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I’ve read a number the top search result webpages about ‘What is a home inspection’ and I think it’s time for me to add my thoughts. There is a lot of misconception because each author has their own view based on if they are the buyer, seller, or real estate agent, or any of the other number of people involved in real estate. So, I’m throwing my own two cents in from the perspective of an inspector (I’m going to try to be as unbiased as possible).
Home inspections are a good way for home buyers to have a qualified individual examine a home after a home is in contract but before the sale closes. Typically there are a stated number of days the buyer has to have it inspected.
A home inspection is an examination of a home to determine the condition of a home on a specific day. Inspectors do not tear into things. I often get asked what is behind the wall at an area of concern. Unfortunately, inspectors don’t have x-ray vision so we look for clues that may indicate the condition behind the wall but, truthfully, it is impossible to tell with certainty what is behind a wall, or under a floor for that matter.
All home inspections should include the major systems of a house. Roofs, structural, foundations, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, exterior, windows and doors, even some appliances, should all be included in a home inspection. If it’s part of a house, and it’s not cosmetic or removable, it’s usually inspected. Ohio does not have any laws detailing the particulars of a home inspection so make sure your inspector is in good standing with InterNACHI or ASHI, the two main home inspector accrediting organizations. This ensures you get a quality inspector.
If you read online about home inspections you will find many recommendations that the buyer be present for the inspection. I totally agree for two reasons. First, communication is best when it’s face to face. The paperwork, payment, and introduction to the house work way better if the buyer is present. Furthermore, it lets the buyer bring up any areas of concern. If you have concerns about something in particular, always bring them up. You hired me and I’m happy to spend extra attention on the things you’re concerned about. At the end of the inspection I can affirm your suspicion, or hopefully put your mind at ease.
Second, if there any issues you may have missed I can point them out. Whenever I find something the buyer and real estate agents missed I always get questions. Specifically, everyone wants to know how big of a deal is the issue and what is involved in fixing it. I know of some inspectors who believe it is there job to simply tell you there is a problem and tell you to get a licensed professional to fix it. This approach is taken to reduce liability, but it raises concerns and costs. I’ve found numerous issues with electrical box breakers and in discussing the problem with the buyer I find out there dad is an electrician. Problem solved for $15.
How do you know if you’re getting a good inspection? There are a few things all home inspectors should do, but are not necessarily required to do. First, your inspector should walk the roof if it’s possible. Any shingle roof that is a six pitch or less is easily walked. Around here, that means around three quarters of all roofs should be walked. I walk roofs and have no idea how an inspector can determine the quality of the roof, chimneys, and penetrations (pipes sticking up through the roof) without walking roof. For the roofs that cannot be walked (metal is slick, concrete, slate, and clay can be loose or get damaged) your inspector should put a ladder up to the eaves on all sides to look. Your report should also indicate that the roof was not walked so you know the inspection was not as thorough.
Another big area inspectors skip is the crawlspace. Often there is restricted access which can be dangerous for the inspector if problems occur (who wants to find a bees nest or raccoon and not be able to get out?). Restricted access is a valid reason not to enter. However, I know of inspectors who only look in the crawlspace from the entrance even with the required assess opening. It’s nearly impossible assess the quality of a crawlspace without going into it.
It's also not necessarily in the standards to take the face off the main panel box. All the problems I find are behind the cover. For example, it's impossible to find over heated wires and double taps without removing the cover.
Finally, I recommend looking for your own home inspector. Your realtor may give you a few names and that’s fine. If they are giving you options then they want you to get a good inspection. There are realtors who will only recommend one inspector. Sometimes they only make one recommendation because they know some inspectors are not good. Often though, it’s because the one inspector they recommend is easier, which helps them sell more houses. I know realtors who always choose the inspector who doesn’t go in crawlspaces. Your house is a major investment and you should use a good inspector, not an easy one.
A home inspection is something you should do but should not be afraid of. Your house can’t ‘fail’ and most things are simple fixes. It’s always best for you to be present at the inspection so you can learn as much as you can about your future house. Your inspector is there to help you.