July 15th, 2011
When you’re a homebuyer, particularly a first-time homebuyer, it’s tough not to be a little bit skeptical of the whole buying process. You are making an investment of a lifetime, so it’s understandable to want to know the nuts and bolts of the home you’re purchasing. And since the seller and agent are trying to score a deal, you can’t always count on them to point out the weak points of a home – such as needed repairs or foreseen work.
But you can count on the home inspector for that.
In the article “5 Questions to Ask Your Home’s Inspector,” Tara-Nicholle Nelson offers some guidelines for things to ask the inspector in order to get the best picture of the condition of the home.
Note: You aren’t necessarily required to be present for the inspection, but you should try to be, otherwise you’ll just have a report with lingo like “serviceable condition” and “conducive to deterioration” to work with.
How bad is it really? As Nelson points out, home inspectors are all about the facts, and you won’t necessarily be able to tell which issues are big deals and which ones aren’t. This is a big deal, of course, as a thousand dollar issue is very different than a quick-fix issue, which Nelson emphasizes:
I’ve seen things categorized in home inspection reports under “Health and Safety Hazards” that cost less than $100 to fix, like replacing a faucet that has hot and cold reversed. And I’ve seen one-liners in inspection reports, like “extensive earth-to-wood contact” result, after further inspection, in foundation repair bids pricier than the whole cost of the home!
So, while the inspector may not be able to give you an actual amount for an estimate, most of them will explain the issue in more detail if you ask, and that will give you an idea of the magnitude.
Who should I have fix this? This question has dual importance. If you’re lucky, the inspector will tell you that you can actually fix it yourself. If you’re even luckier, you’ll get a real talker who will tell you exactly what you’ll need to get at the hardware store, and what exactly you need to do.
If it isn’t a fix-it-yourself project, the inspector may be able to offer a referral for someone to do the work. This will save you time, which is clutch since you have to have your repair bids and estimates in hand before your contingency or objection period expires.
If this was your house, what would you fix, and when? It’s the inspector’s job to point out everything that may need repair, replacement, maintenance, or further inspection, so they’re going to do just that. But, as Nelson says, when an item is described as “at the end of its serviceable lifetime,” it doesn’t mean it’s going to break tomorrow.
So find out where the inspector’s priorities would be. It will help you understand the importance of having a home warranty plan and what does and doesn’t need to be repaired before the move, and to prioritize the work that does need to be done so you can put it in your budget or negotiate with the seller.
Can you point that out to me? Nelson makes a good point when she says,
Worst case scenario is to get home, open up the inspector’s report and have no clue whatsoever what he or she was referring to when they called out the wax ring that needs replacement or the temperature-pressure release valve that is improperly installed.
Your best bet is to ask the inspector to take a few minutes to walk you through the house and point out all the items they’ve noted need repair, maintenance or further inspection. Make sure to take notes and pictures so you don’t forget what exactly the inspector was talking about when you get the report.
Can you show me how that works? You don’t want to wait until you’re in the home alone in the middle of the night to figure out how to use the emergency shutoffs for your gas, water and electrical utilities. So don’t hesitate to ask. That’s what he or she is there for!