A home inspection is a wonderful thing. You'll definitely rest easier knowing your new home is in relatively good shape. The only problem is that your new home is someone else's old home. An old owner's peculiarities and quirks may land you with a charming garden -- or a magenta bedroom wall that'll take four coats of paint to banish for good.
The fact that the home has been around a few years could lead to problems, too. A home inspection will go over major systems, but it's mostly a visual inspection and not an in-depth examination. This is real estate speak for "proceed with caution." In fact, why not strap on your work boots and accompany the inspector on his rounds? Another set of eyes couldn't hurt. There are more than a few things that the inspector won't be looking for.
If there's something (or nothing) in your walls, don't expect a home inspector to start knocking holes in the drywall to take a look. Yeah, he'll check the electrical outlets, but if the insulation on your northern-facing family room wall is non-existent or puddled around the baseboards, invest in some heavy duty socks (and a comfy sweater) come next winter, because your house will be cold.
If the living room is carpeted with thick pile, it might not be immediately apparent that your son would be able to use the floor's slope when he practices his skateboarding techniques. Inspectors don't check to make sure that rooms are square and floors are level -- because most of them just aren't. How unsquare and unlevel may mean the difference between lounging on your sofa and hanging on for dear life. Houses go up quickly these days, so don't expect the price of your home to be the determiner of quality workmanship. Grab a level (and a T square) and check for yourself.
Unless the backyard is a swamp of raw sewage, an inspector will check the pipes but generally disregard the septic tank system. This could mean an expensive and revolting education in the science of waste disposal if something goes wrong later. Septic tank problems are vile, hideous, nauseating and -- did we say vile? Before you consider buying a home that isn't connected to your city's sewage disposal utility, have the septic tank evaluated by a contractor who specializes in septic system maintenance and repair.
Remember coming home late from a date when you were a teenager and trying to skip the creaking fourth (or fifth) staircase tread to avoid detection? Well, those days may be gone, but creaking homes are still common. Some homes creak so much they sound like Halloween haunted house tapes.
If you ever want to sneak up on your kids to make sure they're really doing their homework, it's nice to have a home that doesn't announce your every move. Newer homes may creak less, but don't count on it. Walk around any house you have in mind with a keen ear and the spirit of a dedicated disciplinarian. You might want to consider the flip side, too. Do you prefer silent stealth for yourself, or would you rather have a telltale creak announce the arrival of late night miscreants?
New homes have surprises, and they aren't all pretty. Home inspections may hit the highlights, but what the inspector doesn't see or smell won't make the checklist. Those cat surprises in the attic (that may range from deceased mice to an impromptu port-o-litter) can make for a fragrant spring or summer. Oh, and watch out for the barbecued pork chop that little Jason expertly slipped through the floor register last winter. Like the ghost of Christmas past, it will be adding piggy perfume to your new home, especially on muggy evenings, until the day the furnace gives out.
Sure, interior designers love vivid colors. They'll tell you that a couple of coats of bright paint will transform a dining room wall into a space worthy of Architectural Digest. When someone -- like you, the new owner -- goes to paint over the vermillion, aubergine or puce, you'll discover that paint is a lot less opaque than you imagined. Three coats of expensive latex later will have you looking at wallpaper samples, and won't that be fun?
An inspector will observe a home's roof from the ground. He doesn't actually have to climb up there. He may, but it's a long shot. For a thorough check, you'll have to call in a roofing contractor. There's more to consider here than just water leaks. The roof can be a party palace for local critters like birds nesting in a fireplace chimney, termites (yes, some varieties start at the top and work their way down) and roof rats. Raccoons, those naughty bandits, have also been known to excavate their way through a home's roof.
Imagine the scene: You find your dream home, and it has breathtaking curb appeal. The shrubs are precisely sculpted, the flowering annuals look like a Monet painting, and the lawn is a verdant green carpet sloping gently to the sidewalk. The property is dotted with trees that contribute dappled light and filigreed shadows over a landscape that may soon be yours. It's majestic; it's Old World; it's a nightmare.
Elaborate landscaping takes a lot of work and equipment to maintain, and the cost of lawn preparations, soil amendments and pesticides could pay your cousin's gambling debts. Unless you love gardening and plan on making it your life's work, enjoy the weeping angel fountain, but buy the low-maintenance property down the block.
Pets are great, but you've got to admit that pet dander in the draperies, the hair in the heating ducts and the scratches on the hardwood floor make them an expensive inconvenience when it comes time to sell. After noting that a home has or had pets, a house inspector will move on to the next item on his list. That simple statement won't take into account what it will cost to get the pet odor out of the carpet, repair the woodwork or regrow those dead spots in the lawn.
Cigarette smoke residue can take years to leech out of walls, carpeting and air conditioning ducts -- if it ever comes out at all. You might think your trusty olfactory stink-o-meter would know right away that a smoker has been at work spewing carcinogens all over your soon-to-be (maybe) home, but that might not be true. The strong smell of Febreze, ammonia, bleach and even baking cookies (how sneaky) can disguise the wicked stench. One humid afternoon soon after the sale, the rank aroma of spent ciggys could start oozing toward your unsuspecting family. Be proactive and beat the butts. Make sure you're buying a non-smoking home.
Most homeowners insurance won't cover your home if you're renting it via sites like Airbnb. HowStuffWorks looks at insurance policies that will.
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- Miller, Thomas H. "Septic Systems and Their Maintenance." University of Maryland. 4/6/07. (3/16/11).http://extension.umd.edu/environment/Water/files/septic.html
- Quit Smoking Support. "What's in a Cigarette?" Undated. (3/16/11).http://www.quitsmokingsupport.com/whatsinit.htm
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- Scherzer, Lisa and Michelle Andrews. "10 Things Home Inspectors Won't Say." Smart Money. Undated. (3/16/11).http://www.smartmoney.com/spending/rip-offs/10-things-home-inspectors-wont-tell-you/