It should be pretty clear from our earlier description of a good housing inspection
that it is worthwhile to spend the money to have one, even at a time when funds
are usually very tight. Knowing that the furnace has exceeded its life expectancy
by ten years or the garage door may present a hazard to a young child or pet is
obviously worth the $300 or $700 the inspection will cost.
But knowing all the bad news isn't the only reason that an inspection
The best inspectors are also teachers. As you walk through
the house with your inspector - and if we haven't already said this, do whatever
you have to do to in order to be present during the inspection - you will learn
a lot about your house and its systems.
If you have never owned a house you might not know about the necessity of changing
furnace filters, how to shut off the main water supply when a pipe bursts, or
that stacking firewood next to a wooden deck is a very bad idea. An inspector
can advise you about maintenance on any number of things in your home or give
suggestions about small modifications that will increase its safety and comfort.
Often an inspector will prioritize his suggestions. The water intrusion in the
fuse box must be corrected immediately but you might want to think about replacing
showerheads with low-flow models when you have the time and some extra money.
The best inspectors will not only tell you what is wrong with your potential
home, but what is right. You might not otherwise know that you are getting THE
top of the line dishwasher or will have a remarkably well graded yard. Would
you know by looking that your hot water heater is very new or that it would
cost a fortune to duplicate the molding in the entry hall? Unfortunately some
good inspectors are also gloomy ones. Tell yours up-front that want to hear
the good stuff as well as the bad - knowing the positives can be especially
helpful if the overall home inspection report is not terribly positive.
At the end of the inspection the inspector will probably sit with you and run
through his principal findings and give you time to ask questions. Don't
pass on the opportunity. Pick the inspector's brain as much as he will
allow but stick to specific questions about specific issues. It isn't
fair to ask him if he would buy the house. Also, as we will discuss later, some
states have rules that absolutely forbid inspectors to provide some types of
Shortly after the inspection you will receive a written report
from the inspector, a long document that can be intimidating if not overwhelming.
This is another reason why you must be present during the inspection. It is
one thing to hear about various small problems while you are walking around
the property with the inspector. Each problem will be discussed in context and
probably modified with reassurances that "this is just a maintenance issue"
or "it would be good to fix this when you get around to it." It is another situation
entirely to read a long list of problems that makes your new home seem less
like a dream home and more like a dump that would give Morticia Addams pause.
After you read through the report the first time take a deep breath and a drink
if necessary and sit down and read it again, this time with a pen and paper
at hand. Look at each "problem" item with the following questions
- Is this a minor maintenance problem or a major repair?
- Is this an issue related to the age of the house and, if so, might it be
considered part of the "charm" of the home? High on this list are
floors that slope a bit from settlement or door and windows that are slightly
out of plumb.
- Is this a problem that must be dealt with immediately or just something
that should be done eventually?
- Given what you know about house prices in your locality, might this problem
have already been taken into consideration in pricing the house?
- Does this problem merit further investigation?
- Are you willing to walk away from the house because of any or all of these
If there are one or two minor items, suck it up and forget about it. Every
house has its problems and now you know which ones are yours. Fixing them will
give you a chance to hone your do-it-yourself skills or build your list of reliable
local tradespersons. If it is a major issue or if there are lots of minor issues
start making a list.
If it is an age-related problem that isn't charming, such as plaster separating
from the lath or if the sloping or lack of plumb might indicate underlying structural
problems, add this to your list.
If this is a problem in need of an immediate fix and might break the budget,
again, add it to the list.
After the second read-through take a look at the list. If there are only minor
items thank your lucky stars and proceed with the purchase. However, if there
are dozens of minor items it could be an indication that you are buying from
a homeowner who has neglected his investment and you could be inheriting a lot
of deferred maintenance that hasn't yet come home to roost. Call your
inspector (you are entitled to do so) and get his opinion about this.
If the list of repairs is more than you think you should have to shoulder (and
here you must ask yourself questions 3, 4, and 5 again) then it is probably
time to talk with your real estate agent.
And, what should you say? We will explore that issue - and it is a very
real issue - in a later article.