Contracting with a professional home inspector is one of the most important things a buyer can do in the run-up to closing. But though an inspection can reveal essential deficiencies you need to know about, it isn’t foolproof. Here are some critical problems a general inspection may miss and steps you can take to protect yourself if that happens.
What the inspector does
Home inspectors often have a construction background. Typically their inspections are general and involve checking the major components of a house, such as the heating and air conditioning (HVAC), roof, plumbing, electrical systems and foundation. Inspectors also make sure the house is up to current building standards. Since codes are updated regularly, an older home may not have required features such as self-closing hinges on garage doors, ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) electric sockets near wet areas, and more.
The inspector mostly does a visual inspection, although he will measure the temperature of the oven and of the airflow from heating and air vents. He may go up on the roof to inspect it or take a look from below with binoculars or a drone.
An inspection report will be very detailed. But some problems may still lurk out of sight, and some systems may be worth having a specialist handle. Consider having a specialist take a look at the following areas.
Heating and air conditioning
The inspector will visually survey the condition of the components and measure the temperature of air flowing from the HVAC vents. But he will not open up mechanical components of the HVAC system or attach diagnostic devices. If the system is more than 10 years old, have an HVAC professional run diagnostics.
Homes built before the 1970s may still have galvanized or ceramic drain conduits from the house to the city sewerage system. Over time these pipes can clog and collapse. Replacing them can cost you $10,000 or more. The inspector will notice if a conduit isn’t draining correctly, but won’t find a problem if the conduit is operating but on the verge of collapse. With an older home, have a plumber conduct a camera inspection of these conduits. Also, have a licensed septic professional inspect the septic system if there is one.
Wood-destroying insects such as termites and carpenter ants can cause expensive hidden damage inside walls. In most states, sellers who know their home has a history of these pests have a duty to disclose it. If a home you’re interested in has a history of these insects, have a professional pest control company examine the house. There should also be a termite protection contract that’s transferable to the new owner.
The inspector may check that a swimming pool’s pump system is working but will not necessarily catch cracks or other issues. A home inspector may have a specific clause in his contract that he is not liable for undetected pool problems. To know a pool’s true state, hire a pool construction specialist to check it out.
You may be eagerly awaiting your first chilly night bundled up in front of a home’s fireplace, but if the chimney has years of creosote buildup, that dream can turn into a nightmare. To be sure a chimney is safe, have a chimney inspector check for dangerous creosote and soot buildup.
Black mold, asbestos or lead paint can all make you and your family sick. If an inspection report raises the possibility of toxins in or on the walls of older homes, or you otherwise suspect them, have a professional health inspector scrutinize the house.
Windows fog when they age and lose their vacuum seal, allowing moisture to infiltrate their chambers. Fixing this situation can become expensive if it affects a lot of windows. If a home inspection discloses this problem, you may want to negotiate a lower price with the seller to replace the windowpanes.
Beware fresh paint and new floors
The sellers had new floors installed or a single room freshly painted just before selling. Ask yourself why, and consider whether these updates might mask recent water, foundation or insect damage. If you suspect these conditions, have the inspector take a closer look.