Our gallery of home inspection nightmares (below) is good for a laugh, but a home inspection is serious business. It's the buyer's opportunity to make sure that the house they're about to purchase doesn't hold any expensive surprises.
A typical home inspection includes a check of a house's structural and mechanical condition, from the roof to the foundation, as well as tests for the presence of radon gas and the detection of wood-destroying insects. Depending on the seriousness of what the inspection uncovers, the buyer can walk away from the deal (most contracts include an inspection contingency in the event of major flaws) or negotiate with the seller for the necessary repairs.
These are the red flags that should send a buyer back to the negotiating table:
1. Termites and other live-in pests: The home you've fallen in love with may also be adored by the local termite population. The sooner termites are detected, the better. The same goes for other wood-devouring pests like powder-post beetles. Keep in mind that getting rid of the intruders is just the first step. Once the problem has been addressed, have a pest control expert advise you on what needs to be done in order to prevent their return.
2. Drainage issues: Poor drainage can lead to wood rot, wet basements, perennially wet crawlspaces and major mold growth. Problems are usually caused by missing or damaged gutters and downspouts, or improper grading at ground level. Correcting grading and replacing gutters is a lot less costly than undoing damage caused by the accumulation of moisture.
3. Pervasive mold: Where moisture collects, so grows mold, a threat to human health as well as to a home's structure. Improper ventilation can be the culprit in smaller, more contained spaces, such as bathrooms. But think twice about buying a property where mold is pervasive -- that's a sign of long-term moisture issues.
4. Faulty foundation: A cracked or crumbling foundation calls for attention and repair, with costs ranging from moderate to astronomically expensive. The topper of foundation expenses is the foundation that needs to be replaced altogether -- a possibility if you insist on shopping "historic" properties. Be aware that their beautiful details and old-fashioned charms may come with epic underlying expenses.
6. Worn-out roofing: Enter any sale agreement with an awareness of your own cost tolerance for roof repair versus replacement. The age and type of roofing material will figure into your home inspector's findings, as well as the price tag of repair or replacement. An older home still sheltered by asbestos roofing material, for example, requires costly disposal processes to prevent release of and exposure to its dangerous contents.
7. Toxic materials: Asbestos may be elsewhere in a home's finishes, calling for your consideration of containment and replacement costs. Other expensive finish issues include lead paint and, more recently, Chinese drywall, which found its way into homes built during the boom years of 2004 and 2005. This product's sulfur off-gassing leads to illness as well as damage to home systems, so you'll need to have it completely removed and replaced if it's found in the home that you're hoping to buy.
8. Outdated wiring: Home inspectors will typically open and inspect the main electrical panel, looking for overloaded circuits, proper grounding and the presence of any trouble spots like aluminum branch circuit wiring, a serious fire hazard.
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