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Home inspector looking at a house

What to Look for in a Home Inspection

A thorough inspection can alert you to potential problems.

[Updated: Feb 04, 2021] Oct 24, 2019 by Maurie Backman
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When you buy a home that's been lived in, you never really know what you're signing up for. You might think that the property looks like it's in good shape, but there could be problems lurking below the surface that are extremely costly to fix. And the last thing you want to do is buy a home only to encounter expensive repairs shortly after the fact.

Enter the home inspection. The purpose of a home inspection is to uncover potential issues that could cost you money as a new homeowner. That way, you can negotiate with your seller to fix those items prior to your closing or reduce the purchase price of your home to offset the costs of addressing the issues.

Here are a few key items to pay attention to in the course of your home inspection.

1. The roof

These days, a good roof can last for 20 years or more, depending on the materials used. During your home inspection, find out how old the roof is and get confirmation that it's structurally sound.

Look out for signs of leakage, like water stains on ceilings. The average cost of a new roof is $7,747, according to HomeAdvisor. That's not an expense you want to deal with right away.

2. The foundation

It would be a terrible surprise to buy a home and later find out it has a sinking or damaged foundation. If your potential home's foundation has major cracks, they'll generally be obvious -- that home's floors will be uneven, and doors will become dislodged from their frames. Numerous cracks in walls and doorways could also indicate a problem.

A major foundation repair could cost you $10,000 or more, though smaller cracks could be less than half that much to fix. Still, it’s not a headache you want to deal with.

3. The HVAC system

Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems don't last forever and they can be expensive to replace. Make sure your would-be home's HVAC system is working properly before completing the purchase. Pay attention to issues like improper ductwork or a condenser that's on its way out -- neither is a quick or cheap repair.

You could easily wind up spending between $3,000 and $5,000 to replace your HVAC system, so make sure that's not on the horizon.

4. Mold

Mold isn't just unsightly; it can cause health issues and be very difficult and expensive to get rid of. The cost of mold remediation depends heavily on how extensive the damage is and where it is, so if your home inspector spots it, talk to your seller and do some serious negotiating.

5. Asbestos

Asbestos was once a common construction material, but it's since been deemed dangerous, causing lung disease when frequently inhaled. Make sure the home you're looking to buy isn't laden with asbestos. If it is, make sure the situation can be remedied (on your seller's dime) before moving forward.

6. The septic system

Homes that aren't on public sewer lines rely on septic systems to filter out wastewater. Sometimes the signs of a deteriorating septic system aren't so obvious, but in other situations, you'll notice things like:

  • slow drainage,
  • strange sounds in plumbing lines,
  • odors emanating from the septic tank (typically a rotten egg smell), and
  • standing water near the tank.

The average cost for a new septic tank is $5,821, according to HomeAdvisor, though depending on your home's setup, it could be much more. Be careful if you're buying a property that doesn't get sewer service.

7. Old wiring

If it can be avoided, you don’t want to buy a home with an outdated electrical system. Doing so exposes you to the risk of fire, not to mention general electrical issues.

Getting an electrical system up to code can cost thousands of dollars, and the amount you pay will depend on the size of the home in question and what work needs to get done. Get it taken care of before you buy that property.

While you don't have to be present during the inspection, it pays to attend if you can manage it. You can ask your inspector specific questions as you go and better understand the potential issues that are brought to your attention.

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