A stranger walks through the house, checking out every little thing, at times taking pictures and at others just making notes. It’s not a quick visit. This will take upwards of 3 hours. While it may sounds like the plot of some horror movie, it is real life that happens every day. Whether or not it is a horror story depends on the house.
Home inspections are a very important part of the home buying process. Unfortunately (from the consumer protection perspective) there has been a slight trend away from buyers hiring a home inspector. It’s a bit of an explanation that I won’t belabor here, but you can have explained at one of our Homebuyer Express classes. Regardless of the reason, I think it’s a mistake for the buyer to go without.
The inspector will go through the home with a fine-toothed comb to make sure everything is in working order, stable, and a safe environment for you to move into. From the basement to the attic and roof, to the appliances and utilities, to the landscaping outside. It’s thorough. Even if nothing needs to be fixed, the buyers are going to be much more educated about their home before even moving in.
That’s all good and fine, but why does it really matter? Well, let me illustrate my point with a few inspections that have gone wild.
Pests – We do have termites in Sioux Falls. By nature, they are kind of secretive and may or may not even be noticeable. But they move in and eat the very lumber that holds your house up. I’ve seen hardwood floors chewed to Swiss cheese and window frames destroyed. But the worst was at an inspecting in which the inspector could push a pencil all the way through a floor joist by hand. If you don’t know your construction terms, the floor joists are the boards on edge that hold up the floors and walls above them. Not wood that you want to be that soft and rotten.
While on pests, let’s talk bats. Our local bats only need ½ inch by 1 inch to get into your house. And did you know it’s a federal crime to kill a bat? That’s right, they are a federally protected species. While no one may know about the one or two in your garbage can, you won’t find anyone to kill the bat colony in your attic. They can be addressed, but it’s expensive and you may have to wait through an entire winter. Better to at least know ahead of time.
Hazardous Conditions – This is how it’s labeled on the purchase contract. 9 times out of 10 this is referring to Radon. Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that is naturally occurring and seeps up from the ground. Oh yeah, and it’s radioactive. The problem is when it seeps into the basement and doesn’t dissipate naturally.
A few years ago we had an 11-year old girl in Sioux Falls diagnosed with lung cancer. No smokers in the house, no family history. As I understand, the only potential cause they could find was that the radon in her basement bedroom was at an ‘8’, while the EPA has set the maximum safe level at ‘4’. I’ve heard of homes here in Sioux Falls test as high as 65.
Foundation – Whether poured concrete, concrete block, or even wood, the foundation is what holds your home up. This is often a case where an separate expert is brought in for inspection. Basement walls made of block are particularly susceptible to shifting, cracking, and even heaving in. I’ve seen basement walls heave in a foot or more in the middle before swinging back out at the top.
So what causes the walls to move? Water. Excess ground water outside the house exerts a great deal of pressure against the walls. With nothing but air on the inside to hold them up, they will often shift. Not only is it a structural issue, I have seen water literally spraying into a basement during a hard rain through cracks in a heaving block wall. Not the indoor swimming pool you want.
Gutters – And the water subject brings us from the bottom of the house to the top. While often forgotten, gutters provide a crucial service. The collect the water from the large area of your roof and move it away from the house so that you don’t end up with said indoor pool. But you don’t have to drive around too long before you find gutters with small trees growing out of them. The gutters have become so filled with debris that seeds are sprouting in there. Instead of being collected and channeled away, the water simply washes over the top of the gutter and down along your foundation.
Air Conditioner – This is a bit of a tricky one for inspectors in our area. In order to even be able to test the air conditioner unit, the outside temp must be above 70 degrees. There are a whole lot of days in our year that never reach 70 degrees. Without being able to test it, you are simply buying it as is. While not a full inspection, the inspector may be able to check a few key items to give you at least a better idea whether or not it is in good condition.
Attic Electrical – One home inspection found loose electrical connections in the attic. Rather than being secured with wire nuts and enclosed in a junction box, the ends were twisted and taped together and hanging out in the open. But be careful going up to fix it. The attic also had vermiculite insulation, which can be a natural carrier of asbestos – that nasty cancer-causing mineral. Disturb the insulation which addressing the wiring and you were exposing yourself to a carcinogen.
General Electrical – While not during a home inspection, I was told of one home owner in town who would connect a jumper cable to the rail of his garage door and, when touched to a metal rod in the ground outside, the other end of the cable would give some good sparks. The rails of the garage door opener were electrified and the owner wasn’t sure where it was coming from. “Just don’t touch them” was his solution.
I‘m sure I could come up with even more wild inspection results if I took anymore time thinking about it. But I think you get my point. It is scary what you can find out there in people’s homes. Being the largest single purchase most of us will ever make, it is well worth the investment of a home inspection to know what you are walking in to. Even if you don’t negotiate anything with the sellers, make sure you are informed.
If you would like to know more about the home buying process, CFR offers free Homebuyer Express classes. On top of the good education, you may also qualify for closing cost discounts when you do buy your house. You can find the schedule on our website or call us at 605-330-2700 to register for a class.
Be honest, you don’t want to move into a money pit – at least not without knowing about it. Make sure you consider a home inspection and the security it can bring for you.
written by Breck Miller
images courtesy freedigitalphotos.net