Inspections: Varied Tests, Verifications, Property Evaluations Offer Many Choices for Prospective Homebuyers

By Stephen L. Fussell, Senior Consumer Protection Officer

The following is a list of inspections and verification measures that a prospective homebuyer should consider. Some lenders require certain inspections. However, even if a lender does not require a particular inspection or test, buyers should consider the following in order to protect their long-term interests. Declining an inspection in an effort to save money may cost the buyer much more than the cost of the inspection in the long run. This list is not exhaustive, but is intended to cover the most common inspections and verifications utilized by buyers.

Home Inspection –This is a general overview of the condition of a house. It is a visual inspection and is not exhaustive (i.e. it may not detect hidden defects). It does not provide a guarantee that defects will not arise in the future. Even buyers of newly-constructed homes should have home inspections. A residential home inspector must be licensed. Buyers should pay close attention to any recommendation by a home inspector for further, specialized inspections.

Wood-destroying insects – Every house should be inspected for insects that eat wood because the presence of such insects can damage or destroy a house. Evidence of a previous infestation of wood-destroying insects may warrant an inspection by a general contractor or structural engineer to determine the extent of the damage.

Radon – This is a colorless, odorless, carcinogenic gas that rises through the soil and enters a house through the crawl space or concrete slab. There are several methods for testing for the presence of radon. The EPA has indicated that corrective action is necessary when the radon level inside a home is 4.0 pCi/L or higher as this can be harmful to one’s health. Every buyer should consider having a radon test.

Survey – This will indicate whether there are any encroachments (e.g. fences, buildings, driveways, landscaping, etc.) by the subject property or adjacent properties.

Lead – Lead-based paint and lead pipes are the primary source of lead in homes. If a home was built before 1978, the seller must provide a lead-based paint disclosure. If a buyer has children, it may be wise to test the property for the presence of lead.

Mold – While mold is found everywhere and most types of mold are harmless, some types carry health risks. Also, persons with asthma and other respiratory health issues may be more sensitive to mold than the general population. If there is evidence of significant mold or if the buyer expresses a sensitivity to mold, an inspection by a qualified mold inspector would be wise.

Gas furnace – If the heat exchanger in the gas furnace is cracked, the furnace may produce carbon monoxide which can be fatal. A gas furnace should be inspected by a licensed HVAC firm.

Fireplace/Chimney – Fireplaces and chimneys should be inspected for cracks, creosote build-up and/or weak foundations that may allow the chimneys to lean away from the house creating gaps that enable moisture and pests to enter the gaps and the house. Also, don’t forget to inspect flues for gas stoves and gas logs.

Moisture (crawl space, basement, roof leak, plumbing leak) – Moisture is a home’s worst enemy. It promotes wood decay, mold and wood-destroying insects. Any evidence of moisture in a crawlspace or basement or stains on ceilings should lead to further examination.

Foundation cracks – This can be a sign of structural weakness caused by uneven settling of the soil under the house. The buyer should consider hiring a structural engineer to evaluate suspicious foundation cracks.

Septic systems – Check the septic permit for the specified number of bedrooms to make sure it meets or exceeds the advertised number of bedrooms and to locate the septic system on the property. If the area in which the septic system is located is wet or smells like sewage, the buyer should contact either the county environmental health department or a septic contractor to evaluate.

Wells – Test for contamination by bacteria, heavy metals, pesticides and other toxins. Drinking water containing any of these could be harmful to one’s health. A buyer or buyer’s agent may look at the water (Is it clear or brown?) and taste the water to help make the decision on how extensively to test the well water.

Underground fuel tanks – If a property depends upon well water and it has or previously had an underground fuel storage tank, it will be very important to determine whether there was any leakage from the tank. An unused tank should be removed or filled with sand to prevent collapse and the soil around the tank should be tested for fuel contamination.

City water/sewer – If a property is advertised as having “city water/sewer,” it would be wise to contact the local utility provider(s) to confirm that the property is connected to city water and sewer services.

Fire – If there is information or evidence indicating that a fire occurred, the buyer should hire a structural engineer to evaluate the structural integrity of the house.

Cracked concrete slabs, driveways, patios – If a house is built on a concrete slab (instead of a crawl space) and the slab is cracked, a buyer should consider hiring a structural engineer to evaluate the crack. Minor cracks in driveways, sidewalks and patios are normal. However, if a crack appears to be wide or uneven in elevation, the buyer should consider hiring a structural engineer to evaluate.

Flooding issues – Is the property in a designated flood plain? If so, the lender may require flood insurance. If the property is not located in a flood plain, but is located near a drainage ditch or a body of water or, if the ground around the house slopes downward toward the house causing surface water to drain toward the house, then there could be a flooding or moisture issue that should be examined.

Homeowners’ Association – Does an HOA exist? If so, who controls it, what is its financial condition, how much are the dues and what exactly do the dues cover?

Area – Prospective buyers and their agents should drive around the area, speak with neighbors, and check websites containing local information to identify potential problems regarding the property, neighborhood and general area.

Previous service/repair – If the seller or seller’s agent indicates that something was serviced or repaired, it may be wise for the buyer to closely inspect the item to assure that it is in good working order and not in need of further service/repair.

Building permit – If a room has been added to the house or if a previously unfinished area was finished or if a new deck was constructed, a buyer would be wise to contact the county building inspection department to confirm that a building permit was obtained. The issuance of a permit ensures that the construction was done properly and approved by the county.

While all of the items in this list may not apply to every transaction, they provide a reasonable guide for prospective buyers and their agents to complete their due diligence and to help buyers determine whether to complete their purchases.

This article came from the May 2015-Vol46-1 edition of the bulletin.