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Tom’s top 10 home inspection tips

By Tom Sutko Owner, AmeriSpec Inspection Services

Since acquiring two of the industry’s leading inspection services (AmeriSpec and TNT Termite), I’ve honed in on a handful of common misconceptions related to the home inspection which, on occasion, can create discord in the harmony of the home buying/selling process.

Taking a tip from the well-known newspaper column “Hints from Heloise”, I offer my version of “Tips from Tom” to touch on and define some of these topics. Here are my top 10 home inspection tips.

1) What is a whole house inspection? – A home inspection is a limited, visual review of the home’s major components/systems, tested using normal operating procedures at a given point in time. If something is not readily accessible to the inspector, we can’t report on it. If something fails or becomes inoperable after the inspection has been completed, it is the buyer’s responsibility to remedy – it is impossible to predict future failure.

2) Pre-sale inspection vs. a traditional inspection – One of the most under-utilized real estate tools is the pre-sale inspection. The findings of the traditional home inspection are often used against the seller to renegotiate the sales contract. The use of a pre-sale inspection (purchased by the seller prior to incoming contract) protects their equity while making the process much smoother – there will be fewer negotiations/addenda after the fact. Pre-sale inspections could be viewed as being “priceless”.

3) Insuring existing roofs – 2013′s hail storms have left many homeowners with daunting and costly roof repairs. With many parts of town experiencing hail damage, well-known insurance carriers have become reluctant to cover a roof with some previous hail damage (not large enough to report a claim), as the home’s roof may need to be replaced if future storms do additional damage. If some hail damage is noted in the home inspection report, Realtors should recommended that buyers have their roofs reviewed by their insurance carrier prior to closing to ensure adequate coverage.

4) Main floor/waste line – Besides testing individual plumbing fixtures (faucets, sinks, tubs/showers, dishwasher) for proper operations, inspectors are trained to place as much pressure on the plumbing system possible to expose potential problems (i.e. slow drains, drains backing up) in the home’s main waste line. Since the main waste line is not visible (below the floor/concrete) to the home inspector, recommendations are made to have the main waste line reviewed by a drain specialist if issues were found during the plumbing inspection.

5) Moisture penetration – This is one of the more controversial areas of a home inspection, due to the belief that home inspectors should always be able to assess the water tightness of their purchased home.

In reality, moisture penetration issues are excluded from the inspection agreement, given the inspector’s inability to visually see certain types of moisture damage which may be hidden or when an issue will materialize in the future. If there is NO visual staining or other indications that something may be leaking (signs of water), one must assume all is good in that moment.

6) Vacant homes – We see a larger percent of issues requiring call-backs from with homes that were vacant when they were inspected vs. occupied homes. The primary reason for this is that most components/systems are designed to be used on a daily basis. When a home sits for an extended period of time without use, many parts become compromised. Issues with these parts surface only after a period of constant use. Prior to booking a home inspection, it is critical to make sure that the primary utilities – water and natural gas ­– are turned on.

7) A generalist vs. a specialist – Home inspectors are “generalists” (not specialists) who have not been trained extensively in any one area of expertise, such as plumbing, electrical, HVAC. The primary responsibility of a home inspector is to identify whether a home’s components/systems are working properly. It is not a home inspector’s responsibility to identify the reason why something is not working. This is why inspectors often recommend things be reviewed by a qualified, licensed contractor.

8) Full-perimeter termite treatment – In the event a home is “failed” during the termite inspection process, buyers should make sure their sellers (1) select a company that provides a full-perimeter treatment that forms a complete barrier around the home’s foundation; and (2) that the treatment is completed per the termiticide’s label. It is also important to make sure all improvements made to the property, such as decks, storage sheds and detached garages, are included in the bid for termite treatment.

9) Furnace heat exchangers – These are typically excluded from the scope of the whole home inspection because they often are not visible to the inspector. The heat exchanger is one of the major components of the heating system. The furnace to be physically dismantled to inspect and test the exchanger, which is against the ASHI Standards of Practice for home inspectors. Once a furnace is 15 years old, it is recommended that a HVAC specialist review the system to make sure that the heat exchanger has no cracks.

10) Radon preparation – More often than not, we need to prolong the standard 48-hour radon measurement test because we find open windows when we come to place the radon monitor in a seller’s home. If the windows are found open at the time of our arrival, the windows must be closed and the testing must be extended for a minimum of 12 hours. Listing agents should remind their sellers to make sure all the windows are closed prior to our arrival.

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