help! i need house inspection advice

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I’ve been writing all this week about our lovely vacation, but I have some (potentially) big news looming that I’m quite nervous about: We put an offer in on a little house upstate, and this weekend is the inspection. Now, after being an apartment dweller for the past fifteen years, I have NO IDEA how a house runs. When something breaks here in our city pad, we call the super. I am aware of how crucial the house inspection is (thanks in part to this great book that Chad got me, called The Virgin Homemaker), but I must admit I’m mildly terrified. It’s so much more fun to think about beds and chandeliers than septic tanks. What if they find something majorly wrong? What if I don’t understand everything? How much wiggle room will I have after the inspection? I know that some of you are homeowners and have been through this yourself….any advice or wisdom or calming thoughts would be greatly appreciated. What’s the most important thing you learned from your house inspection? — Angela M.

P.S. The really big news? Chad & I got engaged. Yippee!

From our partners
Allyson V

Congratulations! sounds like you are going to have a lot of happy planning ahead of you! As far as the home inspection goes, I think if you have a really good inspector, they will expain everything to you,and you should have a little time to digest the information before you take the next step. We had NO IDEA but our inspector took his time to explain what needed to be taken care of. We had an abandoned oil tank in the front yard that potentially could have been a disaster, and we heard all kinds of horror stories about what it would cost if it wasn’t properly dealt with. It turned out to be no big deal, but it felt like it was at the time. Try to walk through the house with your inspector, watch what he (or she) does, ask lots of questions, and ask his opinion in the end. They have seen all kinds of houses and have a much better idea of what can be fixed and what can’t. Ask him to rate your house on a scale of 1-10 at the end of it, and that might help inform your deccision. Our house was an 8, and that turned out to be pretty accurate – it has good bones, but definitely needed some updates, some remodeling and some serious aesthetic overhauling. Best of luck – can’t wait to hear how it turns out!!

The biggest thing is to make sure that you take the inspector’s suggestions seriously or when you sell they will come back to haunt you. Also, if it is something serious enough, then you can try to get the seller to credit you for it.
We recently ignored a not-so-big problem and had to pay our buyer for repairs. We could have avoided this had we addressed the problem initially.

The inspection is nerve-racking, but it’s just part of the home-buying process. I think the more involved you are in the process, the better you’ll come out of it. Ask questions as your inspector is going around the house. Ours went all right, but some issues did arise that we had to deal with after. They were two things that we asked the owners to fix – the furnace wasn’t working properly (the heat wasn’t turning on) so they had to fix that, and there was some rotten wood over the roof of our deck that we got replaced. Don’t be afraid to ask for them to fix things- if they want to sell their house, they’ll probably have to fix them.

My one major piece of advice? Pay attention to the things the inspector says you may need to keep an eye on. Our inspector noticed some upturned shingles on our roof, and we didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, but now we have a roof leak. We moved into our home last August, and I don’t know if the roof thing is something that we could’ve gotten the previous owners to fix, but if we had monitored the situation it may not have gotten as bad as it is now.

Basically, ask lots of questions and find how things work. You’re already paying someone to come out and inspect, so you might as well take full advantage of it. Make sure they check out the roof and basement or crawl space, have them check the heating and cooling, make sure you know where the fuse box or breakers are and how the electrical system works, and check out the foundation of the house (we’re worried about ours now too).

I’m not an expert by any means, I’ve only done this once! And crap is inevitably going to break – we’ve had a ton of repairs done this year already. Despite that, I still think it’s worth it, especially now that I’m starting a garden and planting flowers and it’s all mine, you know?

If anything major arises, if you’re using a realtor then hopefully they can negotiate. Ours did a really good job.

Good luck, and congrats on the engagement!!!

Cassie

First of all, congrats on the engagement.
The above poster has really good advice. I encourage you to follow the inspector around. He or she will point out every little thing that will need some repairs and then give you a run down of the major things. Ours even went so far as to point out door stops that were missing. Don’t be afraid to even ask the inspector how much he thinks it will cost to repair (or even if it’s something he thinks you can do yourself). He will give you the complete list (which we actually hung on our fridge as added incentive to repair things) when he is finished, so don’t worry too much about remembering everything.
Then plan a trip to home depot!

pia

All good advice above. Having bought our first house last year, I have a few suggestions to add. Absolutely be there and follow the inspector around and ask every question that pops into your head. Our inspector, and I’m told all good ones will do this, even told us how to maintain things in our house even when they were in good condition. I would actually recommend having an audio recorder with you to get everything – it was overwhelming the amount of info we were trying to absorb. Don’t necessarily go with an inspector recommended by the realtor – try to ask around to get one who will be independent and not afraid to be honest. I think ours minimized or didn’t fully investigate a problem because he wants future referrals from the realtor. If there seems to be a problem with something, push the inspector to find a cause. Ours speculated about what caused water in some ductwork and we didn’t push hard enough to find how it got there. It almost cost us $2500 – the cost of new ductwork – except that we put our foot down on the day of closing. That’s a scary time to have to get tough. Remember that the inspector’s job is to find problems but that not all problems are equal. And once you get the written report, go through it carefully and then call the inspector with any questions. Congratulations and good luck!

Congrats on the engagement.

Don’t stress about the house inspection. It’ll be what it is – and you’ll decide from there. If you do go forward with the house you’ll be a total of 12 miles from me and I have a long list of great local contractors.

Laura

If you are using a realtor, ask them who has been a good inspector in the past. Otherwise, ask friends/family who they would recommend. As mentioned above, follow him/her around and ask questions. You are hiring them, so they are working for you. Also, if a recommended inspector costs more, spend the extra money. We spent an extra $200 for a very respected inspector in our area. The extra $200 was worth it since buying a house is such a huge investment! The last thing you want after you move in is a huge, costly surprise! Congrats on the house and the engagement!

Lesley

It will become clear which things are big deals and which are not during the inspection. We learned with the first house that we put a bid on that it had an asbestos-covered furnace (estimated cost of removal: $10-20,000), a crack in the basement retaining wall (at least $10,000). We could have asked the seller to knock some money off the asking price, or if we had had more money for renovations, we could have just gone ahead and bought it anyway, but we decided to walk away; two big problems just felt like a deal-breaker. I wept that day as if a beloved golden retriever had just died–but a few weeks later, we found a house that was much better for us, and we feel thankful that it all turned out that way. Best wishes and good luck!

mary t

All good advice. Most important is to get an inspector on your own, not one recommended by the realtor. Ask your friends or BBB. Make sure the report is detailed, then ask the seller to fix EVERYTHING. Start there and then you can negotiate some of the smaller things off.

erica p.

As far as the house inspection goes I’ve got nothing…but as for the engagegment…

CONGRATS!

Angela M.

Thanks so much for all this great advice (and well wishes!) … I think my biggest fear is that we’ll find something like Lesley’s deal breaker. I will definitely keep you posted!

Buying a house is one of the biggest investments most will ever make so it pays to perform your due diligence. Hire your own home inspector, not the one recommended by the seller or real estate agent because you want them working for you, not them. For $300 to $500 they will look for major problems that need repairs, like a new roof, termite damage, electrical problems, etc. When they have completed their inspection they should be able to give you ballpark figures of what the repairs will cost.

When it comes to septic systems you need to really be careful because the codes have changed dramatically over the last 10 to 20 years and if that system does not meet the codes that are on the books today eventually you will have to get the system brought up to current code.

Don’t let anyone tell you the system is grandfathered in! States have ignored septic systems for years assuming sooner or later the city sewer will be available. Now, slowly state by state the governments are realizing it isn’t going to happen so they are making people upgrade their systems and if you happen to own the house when it hits you will be the one responsible.

That is why you need to hire your own septic contractor ($250 to $500) to inspect the system with the explicit instructions to determine if the system meets current code and if not what it would cost to make it code compliant.

Once you have all the info you can make your counter offer of either deducting the costs of the repairs from the selling price (and you fix them on your own) or having them fix the problems as part of the sale agreement. Just make sure you specify you get approval of all the contractors used to do the repairs to make sure they don’t hire some cheap fly-by-night outfit.

Good luck and I hope this helps…Jim

You biggest fear should be that he *won’t* find the deal breaker – that you’ll find it three months later.

If you are absolutely unfamiliar with houses, get someone you trust (friend or family) who has owned a house before to go with you to make sure. Even if they aren’t an expert, they may have better ‘horse-sense’ about what are potential big problems.

Another thing to do is ask for references and actually call the people. They’ll probably be all to happy to tell you if he missed things.

I’ve also heard that the final report should have details written out like a narrative, not just a check list.

Good luck!

-C

Congratulations on both the move and the engagement! Unfortunately, I don’t have any homeowner’s advice to offer…

Mary

Congrats on the engagement! I guess buying your first house wasn’t enough excitement for you, huh? ;)

My husband and I just bought our first home (we actually moved in exactly a week ago today), so I remember well the anxiety you must be feeling. Luckily, you’re getting some good advice here.

My realtor and I were both at the house the day of the inspection. Before he even began, our inspector sat down and explained the whole procedure to me. He told me that he usually spends a bit more than 1 hour for every 1000 square feet of interior. He had a digital camera and took photos of every imperfection. Whenever he came across anything questionable, he pointed it out to me. He was also very patient, happy to answer every question I had, and was able to explain things in a way that I could understand. He also gave me a binder and CD-Rom with general tips on how to maintain a home. The day after the inspection, our inspector e-mailed the report to me. The report was 33 pages long, which certainly sounds frightening, but there were a lot of pics within those pages. In the end, our house was excellently maintained and in very good shape. He said that for most houses in our neighborhood, the report would have been twice as long.

After the inspection, you may still need to hire additional professionals to look at any potential problems with the house (the furnace, plumbing, etc). And in each region, there are particular quirks to look out for. For instance, termites are a big problem in our area, so we hired a professional termite inspector to check the property.

After you have these reports, your realtor can negotiate with the sellers to get things fixed. Just remember that most sellers are only willing to fix things that are absolutely broken. If the furnace doesn’t work, you can certainly ask them to fix that. But if the roof needs to be replaced within a few years but is still good *now*, then you may not have much to go on there.

Best of luck to you!

Ty

The biggest worry.

That you will talk yourself into completing the transacton even though you have a deal breaker. Don’t overlook what professional are pointing out.

Also, here in CA the home inspector tells you they make no warranties and such. True as far as it goes. But they can be held responsible later if something major really is wrong and they should have seen/know. This just for future reference.

Not sure of title insurance in the East. But here in CA buy it. buy it. buy it. It might seems expensive but you just never know …

Finally, in a purchase I backed out on, I want not entirely sure of the home inspection, highered an engineer to look … backed out quickly. Moral, it really is worth spending a $1000 to save $50,000.

Mary T

Congrats! Now you can stress about how to decorate your wedding, hooray.

I’ve sold a house but not bought one (I moved into husband’s house) but I’ve helped others get theirs reader to sell. Get an inspector you trust–having other people recommend an inspector tends to work out well. If there’s really a dealbreaker, they will be upfront about it if they’re in the least reputable at all. That’s not to say there aren’t some alarmists out there–This is just me talking, but I think the hysteria over mold is a little out of control. My sister sold a house recently and it was old, but not THAT old (about 60 years). But one deal fell through when the potential owners brought in a mold specialist who, lo and behold, told them they would have to pay him $8,000 to alleviate the mold in her basement. Yet magically, the very next inspector found NOTHING wrong. So just take that with a grain of salt–use an impartial inspector first.

Mary T

Sorry–I meant, get theirs READY to sell. I need Angela to fix all my typos!

Mary T

PS another one (and I’m Mary T not the earlier mary t : ): If the house you’re buying is old enough to have box gutters, get them checked out thoroughly. Our previous house had them and they’re cool and old houses look great with them but boy howdy they are EXPENSIVE to reline, thousands of dollars worth of expensive. New pipes are very expensive too–we know; we replaced most of ours before we sold our house (our very old cast iron was cracking and falling apart).

Angela M.

Thanks again for all this advice! Box gutters? Who knew! I’ve had a little heart-to-heart with our inspector, and he seems like a stand up guy. I also booked a separate spectic inspection. Oi! It adds up, doesn’t it! But being smart now will save us in the long (or short!) run.

Wish us luck!

Yay! A very belated *Best Wishes* to you Angela! So exciting!

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jerry

congratulations on the engagement. don’t make the mistake we made. hire an inspector. not one the realtor knows. check the phone book, ask a bank that finances homes, ask the county offices. some realtors have friends that are certified inspectors. but will they work to help you or the realtor? it might cost you 2 to 3 hundred dollars, but in the long run it will be worth it. our son bought a new manufactured home their inspector went through the home with him before they moved in. about a year later problems popped up. they got the run around from the dealor they bought the home from. so they called a stated home inpector. that’s when the stinky stuff hit the fan. the state inspector told the dealor what they would do or the state would be taking them to court if everything was not brought up to state building code. have a nice day. you will love being in your own home. no one above you or below you to make noise during the night. you can even yell at your husband “”go mow the yard dummy” without the neighbors hearing you. ha ha ha ha