Ten Things to Look for when Buying a House.
Let me begin by stating that I am not a home inspector, licensed contractor, or engineer, but I have completed the educational requirements needed to become a licensed home inspector, an avid home improvement project undertaker, and a buyer or several homes. With that being said, below are ten things that need to be thoroughly inspected before purchasing a home in order to avoid unwanted surprises and unforeseen home improvement expenses after purchasing your new home.
- Brick/Siding/Exterior Protection
A home’s exterior can often alert you to bigger problems involving other structural features of a home. The stair-step cracking and pulling away of the brick pictured above is indicative of foundation issues below the home. Whether brick, vinyl, or wood, inspect the exterior of a home extensively to ensure that it is providing adequate protection from the elements, not rotten, not termite infested, and structurally and aesthetically sound.
New roofs are expensive. I recently paid about $7000 for a 33 square re-roof job completed using architectural shingles. Information on the age of a roof is often included in the information packets offered by real estate companies when selling a home. Regardless, be sure to perform at minimum a visual inspection of the roof from the ground, but if at all possible safely access the roof for a walk around inspection. Typically an asphalt shingle roof has a life expectancy of 15 years, an architectural shingle roof 20-25 years, and a metal roof 25-40 years.
3. Floor Joists
Hopefully you are not looking to buy a home in which the floor joists can be inspected from inside like pictured above. If you are looking at a pier-and-beam house do not, I repeat DO NOT agree to purchase it if it can not be inspected from below. Take it from me and my experience, you can miss so many structural, electrical, plumbing, and foundation issues if the crawlspace of a home is left uninspected. Do not think that hiring a home inspector will take care of this either, by law home inspectors are not required to go underneath a home to complete an inspection if a crawlspace access door or hole is not a certain height and width and many older homes do not have access ways that meet these criteria, leaving the area “okay” to go uninspected.
Unfortunately subfloor issues are not always as obvious as the one above. Subflooring is supported by the floor joists from below and will almost always have some type of finished flooring covering it above. Sagging or soggy areas in flooring are indicative of subfloor issues but again, inspecting the house from the crawlspace below is often the best method for spotting subfloor issues and further supports my claim for it being absolutely necessary before agreeing to purchase a home.
Be sure to access the attic of your potential home in order to get information on number of the homes systems and components. Inspect the rafters and flooring for water and pest damage, the roof for past, present, and potential future leak indication, proper ventilation, and be sure that the attic is adequately insulated for the area in which you live. It is common for wiring and hvac ductwork to be run in the attic so you will want to be sure to inspect both for function and safety issues. Purchasing a house without a thorough inspection of its attic would be like buying a car without starting its engine.
It is not a good idea to go ripping covers off of electrical panels if you are not a professional, but there are a few things that anyone can look for safely to know if the basic red flags should be raised or not. For instance you will want to look at the biggest breaker which is often at the top of the electrical panel when you open its door. Make sure that the house has a 200 amp power supply if you want to use many of today’s modern appliances. Older homes were often equipped with 60 amp power and later 100 amp power. These breakers would not suffice in supplying power simultaneously to multiple appliances that are commonplace in homes today. Another thing to look for is the type of electrical panel used. Many homes that were built or wired from the 1950s-1980s were outfitted with electrical panels made by the Federal Pacific Electric Company. These breakers are known to operate without issue for years, but become very serious fire hazards once they experience their first overcurrent or short. It is best, and safest to steer clear of living in a home with a Federal Pacific electric panel.
If your potential new home is off of the ground you can actually perform a very thorough inspection of the pipes and plumbing of the home before purchasing. If the home is on a slab the plumbing inspection is pretty much relegated to piping that may be in the attic, connections, and the little bit of pipe that may be exposed at those connections. Some things to look for are insulation on pipes, correct type of pipe for each application, and of course leaks and disconnects. It is also a good idea to test every faucet, outdoor hose, sink, and bathtub to make sure that they are functioning properly in order to avoid surprise replacement costs.
8. HVAC System
As with the age of the roof, the age and type of a home’s hvac system is often listed in the information provided by real estate companies when selling a home. Unless you are a professional hvac technician it can be hard to get a feel for the quality or remaining life of a system by just looking at it and running it for a few minutes. with that being said, look at it, and run it for a few minutes. By doing this you can at least determine if it is in working order or not. Typically hvac systems have a life expectancy of 15-20 years, so if you are buying a home in 2018 and the hvac system was installed in 2000, you can be fairly confident that the system is at the end of its useful life regardless if it blows desert hot and blizzard cold. Be sure to inspect all hvac duct work as well. Ductwork is typically run in the attic or crawlspace of a home. Check for leaks, damage, and proper insulation when performing the inspection.
Whether on a concrete slab, or a pier-and-beam style house, you will want to inspect the foundation for cracking, deformation, collapse, and level. This can be a lot trickier with a home that is on a concrete slab opposed to on concrete piers. Foundation issues from both types often show up in the form of wall cracks, unleveled or sagging areas in the house, and even by exterior issues such as the one shown in the first picture with the stair-step cracking and separating of the exterior brick veneer.
Be certain to look in, on, above, around, and behind all appliances, especially those with water connections and hard wiring to them such as washers, refrigerators, stoves, vent hoods, and ovens. Inspect the water connections to the appliances as well as the area around them to ensure that there are no symptoms of past, present, or future water leaks. Also be sure that hard-wired appliances are wired adequately and pose no risk of electrocution when reaching around them or fire due to exposed wire. If the seller agrees to leave appliances with the home you want to be certain that they work and that you are not just being stuck with their unwanted trip to the dump.
It is impossible to list everything that needs inspecting when buying a home without writing a novel but if you keep these ten priorities in mind you will definitely be ahead of the game. Do not hire a home inspector thinking that every issue will be addressed, some things you need to see and inspect yourself. After all, there are lazy people in all fields, including home inspection, and the inspector is not the person that will potentially make the biggest purchase of their life and have to live in it. As mentioned with the size of a crawlspace opening requirement, inspectors do have legal “outs” for some parts of inspections and if they take these paths you could wind up paying for it big time in the future.
Do not get me wrong, ALWAYS HIRE A LICENSED HOME INSPECTOR BEFORE AGREEING TO BUY A HOUSE, but also put some inspection work in yourself to ensure that you are not jumping into a money pit. For those of you on the house market I have provided links to two books below that I would not buy a house without. They are actually the two sources used as textbooks for the home inspection course that I completed a few years ago.
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