What Is A Home Inspection?
A home inspection is a thorough and systematic evaluation of the condition of a residential property. It is a complete physical exam of the general integrity, functionality, and overall safety of a home and its various components. The purpose of this process is to ensure that home buyers know exactly what is being purchased, prior to completing the transaction.
In the course of a home inspection, the inspector will evaluate the foundation, framing, roofing, site drainage, attic, plumbing, heating, electrical system, fireplaces, chimneys, pavement, fences, stairs, decks, patios, doors, windows, walls, ceilings, floors, built-in appliances, and numerous other fixtures and components.
In all homes, even brand new ones, some building defects will inevitably be discovered during the inspection. All pertinent findings will be detailed in a written report for the buyer’s reference and review, and the inspector will make a complete verbal presentation of these conditions for those who attend the inspection.
This information enables a home buyer to make educated decisions about a home purchase: whether to complete the transaction, whether to ask the seller to make repairs, or whether to buy the property as is. Buyers can also determine how much repair and renovation will be needed after taking possession, which problems are of major concern, which ones are minor, and what conditions compromise the safety of the premises.
A thorough inspection enables a home buyer to avoid costly surprises after the close of escrow. It is an indispensable component of a well-planned purchase.
What’s The Big Deal About Home Inspection?
Why does my Real Estate Agent harp on getting a home inspection? Do you think this is a needless expense? Think again.
Since the late 1980’s, disclosure of property defects has become the primary focus of most residential real estate transactions after first emerging as a service during the mid-1970’s. Gaining gradual recognition over the past decades, home inspectors attained prominent acceptance as a distinct and essential profession providing the service of inspecting and disclosing property defects.
To those who approach real estate with the old ‘as-is’ mind-set, the advantages of home inspection are not immediately apparent. But make no mistake; a thorough inspection can shield you from costly discoveries after the close of escrow. It’s one of the best consumer protection services available.
Every home, regardless of age or quality, harbors a small, medium, or large list of defective conditions. Some are obvious, while others are only apparent to those who know how and where to look. When you hire an experienced, qualified home inspector, there is no question as to whether unknown defects will be found; but rather what, where, and how serious, dangerous, or expensive the defects will turn out to be.
Most homebuyers spend fifteen minutes to an hour walking through a home prior to making an offer. At best, this provides a general impression of the overall physical condition. But what about foundations and structural framing, attic construction, insulation, ventilation, and roof conditions? These are just a few of the hundreds of considerations included in a home inspection.
Above all, let’s not forget building safety. An inspector can alert you to red flag issues involving the electrical wiring and fixtures, fireplaces and chimneys, gas fixtures such as furnaces, water heaters, cook tops, and ovens, railings at staircases and decks, tempered safety glass in required locations, and automatic reverse of garage door openers.
Furthermore, an inspector can forewarn you of problems involving faulty ground drainage, defective plumbing, substandard construction, firewall compliance, building settlement, leakage, general deterioration, inoperative fixtures, and so much more.
Clearly, your agent understands this process and the importance of equipping you to make an informed purchase decision. Be thankful that your agent is working to protect your financial interests. With a detailed home inspection, you will know what you are buying, before you buy it. And that could save you thousands of dollars and years of regret.
Inspection Report – Not A Repair List For Seller
So, you’ve hired a home inspector to make a complete repair list for the home you’re buying. The inspector did a thorough job and disclosed some serious problems with the property. Maybe it was in the plumbing, or the electric wiring. Perhaps it was the roof. But the seller refuses to fix anything. Is the seller responsible to make these repairs? Were you under the impression that the sellers must repair the problems discovered by home inspectors?
This can be all very disillusioning. This is a common misunderstanding about the purpose of a home inspection. People often view an inspection report as a mandatory repair list for the seller. The fact is sellers are not required to produce a flawless house. They have no such obligation by law or by contract.
With a termite report, requirements are different: Real estate contracts usually obligate a seller to repair conditions classified as ‘section one’ in the termite inspector. Section one includes instances of active infestation — termites, fungus, dryrot, etc. Other faulty conditions, such as earth to wood contact, generally do not require action on the part of the seller, unless infestation is found.
With a home inspection, most repairs are subject to negotiation between the parties of a sale. Typically, buyers will request that various conditions be repaired before the close of escrow, and sellers will usually acquiesce to some of these demands. But with most building defects, sellers make repairs as a matter of choice, not obligation; to foster good will or to facilitate consummation of the sale. There are, of course, those few rigid sellers who will flatly refuse to fix anything, even at the risk of losing the sale. Fortunately, this response is the exception, rather than the rule.
Sellers maintain the legal right to refuse repair demands, except where requirements are set forth by state law, local ordinance, or the real estate purchase contract. Legal obligations include earthquake straps for water heaters and smoke detectors in specified locations. Contracts usually stipulate that fixtures be in working condition at the close of escrow, that windows not be broken, and that there be no existing leaks in the roof or plumbing.
Before you make any demands of the seller, try to evaluate the inspection report with an eye toward problems of greatest significance. Look for conditions which compromise health and safety or involve active leakage. Most sellers will address problems affecting sensitive areas such as the roof, fireplace, gas burning fixtures, or electrical wiring.
Routine maintenance items warrant a lesser degree of concern and should not be pressed upon the seller. If the house is not brand new, it is unreasonable to boldly insist upon correction of all defects. Such demands can alienate the seller and kill the sale. Your willingness to accept minor problems may persuade a seller to correct conditions of greater substance.
The purpose of a home inspection is not to corner the seller with a repair list. The primary objective is to know what you are buying before you buy it. All homes have defects; it’s not possible to acquire one that is perfect. What you want is a working knowledge of significant defects before you close escrow. As the old sea captain once told me: ‘It doesn’t matter if your boat has a leak, as long as you know it’s leaking.
Home Inspection Limited To What Is Visible
ASHI (The American Society of Home Inspectors) has established accepted standards of practice and codes of ethics, which define the general scope of a home inspection. These guidelines have come to be the acknowledged standards by which qualified home inspectors perform their services.
According to these criteria, a home inspection is limited to conditions that are visually discernible. Specifically excluded from an inspection are conditions which are concealed from view, such as items contained within walls, ceilings, and floors, or which are buried beneath the ground. According to ASHI standards, inspectors are not required to perform dismantling of construction or excavation of ground surfaces to discover conditions that are not normally visible.
For clarification of the standards by which your inspector performed his services, I recommend that you review the inspection report. Most inspectors are careful to define the scope and limitations of their inspections. These parameters are generally outlined in either the contract or the report or both. Nearly all home inspection contracts clearly specify that concealed items are outside the scope of the inspection. Additionally, most inspection reports specifically identify ASHI standards as the basis upon which the inspection is to be performed.
How To Negotiate After A Home Inspection
The home you’re buying is scheduled to be inspected. When you get the inspection report, how do you know which problems the seller should fix and which ones to accept as is? Are there some rules or guidelines to determine how this works?
In most cases, a residential sale is contingent upon the buyers’ acceptance of the home inspector’s report. This means that you, as buyer, have a specified number of days to accept or decline the property in “as is” condition. If you decline acceptance, you have four basic choices:
1) Ask the sellers to make a few repairs;
2) Ask the sellers to make many repairs;
3) Ask the sellers to reduce the sales price;
4) Decline to purchase the property.
If you request repairs or a price adjustment, based upon the home inspection report, the sellers also have choices. They can:
1) Agree to all of your requests;
2) Agree to some of your requests;
3) Agree to none of your requests;
4) Decline to sell you the property.
The sellers’ only obligation is to address defects that are named in the purchase contact or required by state and local laws. If the contract specifies an “as is” sale, the sellers may refuse to make repairs of any kind or to adjust the price in any way. Lawful exceptions may include strapping water heaters for earthquake safety, providing smoke alarms at specified locations, or upgrading plumbing fixtures for water conservation. Aside from such requirements, completion of the sale hinges upon whatever is agreeable between you and the sellers.
Most Common Defects Found During a Home Inspection
Cnstruction defects and safety violations are surprisingly common, but the majority of home inspection findings tend to be routine in nature. Some, in fact, rear their unsightly heads as often as the sun rises; not just in older homes, but often in brand new ones, even before the smell of new paint has waned. The following, therefore, is a list of common defects likely to appear in a typical home inspection report:
Problems with roofing material, either due to aging and wear or to improper installation, are likely to be found in a majority of homes. This does not mean that most roofs are in need of replacement, but rather that most are in need of some type of maintenance or repair.
Ceiling Stains, Indicating Past or Current Roof Leaks:
The problem here is that you often can’t tell if the roof still leaks, unless it is inspected on a rainy day. Some stains are merely the residual effects of leaks that have been repaired. There is also the possibility that ceiling stains were caused by a former plumbing leak in the attic.
Water intrusion into basements or crawlspaces due to ground water conditions can be pervasive, difficult to resolve, and often very damaging to buildings. Correction can be as simple as regrading the exterior grounds or adding roof gutters. Unfortunately, major drainage improvements are often the only practical solutions, requiring costly ground water systems such as French drains designed by experts such as geotechnical engineers.
Electrical Safety Hazards:
Electrical safety hazards, especially (but not always) in older homes: Examples are ungrounded outlets, lack of ground fault interrupters (shock protection devices), faulty wiring conditions in electrical panels or elsewhere in a building, etc. Such problems may be the result of errors at the time of construction, but very often they are due to wiring that was added or altered by persons other than qualified electricians.
Rotted wood at building exteriors and at various plumbing fixtures: In places where wood stays wet for long periods, such as roof eaves, exterior trim, decks, around tubs and showers, or below loose toilets, fungus infection is very likely to occur, resulting in a condition commonly known as dry rot. If left unchecked, damage can become quite extensive.
Building Violations Where Additions and Alterations Were Constructed without Permits:
Homeowners will often tell a home inspector, “We added the garage without a permit, but it was all done to code.” This statement is a red flag to most home inspectors, because no one could possibly know the entire building code, and the average person without professional involvement with the code is likely to know very little of it. Whenever an owner offers code assurance, problems are likely to be found.
Unsafe Fireplace and Chimney Conditions:
These can range from lack of maintenance, such as neglecting to hire a chimney sweep, to faulty installation of fixtures. Most common among these are the lack of spark arrestors and substandard placement of wood-burning stoves. Free-standing fireplaces are typically installed by home owners and handymen, people without an adequate knowledge of fire safety requirements. The most common violations in these cases involve insufficient clearance between hot metal surfaces and combustible materials within the building. Fire hazards of this kind are often concealed in attics, where they remain undiscovered until a roof fire occurs.
Faulty Installation of Water Heaters:
In most localities, less than 5% of all water heaters are installed in full compliance with plumbing code requirements. Violations can include inadequate strapping, improperly installed overflow piping, unsafe flue conditions, or faulty gas piping. It should also be remembered that today’s water heaters are designed with a shorter lifespan. In fact, leaks can develop in units that are only five years old.
Hazardous Conditions Involving Gas Heaters:
Most gas-fueled heaters are in need of some maintenance, if only the changing of an air filter or a long-overdue review by the gas company. In some cases, however, gas heaters contain life-threatening defects that can remain undiscovered until too late. These can range from fire safety violations to the venting of carbon monoxide into the building. A cracked firebox, for example, can remain undiscovered unless found by an expert or until tragic consequences occur.
Firewall Violations In Garages:
Special fire-resistive construction is required for walls and doors that separate a garage from a dwelling. Violations are common, either due to faulty construction, damage or alterations to the garage interior, or changes in code requirements since the home was built. In older homes, where firewalls are not installed, sellers and agents will often say that the building predates the code. However, the fire separation requirement for residential garages dates back to 1927.
Minor plumbing defects:
These are commonly found, including loose toilets, dripping faucets, slow drains, leaking drains, hot water at the right faucet, and so on.
Failed seals around windows:
This condition is routinely found at dual pane windows, resulting in fogging. This is most common with windows manufactured during the 1980’s.