Inspecting a Home
Costly repairs can often be avoided or at least anticipated by a preliminary inspection before a purchase offer is signed. Asbestos, carbon monoxide, lead and radon are hazards that may be present. Spend a little on an inspection now, and save a lot later.
By James O’Keefe
Before you buy any house, take the time to thoroughly inspect the structure and mechanical systems.
Costly repairs can often be avoided or at least anticipated by a preliminary inspection before a purchase offer is signed. If the house is inspected before a purchase offer is made, you will know in advance if heating equipment, rewiring, or any other costly repairs or replacements will be needed. If defects are found, you do not necessarily have to reject the house. A purchase offer can include a contingency clause that identifies what needs to be corrected before the sale is finalized. Another option is to offer a lower purchase price based on the cost of correcting the problems.
After an offer to purchase contract is signed (but before a loan is applied for or a title inspection ordered), a thorough inspection should be done. Some lenders require a mechanical and structural inspection by a qualified house inspector. Even if a lending institution does not require such an inspection, you may want one. Reserve the right to cancel or renegotiate a purchase agreement if a professional inspection reveals significant defects.
If you decide to hire a professional inspector, be there when the inspection is done. Follow him or her around. Ask questions. It is important to know what is being checked, why, and the condition of each area.
TOOLSPencil and paper to record information on the house.
Measuring tape (25 or 50 feet) to measure the dimensions of the house and individual rooms. (The measurements will show whether pieces of furniture will fit into specific rooms).
Keep a file with the links that you visit and find valuable and you can write another article with just links to great places to visit related to that topic. You can also use these to create a links page on your site.
Stepladder, if needed, for access to an attic
Flashlight with a strong beam for inspecting the attic, basement, and storage areas with poor lighting.
Coveralls to protect your clothing when inspecting the attic or crawl space.
Ice pick or pocket knife to test the condition of wood structure.
Hand level to check drainage of sidewalks, porches, and basement floor and to see if the floors are level.
Screwdriver to remove electrical faceplates to look for evidence of insulation and the condition of the wiring. (Turn off electrical power at fuse or circuit breaker box first!)
Three-prong electrical circuit tester to test receptacles.
Binoculars for inspecting roof shingles and flashing from the ground.
Walk around the outside of the house at least twice. As you walk, note specific areas that you need to inspect more carefully when inside the house. Look first at the foundation, drainage, and siding; the second time check windows, gutters, and the roof.
Once the outside inspection is finished, move inside the house. Start in the crawl space or basement and work up through the house to the attic. Take plenty of time to look behind boxes, in dark areas, under cabinets, etc.
The items listed below will help you do a thorough inspection. Use this list as a guide when inspecting any house. The items do not include such personal preferences as interior decoration (color, carpet, window treatment, etc.) or the presence of optional equipment (air conditioning, security system, etc.) NOTE: The items are not listed in the exact order which you might follow when inspecting a house.
Answer YES or NO to as many of the questions as apply to the house you are inspecting:
Does the slope of the lot prevent water from standing next to the house? Water-saturated soil could indicate the lack of drain tile.
Is there easy and safe access to the lot? Is the lot safe and convenient?
Are there signs of septic field drainage problems? These may include odor of raw sewage, extremely soggy soil over the drainfield, sewage discharged over the ground or in nearby ditches, broken or cracked white pipes that stick out of the ground, or an alarm flashing or beeping in the house.
Are there enough electrical receptacles to meet your needs? Grounded receptacles have a third, round hole. Use a circuit tester to see if receptacles are wired correctly and are grounded.
Does the house have ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection in the kitchen, bathroom, garage, and outdoor circuits? Special GFCI receptacles can be identified by the "test" and "reset" buttons on the face of each outlet; GFCI breakers are labeled in the service box. If this protection is found in an older home, it indicates that the electrical system has been upgraded.
Is there visible electrical wiring in the attic, basement, or garage? Note the type of wire used and its condition.
As with the heating system, you may wish to have a professional check the electrical system.
WATER SYSTEM AND QUALITY OF WATERAre the plumbing fixtures, especially in the bathroom and kitchen, in good condition? Look for water damage on the bottom of sink cabinets, around the bases of toilets, and on ceilings (below upstairs plumbing fixtures).
Check the water pressure at the faucets. Turn on all faucets and flush all toilets at the same time. How long it takes the tanks to refill under these conditions is a good indication of the water pressure.
Are there a shut-off valves on both hot and cold water supply lines to all sinks?
Look for signs of rust and leaks in the water heater. Is there a pressure relief valve?
Is there a private well? Has the water been tested? Acceptable water quality can be a contingency in your purchase offer.
You can get information on water testing from your county cooperative extension center. For more information, see Lead in Drinking Water, or Removing Mineral Deposits from Household Surfaces, or Radon in Water, or Health Effects of Drinking Water Contaminants, or Home Drinking Water Treatment Systems.
If there is a septic tank, is it in good condition? What is its age? Has it been pumped regularly at 3- to 5-year intervals? Are there any signs indicating faulty or inadequate capacity of drain lines, such as a slowly draining sink, or a toilet that backs up?
Do some appliances remain with the house? These may include a built-in oven, dishwasher, garbage disposal, free-standing range, refrigerator, washer, dryer, and window air conditioning unit. All should be tested for efficient and safe operation. Ask the owner for any records of service and repair.
Are there signs of wood damage from insects? The most destructive insect is the termite, which eats the interior of studs and joists. Termites may cause much damage before they are detected. Termite inspection is required by most lenders. Has the house been periodically inspected and treated for termites?
Are there piles of coarse sawdust beneath the timbers? This may indicate the presence of carpenter ants. Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not eat wood, but they do nest in it. They are most likely to attack wood that has already begun to rot. These ants may also be heard within walls and may even be spotted inside the house in the winter. They are black and about 1/2-inch long.
Do you see deposits of sawdust on the floor and small pencil-lead size holes in wood beams and floor joists? This may indicate the presence of the powder-post beetle. To verify, check to see if the wood crumbles when an ice pick or pocketknife is pressed into the beams, floor joists, support posts, and sill plates.
If there is some indication of the presence of termites, carpenter ants, or powder-post beetles, your purchase offer can be contingent on the house being free from infestation by these or other insects. You can ask the seller to pay the cost of a professional insect inspection and treatment; however, inspection is usually paid by the buyer.
HE INDOOR ENVIRONMENT
Certain products or pollutants in the indoor environment can cause health problems. Asbestos, carbon monoxide, and radon are hazards that may be present. Lead, which can be present in water or paint, can cause health problems in children and during pregnancy. And some people are sensitive to certain products or pollutants like formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds. You may want to test for some or all of the following contaminants. Contact your local health department or county cooperative extension center for guidance on testing.
Formaldehyde is often found in particle and other composition board, plywood, paneling, wallpaper, and permanent-pressed fabrics.
Asbestos fibers may be found in thermal insulation, pipe and duct insulation, vinyl flooring, textured paint, exterior siding, and appliances, stoves, and furnaces. Removal of asbestos can be expensive and should be left to a professional.
Carbon monoxide may be leaking from defective or improperly vented combustion appliances, such as furnaces, gas dryers, and gas heaters. These should be checked by a qualified heating system technician. Try to avoid the use of wood stoves or kerosene heaters.
Radon, a colorless and odorless soil gas, can travel from the soil to the foundation and then to the inside of a house. It can have long-term health effects. If the house hasn't been tested for radon, you may want to ask the seller to establish an escrow account to cover costs of remediation, if necessary.
Volatile Organic Compounds are found in flammable and other household cleaning and maintenance products. You may want these products removed before you take possession of the house.
Lead may be present in house paints used before 1977 and in the piping system at soldered joints. If you have small children and suspect the presence of lead, you may want to have the house checked. Removal of lead-based paint can be costly.
About the Author
James O’Keefe is the owner of My Millionaire Friend. offering FREE articles, tips, hints, and real-world advice on how to make money with your website. Visit his site or join his FREE newsletter by sending a blank email to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.