Most homeowners, real-estate regulars and first-time buyers know to get a general home inspection, but you may want to plunk down a couple hundred extra dollars for some additional look-sees by specialists who could save you thousands.
“Inspections pay off,” says Barry Irby, president of the Central Virginia American Society of Home Inspectors and the owner of Home Reporters Inc. One of his clients was looking at a 1918 home with original, built-in gutters that were leaking. He recommended that a roofing specialist examine them. The upshot? A $7,500 price reduction to cover the repairs.
Home inspectors like Irby are generalists, examining everything from roofs and home exteriors to plumbing, heating and insulation. “We have a lot of knowledge on a lot of topics but not the same knowledge as an expert,” he says. “There are cases where we have looked at houses that had foundation damage and we called in a contractor or structural engineer, saving the [home buyers] tens of thousands of dollars.”
Though Virginia is a disclosure state, meaning that a seller is supposed to disclose what he knows about the condition of the house, sellers are often unaware of serious defects.
And just because a home is newly built doesn’t mean that it’s problem-free. “One to 2 percent of the houses I inspect are new houses,” Irby says. “We find some things in almost every house we look at.”
During one such inspection, Irby discovered that instead of resting on 11 foundation piers, a home was resting on just three. Luckily the problem was detected before closing and corrected.
When you’re purchasing a home, the last thing you want to do is shell out more money, but calling in the experts can often save you more than the cost of the inspections.
Average cost: $150, depending on the size of the home
“Replacing a roof can be very costly,” says John Cranor of Cranor Home Inspections, who was a third-generation roofer before becoming a home inspector. “You could have a roof that has been leaking for a long time into an area that you don’t see. It can cause catastrophic problems.”
When Cranor inspects a roof, he looks for deterioration, damage and roof failure as well as ventilation issues and insulation errors. “A small error in a flashing, for example, can cause water to enter your home and ruin things,” he says. “It can wet insulation in the attic, run down a wall and cause mold and rot issues.”
Average cost: $55 (termite)
A termite inspection is a must before closing on a home. But even though the seller is required to pay for one, you probably want to have your own done, for two reasons. First, says Nick Lupini, vice president of Loyal Termite & Pest Control, “You don’t know who the seller is using. You are relying on their inspection.”
Second, while most lenders require the seller to order a termite inspection within 30 days of closing, you can order your own inspection at any time, thus preventing any surprises late in the process.
Inspectors should check for all wood-destroying insects, including termites, carpenter ants, carpenter bees and borers, and powder post beetles. “We also look for wood-destroying fungus — two types of white rot and one type of brown rot,” Lupini says, which are generally caused by severe moisture problems under a home.
Average cost: $120 for the first system
There are times when Steffen Meade, president of Universal Heating & Plumbing Inc., is shocked by the problems he encounters. “On one inspection someone had installed a brand-new gas furnace upside-down,” he recalls.
Meade checks for proper insulation and air leaks during an inspection, while examining the age and condition of the equipment. “Most technicians will know if the equipment has been worked on a lot,” he notes.
Also check amp draws, a measure of how efficiently the motor is using electricity. “High amp draws show something wrong with a particular component,” Meade explains.
Average cost: $300 to $500, inspections can be videotaped.
Many potential buyers don’t think to have the sewer line checked for problems, using the “what you can’t see won’t hurt you” mentality. “It could cost you $2,500 and up to replace a sewer line,” says John Stemmle, president of Stemmle Plumbing Repair Inc. “It’s the things that make your home attractive, like trees and shrubs, that produce roots in the ground that can grow to the sewer line.”
Roots can penetrate the top of the sewer line, entering through cracks and old joints. Inspectors run cameras through the line from your home to the city or county connection in order to check for rust and scale buildup, as well as breaks, cracks and roots.
Average cost: $150 to $170 for the first flue.
Curtis Thompson, co-owner of Custom Chimney Service and Repair, inspected one home where the homeowner fell through the den floor when rotten flooring gave way. The cause: The hole to the furnace flue had been covered up when the firebox was rebuilt, and with the flue covered, steam from the furnace formed condensation that rotted the den floor over time.
Given that experience, it’s not surprising that Thompson suggests getting all of a home’s flues inspected, including the chimney, even if it isn’t being used. (Most oil and gas furnaces in older homes vent through the chimney.)
When ordering an inspection, be sure to use a fire-certified chimney inspector who’s trained in draft issues, says Thompson. “You can check to see if the furnace is drafting properly.”
Average cost: $500 to $750 for inspection and comprehensive report.
According to Stephen Gibbs, owner of Virginia Environmental LLC, most homes have some mold in the crawl space.
Signs of more serious problems include odd smells, water stains and water damage. An indoor-air-quality investigation can provide a definitive answer. If mold remediation is required, be sure that it’s done properly. Hire someone who is certified to ensure that no spores are released into the air, which could damage the contents of your home. “It could cost you between $40,000 and $60,000 because you have to clean or get rid of a lot of your [possessions],” Gibbs says.
Don’t forget to check new homes, as well. “I inspected a beautiful new home in Hanover where the builder had left a lot of the building materials outside, and they got wet,” recalls Gibbs. “There was a huge mold problem in the attic.”