Preparing for the walk-through portion of your home inspection
When I meet my clients at their new homes - for the walk-through portion of their inspection - many say they’re nervous. This is totally understandable, but being prepared for your inspection can help minimize these feelings.
Should I take notes?
It’s not necessary to take notes during your inspection because everything that’s discussed will be documented for you in your report. However, note taking is a good thing to do and we do encourage you to do this if you feel it will help.
When should I arrive?
The ideal arrival time is 30 minutes prior to the start of the walk-through. There are times where I finish the inspection portion ahead of schedule – and this allows us to start the walk-through earlier. If the inspection is not yet completed, you can use this time to look around, or take measurements.
Who should be present?
It’s important to be focused on the results during your walk-through; Anything you can do to limit / eliminate distractions is recommended. Generally, the smaller the number of people present, the better. We understand if you want to bring a family member or friend who is knowledgeable about homes. It is best to avoid bringing family members simply to see the home for the first time. If possible, it is also best to arrange for a babysitter for the kids - if applicable. However, we know this is not always possible.
The walk-through is where you will hear an overall assessment of your home. Summarizing a home in a one-hour time period can be a challenging task for an inspector, so rather than talk about every item that was documented, your inspector will focus on items he believes are the most significant / concerning.
If you are a first-time home buyer, this process can feel overwhelming. It's easy to imagine debt accumulating with each comment your inspector makes. The reality is that all homes will eventually need repairs - including the one that you purchase. Your inspector will help you understand what things are common for a home of a similar age and style and what things are not common; What things are in need of immediate attention and what things can wait.
Will your home inspection guarantee that there will be no unwanted surprises after you move in?
Unfortunately, there are too many variables that limit what we can see, so there is no guarantee. Every home presents a different set of challenges to an inspector.
Sample of limitations
If a home is full of storage, this will obviously limit what can be seen. Things such as moisture stains, or cracked windows can be overlooked in these conditions. In some cases, storage areas / rooms, or even attic spaces are not accessible. If you know that your home is overloaded with storage, it is important to alert your inspector to this prior to the inspection.
If there are renters in the home and they do not cooperate / do not leave the home during the inspection, this will definitely limit the inspection. Some rooms may not be evaluated as thoroughly and some appliances may not be cycled.
A vacant / empty home has much more accessibility, which increases what we can see. However, some vacant homes have had water off, or appliances unplugged for an extended period of time. This will limit our ability to inspect some of these items (i.e. unplugged water softener condition will be unknown, hot water heaters that are off may not be ignited, or may not have time to warm completely, etc.).
If there is snow on the roof, it simply cannot be evaluated. Your inspector may also determine that it is just not safe to walk on the roof (ice often exists at the overhang areas – making that first step a doozy).
There are other frustrations that inspectors must deal with. Here are the most frustrating four:
1) Main Drain Pipes:
During the inspection, we will run the water for at least 30 minutes - throughout the home. If there is a problem with the main drain pipe (from the home - to the street) this volume can result in water backing out of the floor drain, which would indicate a problem / clog in the main drain pipe. Unfortunately, when no back up occurs, this does not always guarantee that there are no problems.
Since sewer pipe repair / replacement can cost thousands of dollars, we highly suggest that you hire a specialist to evaluate the sewer pipe interior (particularly if your home was built before 1980). The company we have referred in the past is Ron the Sewer Rat (camera inspections starting at $150).
2) Fireplace / Chimney Flues:
Fireplaces tend to be very difficult to evaluate, although this does vary. Often times, almost none of the chimney flue liner is visible. Even when a majority is visible, there are still problems that are not detectable / visible from the chimney openings (at top of chimney and at fireplace opening). Any cracks / gaps that exist in the clay flue tiles - or at the flue mortar joints - represent potential concerns. These are repairable, but repairs to chimneys tend to be expensive. For that reason, this is yet another area of the home that warrants further evaluation by a specialist.
3) Potential for Moisture in Wall Cavities:
No destructive analysis is performed during your inspection. This means that no walls / ceilings are opened. If water intrusion is suspected, it will be noted and if the inspector is concerned that damage to the wall structure is possible, it will be indicated. Unfortunately, exterior walls are one of the most frustrating parts of a home - to an inspector. Moisture damage can exist where there are no interior indicators. Ultimately, the only way to know the condition of exterior walls is to have an intrusive, moisture test performed. We will let you know if we feel this service should be performed.
4) Electrical Modifications:
The evaluation of the electrical system is limited. Obviously, this is because most portions are not exposed. However, if all electrical in the home has been professionally installed, a home inspector can evaluate the system and feel reasonably confident that the overall condition has been determined. Unfortunately, many homes have had modifications / changes to the electrical system over the life-span of the home. This is true for most homes over 15-years of age. Your inspector will look for evidence of amateur work. If found, further evaluation / repair by a licensed electrician will likely be recommended. Unfortunately, improper work can be buried behind walls / ceilings, so it will not be possible to catch every issue. When modifications are identified, it is wise to ask the sellers for all permit paperwork. If they are unable to do so, you should be able to get this information from the City. Permits should state who performed the work - and will also ensure that an inspector evaluated portions of the work - and at multiple stages.
Does the inspector provide an overall grade for the home?
People often ask, "is this a good home?", or "on a scale of 1 - 10, where does this house fall?", or even, "would you let your mother purchase this home?". These are all fair questions, but in reality, the answer will depend on your situation. All homes have some things that will likely be in need of attention / replacement / or repair. Whether the home is good or not generally depends on the buyer's ability to deal with repairs when they arise. Your inspector's overall assessment of the home will compare your home to others of a similar age and style. In other words, he will let you know if the list of items he is presenting is normal - or unusual for the age and style of home.
What are the things my inspector will focus on?
Water problems are the most pervasive issues that we find - whether it be from roof leaks, frost in the attic, ice dams, plumbing leaks, wet basements, or water intrusion at the walls - water issues are the most destructive to a home, so they are the focal point of the inspection.
Looking for moisture
The most basic way of finding moisture is to simply look for it. We begin this process when we pull up to the home. We think about where water goes after it hits the roof, and we focus on the areas that get really wet. These areas are always the first to fail.
Testing for moisture
-image shows bathtub leak found with infrared
Plumbing leaks make up the bulk of the moisture problems we find. We run the plumbing in the home for a very long time at all locations. The reason is that some leaks will not appear until certain fixtures have been in use for an extended period of time. Many leaks are found visually. Others are found with an infrared camera, which we use after the plumbing has been on for a while - and all tubs, etc. have drained.
Click here to see samples of things we have found with infrared. Note: Because this tool is not required in the Standards of Practice, many inspectors do not own an infrared camera. If your inspector is not using this tool, he will simply not be able to detect certain problems.
The two most difficult places to identify water issues are finished basements and exterior walls. Those are two places where we absolutely can’t guarantee that we’ll find water, but we sure try.
For wet basement issues, we think about where water might be an issue and we poke, prod, and pull back the carpet in areas where we’re suspicious. We also use pin-probe moisture meters at carpet tack strips to make sure they’re not wet. Specifically, we use the Protimeter Surveymaster moisture meter.
For walls, it depends. There’s not a whole lot that we can do during a home inspection to diagnose water intrusion at stucco homes. Stucco homes built since the late 1980’s have a high potential for water intrusion, so we recommend intrusive moisture testing on every one of these houses.
If your home fits this description, you should consult your agent and discuss whether you will be requesting this service. The company I have worked with for years is CMT – Certified Moisture Testing (Alan Powell – owner).
We don’t recommend this service to ‘upsell’ our clients; we recommend it because there is no substitute for it.
Oh, and for the record, stone veneer siding is stucco’s ugly step-brother. It has all of the same problems as stucco, only worse.
When ice buildup at the roof overhangs becomes excessive, it is referred to as an ice dam. Ice dams can occur on any home, but they are far more problematic at older homes. The reason for this is that older homes tend to be poorly insulated, and there are more locations where heat loss occurs. When heat enters the attic space and warms the underside of the roof structure, it melts the snow on the roof. Water then travels to the colder overhang locations where it refreezes. If this process repeats it eventually forms a dam. This can result in leakage into the home.
Your inspector will be looking for evidence of current, or past ice dams. If he suspects that this will be a problem at your home, he will let you know and will provide suggestions for improvements.
We made a one-minute YouTube video that explains ice dams further. Click here to watch.
What about mold?
We will always report on potential mold when we see it, but positively identifying mold requires a specialist – so this is not included in a standard inspection. If you ask whether you should have a mold test performed, my initial reaction to mold testing is “don’t bother”. The situations where mold testing may have some value are few and far between.
For an in-depth discussion of why there is little value in hiring your home inspector to test for mold, check out this article that appeared in the ASHI Reporter in November of 2010: Home Inspectors and Mold Sampling – Hype or Help?
For the record, the Minnesota Department of Health does not recommend mold testing, and neither does the EPA.
What will not be inspected?
There are some things at each home that will not be inspected and as previously mentioned, this will depend on the specific home, and the conditions in and outside the home. For a complete list of the standards of practice, click here. Listed below are some of the most common exclusions / limitations:
Determining asbestos containing products is not a part of your inspection. Your inspector may alert you to specific areas where asbestos is suspected (i.e. vermiculite attic insulation), but positively identifying asbestos is not possible without testing the material at an appropriate lab. For that reason, we do not assume responsibility for pointing out every product that may contain asbestos. If you are buying an older home there obviously is a greater chance that some asbestos containing materials will exist in the home. If this is a concern to you, you must contact an appropriate specialist for a separate analysis / inspection.
No test for lead products is performed.
No environmental tests are performed. This includes testing for the presence of airborne particles such as asbestos or noxious gases (i.e. formaldehyde, molds, mildews, toxic / carcinogenic / malodorous substances) or other conditions of air quality that may be present.
The existence of abandoned wells cannot always be determined.
The existence of abandoned septic systems, or underground fuel storage tanks cannot be positively determined during the inspection.
The quality of drinking water is not a part of this inspection.
Active private wells and septic systems are not included in the inspection.
No tests are performed to determine the presence of rodents and insect pests.
Security systems, cable / satellite, phone and sound systems are not included.
Cosmetic conditions such as floor coverings, counter-top condition, wallpapering & painting, and general woodwork (including cabinets) are also excluded.
Your inspection is not a code compliance inspection.
No test for mold are included in this inspection. If mold / mildew-like substances are viewed, it will be noted, but positively identifying mold requires specific testing, which is not performed during your inspection. Note: If wetness / leakage is noted in your report, mold / mildew is often times also present.
What happens after the inspection is complete?
The report is e-mailed to you by the following day. Since the report is your property, it is sent only to you (and your agent, if desired). We do not share the information with any other individuals (particularly the seller).
Once you have had time to review the report, you and your agent will determine what - if any items - you will request the sellers to address prior to closing. There are no rules for this, but your agent can help instruct you with what type of issues are most commonly requested.
Generally, the most common types of items that buyers ask sellers to address include:
1) Safety concerns - of any kind: This includes items such as: gas leaks, amateur electrical wiring, deck connection problems, or a request for a safety check of a furnace.
2) Structural issues: This includes items such as rotted support posts, damaged roof trusses, or bowing foundation walls.
3) Plumbing leaks: We find leaks at almost every home and anything water related is generally a "requested fix".
The variables in each transaction will vary - and this will affect what you are able to request of the seller. For example, are there multiple offers on the home? Are the sellers in a poor or good financial situation? Is the home being sold by the owner or by an estate?
If you want to read more about negotiations after the inspection click here. This page will provide more detail regarding this portion of the transaction - and what to expect.
If you don’t care about exact pricing and just want to get some ballpark ideas for home repairs, I have a couple of suggestions for you.
HomeAdvisor’s TrueCost Guide
Just type in the project and zip code, and you’ll get a range of prices back. If you want HomeAdvisor to find a repair professional for you, you fill out more information and then HomeAdvisor will sell your information to service providers in your area.
Porch’s Project Cost Guide
This is similar to HomeAdvisor’s cost estimator. You look up a project, and they’ll have a price range listed. Like HomeAdvisor, you can ask for someone to do the work for you, and Porch will sell your information to service providers who will then contact you.
How accurate is pricing from these services? Prices will vary depending on who you ask, this will give rough, ballpark estimates – at best.
There is a company that will take a home inspection report and create a repair estimate for each item in the report. I asked them to take the sample report on our website and create a repair estimate from that report. They did, and I was actually quite impressed. They claim to be 98% accurate with their estimates.
The part that’s different from HomeAdvisor and Porch is that you need to pay for it; they don’t make money by selling your information to service providers. The cost is $59.99 for a 24-hour turnaround or a little more for a 4-hour turnaround. The company is called Repair Pricer.
Be warned, however, that using this service makes it easy to confuse a home inspection report with a repair list. If you assign a dollar value to everything in a home inspection report and then try using that to negotiate a better price on a home, be prepared to have some offended sellers. As I’ve said before, a home inspection report is not a repair list and shouldn’t be confused as such.