When you’re buying or selling a home and the purchase agreement is freshly signed and you’re officially in escrow, things move fast. But it all comes to a head for one seminal event that could make or break a real estate transaction - the home inspection. In fact, home inspections (along with the appraisal and seller disclosures) are like a big flashing yellow right in every deal, with the buyer not feeling comfortable to move forward (by removing contingencies) until a full home inspection report is on hand – and usually the seller addressing any major fixes that need to be done.
Just how important are home inspections to buyers? An annual American Society of Home Inspectors reveals that 88 percent of respondents say home inspections increase their confidence about the condition of the property, 72 percent of U.S. homeowners said that a home inspection helped them avoid potential problems when they bought their home, and 64 percent of homeowners said they saved a lot of money as a result of their home inspection.
But home inspections don’t have to be nerve-wracking or a stumbling block to a home sale closing as planned. To avoid any unwanted surprises, pricy renegotiations, or even deals falling through, home sellers would be wise to do their own pre-inspection, by themselves, with the help of their handyman, or even by hiring a home inspectors themselves before listing the home, especially for luxury and high-end homes.
With a little planning and diligence, a clean home inspection report will encourage the happy buyer to proceed with a smooth transaction. In order for sellers to know just what to look for and proactively fix, here are the top maintenance issues found in home inspections:
Home inspectors make sure all outlets, GFCIs, and switches work properly, as well as check electrical breakers and fuse boxes. Some common problems include old wiring, wiring connections not put in a junction box, a lack of GFCIs in kitchens and bathrooms, outlets with reversed polarity (hot and neutral wires are mixed) and two electrical circuits wired through a single breaker.
2. Water and plumbing
Smaller leaks around toilets, under sinks, and dripping faucets are actually pretty common and easily fixed, but bigger water damage issues can lead to mold and major structural damage, so home inspectors will look for telltale signs like discoloration on ceilings, rot, and cleanouts and drains that don’t work properly. Older homes may present a problem because galvanized water lines rust from the inside, closing the passageway which water can move through and reducing water pressure. Replacing all your water lines with new copper piping can be a huge expense – but necessary at some point.
3. HVAC systems
Heat and air systems require regular maintenance and are costly to replace, so home inspectors will test both heating and cooling systems (no matter what the season!) thoroughly. Homeowners should be replacing their filters periodically and getting their HVAC system tuned up once or twice a year to keep the unit in good working order and prolong its life. Inspectors will also check the flow of ducting and making sure AC units outdoors are clean of debris and obstructions like high grass. Older homes or those in colder climates may have a furnace or boiler that also needs TLC.
4. Smoke and CO detectors
This isn’t just nit picking, these detectors really save lives. In fact, studies show that fire-related fatalities are twice as high in households where no smoke detector is present or it’s inoperative. Regulations and safety codes for smoke detectors vary from state to state, but according to section 310.9.1 of the California Building Code, all residences must have smoke detectors installed.
Likewise, carbon monoxide poisoning shouldn’t be taken lightly, considering that more than 10,000 are poisoned by carbon monoxide and need medical treatment each year, and around 500 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning in the U.S. every year. California is now one of the 26 states in the U.S. that now mandates carbon monoxide detectors in private dwellings (and even schools) so it’s important you are in compliance not just to “pass” the home inspection but for the health and safety of your family.
Additionally, radon gas in the home is a growing health concern and testing is becoming more common.
Home inspectors will check to make sure all windows open and close freely and aren’t painted shut, bent or warped, impeded by window ACs if they are the only egress in the room, and generally that they are up to standards of the home. Windowpanes should be free of cracks or splintering, and most people don’t realize that the dreaded fogging or trapping of moisture between double paned windows as the vacuum seal is breached will be an item the home inspector needs to flag.
In older homes with original windows, sash cords are often broken or missing, inhibiting the window from staying open, or closing correctly, and will need to be fixed. Remember that focusing on windows being in tip-top shape isn’t just for cosmetic reasons but to ensure safe exit in case of a fire or other emergency in the home.
Look for part two of this blog where we'll cover the rest of the 15 most common maintenance items that are flagged in home inspections.