When you tour a home for the first time, you often do so with rose-colored glasses. You’re looking at the furnishings, the open space, the way the sun bathes the kitchen. The home inspection process forces you into the darkest, dingiest parts of the home and points out many potential problems. If you're a first-time buyer - or even if you've bought several homes in your life - this may be enough to sour you on the house. You may believe that another house will be more “perfect.”
If you paid a home inspector to review a home and at the end of two hours, they said: yup, looks great, you’d likely be asking for a refund. That’s why, even with new construction, the inspector will normally take you through the home, explaining how the systems work, telling you about regular maintenance you should perform to keep things working well, and certainly pointing out anything that could – now or in future – be a problem. It's a lot of information and can be overwhelming.
How can you prepare yourself for the process and recognize a major problem that should make you rethink the purchase, what should be negotiated with the seller, and what is just a normal part of home ownership?
Does it have good bones? Not all homes are created equal. My last two homes started life as vacation cottages - I say they were built with three guys, a weekend and a case of beer - so there were a lot of inherent problems. Nothing in the house was straight or square, the foundation didn't go far enough into the ground, the roof leaked and wasn't properly supported, you name it. I was planning to remove all of the walls and ceilings and start over so I wasn't concerned about these issues. If that's not your plan, you'll want to make sure that the house was built properly and well with quality building materials and experienced builders. Ask your home inspector if - in their opinion - the house has good bones and was built well. If so, you're half-way there. If not, it's very difficult to go back and fix these types of issues and problems may haunt you for as long as you own the home.
Are there hazardous materials in the home? Things like asbestos on pipes or flooring, underground oil tanks, oil tanks in basements that are leaking or have leaked over the years, mold, radon gas, etc. have the potential to make you ill and cost money to remediate or remove. If the home inspector finds these things, you'll want to bring in a professional to give you an estimated cost to remove or remediate the problem. From there you can decide whether you're comfortable moving forward with the purchase.
Are the issues major or minor? The home inspector could potentially find a problem in every room of the home without it meaning that the house is trouble. If the sellers were older or had financial issues, they may have let some maintenance go. Once these items are addressed, you could have years of happiness there without any drama. Then again, you may be seeing the tip of the iceberg and be buying a money pit. As the home inspector will tell you, they can't see through walls and there are plenty of problems they can't identify during an inspection. If you're not comfortable and don't have a good idea as to the magnitude of the issues, call a licensed contractor and ask him or her to tour the home with you. Ask both the contractor and the home inspector for their thoughts on moving forward with the purchase. Although neither may come right out and say "run away," you should be able to get a feel for what they think you're walking into.
Don't ignore your gut. If there's something troubling you and you can't make that feeling go away with contractors and data, it may be best to cancel the sale and look for something else. Don't feel pressured to move forward, trust your instincts.
So you've had your home inspection, found a few problems but you still want to move forward. Next up: HBU E11, Negotiating Home Inspection Issues As always, if you have more questions, I’m here to help.