Once the excitement of an accepted purchase contract for a home sets in, reality hits you in the face. Contingencies loom and deadlines must be met. One of the most demanding contingencies is the home inspection. This is where your dream home’s pimples and warts are revealed. Hiring a state-licensed home inspector is suggested. The good news is that if the faults are considerable, you have options. The bad news is that you may have to walk away. Create a checklist to determine what is acceptable and what may be reasons for cancelling your contract.
Important to the inspection is the remaining lifespan of the roof and whether any leaking is detected. Do a visual inspection for missing shingles or tiles There should be at least two years of life remaining on the roof, according to Federal Housing Administration (FHA) appraisal standards. Also check the gutters, making sure they're all securely attached to the eaves and not rusted. Look for foundation cracks on the exterior. Pick away any deteriorating wood and examine what's behind it for evidence of termites or wood rot. If the property has a septic system, a specialized inspector should perform the necessary tests. Moss growing on the exterior surface indicates dampness, and damp basement walls further that discovery. Ask the owner for files proving that structural additions have the relevant permits and were constructed to code.
Settling cracks are compared against more invasive cracking in the interior walls. The floors should be solid, with no wood warping or tile lifting. Check the windows and doors to be sure they're all operational and hung correctly. Look for evidence of watermarks on the ceilings, indicating leaking, past or present. Be sure all cabinetry is hung securely and that the countertops are well anchored. Check in the basement and crawlspace for signs of mold.
Age of Systems and Applicances
Note the ages of the systems that run the house to alert you to how long the appliances will last before the expense of replacements is necessary. Plumbing, heating, cooling and water heaters are the major systems checks, with appliances to follow. The water heater should show no signs of rust. All appliances and systems have various life spans, and an inspector will alert you to what may need replacing within a short period of time. Test the appliances by running the dishwasher, washing machine and a clothes dryer through a cycle. Turn on the oven and use an oven thermometer to verify the heat output.
Examine the electric panel box to be sure all switches are secure and that there's no water damage or burn marks. Also check the age and brand of panel -- Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) panels and/or FPE breakers are considered hazardous. Use a receptacle tester to verify that all outlets are working, and test the wall switches and light fixtures. There should be ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) switches in the bathrooms and in the kitchen.
In the bathrooms, check that the water pressure is adequate and that the toilets flush adequately without running on. Dripping faucets and leaking shower heads typically indicate that the fixtures should be changed, although they could be a sign of future problems if left untended. Look under the kitchen and bathroom sinks and examine for leakage. Check the basement and/or crawlspace for leaks. Examine the pipes to see what they are made of. Lead pipes or copper pipes soldered with lead flux could leach lead into the water.
Your checklist should include confirmation that the house passes tests for safety issues. They include testing for radon gas, lead paint, mold, Chinese drywall and carbon monoxide. If appliances operate on gas, the gas lines leading to them should be examined for leaks.
- Total Home Inspection: Inspection Checklist
- Popular Mechanics: DIY Home Inspector Checklist: 25 Places to Watch
- This Old House: How to Give Your House a Yearly DIY Inspection
- FHA.com: FHA Appraisals and Roof Requirements
- At Home Inspections: Frequently Asked Questions
- ATD Home Inspection: Average Life Span of Homes, Appliances and Mechanicals
Jann Seal is published in magazines throughout the country and is noted for her design and decor articles and celebrity *in-home* interviews. An English degree from the University of Maryland and extensive travels and relocations to other countries have added to her decorating insight.