect the structural areas of the property as well as the mechanical operation of the heating, plumbing and electrical systems. Just remember, that a Home Inspection is not meant to be a warranty of the home you are purchasing. It is still a visual inspection. You can, however, put a Home Warranty in place which will cover many components of your home.
Plan to spend two to three hours with your Home Inspector as he goes through the home. Typically, the first area the inspector will cover is the roof, chimney, gutters and downspouts. Carefully walking over the roof to physically inspect it will enable the inspector to spot deteriorating shingles, soft spots in the underlayment, and flashing issues that could contribute to leaks inside the home. The approximate age of the roof can be determined at this time, also.
A through examination of the exterior structure usually comes next as the Home Inspector looks for cracks in the walls or sidewalks. Even the slope of the ground close to the home as well as the height of dirt and mulch gives the inspector some indication of water penetration into the foundation or basement.
Next comes the basement...totally boring to most women but the best part of the home for men. Here is where we see the "nuts and bolts" of the home. The front comes off of the electric panel while the inspector checks the wires and breakers for compatibility, also checking for signs of corrosion. The hot water heater is also checked for corrosion as well as water temperature. Probably the most expensive item in the basement would be the heater. Even though the Home Inspector can not check the heat exchanger due to lack of access to it, he looks for signs of problems and reports on them. The age of the heater is usually estimated and the recommendation is always made to place a service contract on it which would include cleaning once a year.
At this point, the Buyer is usually faced with 'information overload'. I always tell my Buyers not to worry about trying to remember everything their inspector is pointing out to them. The report that they receive will cover everything that the inspector does and says. My favorite type of home inspection report is the kind that has a narrative style report which breaks down the various components into paragraph form, making the report easier to follow and understand. This is usually emailed to the Buyer within 24 hours of the inspection. Some Buyers like the booklet type of report where the inspector checks off the condition of the various components as he goes around and writes a few words about the problems that he uncovers. A hardcover Binder is given to the Buyer at the time of the inspection. Many buyers refer to these reports throughout the years that they own their home, using them as a guideline for work that needs to be done.
Onward and Upward! Now can you see why you have to allot hours for your Home Inspection? Throughout the home, windows will be opened to make sure that they open smoothly and stay open for safety. Doors throughout the home have to close easily. Are the outlets throughout the house polarized? What about Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters? Specific regulations cover their installation when an outlet is anywhere near a water supply, even on the exterior of the home. Broken window panes? Into the Report! Broken seals on those windows? Into the Report! Are there cracks in the walls or ceilings that are excessive? Better check that out!
What about the kitchen? Cabinets are checked to make sure they are secure to the wall. Countertops need to be secure, also. If there is a dishwasher, it has to be run through a few cycles. Under the sink, there should be no evidence of leaking spigots or drains. It's easy to check the hood over the stove and the microwave. Every burner on the stove has to work and each cycle of the oven is tested. Even the refrigerator is inspected if it is included in the sale. Don't forget those GFCI outlets!
The bathroom is always interesting. Test the pipes under the sink to make sure there are no leaks from the spigots. Is the hot water coming out of the right spigot? The same for the shower and the tub. Any leaks? Write it up! Flush the toilet and make sure it is firmly attached to the floor. Then, the inspector usually manages to get wet as he flushes the toilet, turns the sink spigots on and turns the shower on - all at the same time - to check the water pressure. If there is no outlet in the bathroom, typically the home inspector will recommend that a GFCI be installed. Many township and borough inspectors will also call for this.
All of the bedrooms are checked for window safety, unusual cracks in the walls or ceilings, outlets that work correctly and doors that open and close without sticking.
When there is an attic, I have seen inspectors climb up into spaces that you couldn't pay me to enter, sometimes encouraging the home buyer to climb up there with them! From this vantage point, evidence of roof problems can be discovered.
Wait a minute, you say. "This all makes perfect sense for a Buyer." "But, I'm the Seller....why should I pay for a Home Inspection"? Wouldn't you like to have an objective evaluation of your home's condition before your home is placed on the market? With a Home Inspection, you are provided with guidance in preparing your home for maximum sales appeal. Not only can this lead to a faster sale and a better price, but it can also ensure your compliance with disclosure requirements. Pennsylvania requires full disclosure of a home's condition before a property is sold. It is much better to know about issues that could affect your final sale price before you place your home on the market. Over the years, Sellers can grow accustomed to shortcomings in their homes that can be easily and economically taken care of. We just don't notice those little things that Buyers are going to zero in on as they mentally adjust their price downward.
O.K....We're Sold! How do we go about finding a reputable Home Inspector and what should we look for? We are lucky in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has Act 114, The Pennsylvania Home Inspectors Law. This law requires that Home Inspectors be a member of a National Home Inspection Organization, carry Error and Omissions Insurance, and complete on-going continuing education. American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), is one organization which most Home Inspectors have membership in. A good Home Inspection Report will not only list the problem areas of the home being inspected but will also give an estimate of the cost to correct the problem. A cost estimate is usually in the form of a range of costs, rather than an exact figure. With the increase of technology available today, many inspectors provide digital photos that pinpoint the exact area that needs attention. It has been said that one picture is worth a thousand words. Seeing color pictures of problem areas certainly makes it easier to convince a Seller that there really is a problem up on that roof, for example.
A wise man once said: "Every man's home is his castle". Let's help our Buyers feel that way for many, many years.
Suzanne V. Norris has been a Realtor for the past 29 years. She is a member of the Suburban West Realtors Association, Pennsylvania Association of Realtors and National Association of Realtors. She is an owner of CENTURY 21 NORRIS-VALLEY FORGE, 18 NUTT ROAD, PHOENIXVILLE, PA and can be reached at 610-933-8600. View 1000's of Homes on our website: www.c21norris.com