Think a whole-house inspection is enough?

Hank Bailey
Hank Bailey
Published on April 17, 2019

You do your house hunting and search in vain for that perfect home! You find the house you love, put offers in, negotiate your best deal, and then you get a call from your agent that you just went under contract!  What a relief, right?

Then your agent informs you have you are in Due Diligence.  This is a fancy way of saying that a homebuyer should not depend on the word or knowledge of the seller (even though, legally, the seller must reveal all known defects in the home), but has an obligation to thoroughly investigate the property. The due diligence period typically runs from the time the purchase contract is signed by all parties until a date negotiated on by both the buyer and the seller.

Due diligence is something you should not take too lightly. This process ensures that the home is in acceptable condition. That you know what you are buying.

Any home may be hiding an expensive secret or two, and it’s up to you to get it to “spill the beans.” Let me share with you a few of the more common additional inspections buyers are recommended to consider during the due diligence period.

Inspect the whole-house 

Call this one the mack-daddy of inspections; it’s the one the real estate industry insists be performed on every transaction. From crawlspace (or basement) to the roof line, this covers every aspect from structural to mechanical, electrical to plumbing, in the house! A home inspector friend of mine told me one time that as a home inspector, he’s like a general practitioner or ER doctor. He knows generally what to look for on every element of the house and can find out ‘what’s ailing’ the home!

On that full home inspection they will carry out an inspection of all of the home’s systems, which will be checked thoroughly. From the HVAC to plumbing and electrical. Whereas in the past, this was a visual inspection, today with infrared technology, a good inspector can also show you what might be hiding behind the walls or in areas of the home that aren’t visible to the naked eye.

The inspector will also make note of potential problems – those that may occur in the near future. Examples of this include faulty grading of the landscaping and possible moisture intrusion. Deferred maintenance that has been accumulating for example. Gutters that need to be cleaned out to rotten trim or fascia.  HVAC systems that are not working efficiently.

“Conditions at a home for sale can change radically in only a day or two, so a home inspection is not meant to guarantee what condition a home will be in when the transaction closes,” claims Nick Gromicko and Kenton Shepard of the International Association of Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) “It’s not uncommon for conditions to change between the time of the inspection and the closing date,” they conclude.

The organization offers an excellent resource about what to expect from a home inspection on its website.

pests

There are wood-boring insects, such as powder post beetles, carpenter ants and termites. Then there are the fungal organisms that cause rot in the home’s timbers within the crawlspace. These may eventually turn brittle and decay into powder.

Unless you know what to look for, evidence of a pest infestation and even the damage caused by these pests can be difficult to find. While most home inspectors can see a termite tunnel for example, it really takes a pest control company to conduct a valid termite inspection. The fix, when caught early, is far less expensive than you might think. Most homeowners that I’ve seen spend between $300 to $500 to install termite control, and the ongoing maintenance of that is roughly $200 per year.  With an extensive infestation, however, these costs can be substantially more expensive to cure.

septic 

Since the status of and functionality with a septic system is almost impossible to ascertain to the non-professional, an inspection is always a good idea. The typical septic system inspection includes pumping out the system so that a visual inspection of the tank and distribution box can be performed. The inspector will look for signs of decay, including missing or broken parts. From recent experience, I am seeing locally costs of between $475 and $1,100 to have a septic tank pumped and inspected.

For me, when I have my buyer’s agent hat on, I put into the amendment addressing concerns that the seller will agree to pump and inspect the septic system prior to closing, “also making any suggested or recommended repairs,” prior to closing.  There is no way you can do this inspection as a buyer because you’d have to have the septic company effectively dig a hole in the yard to do so. We normally don’t get so evasive where we might damage the property during due diligence, so it makes it very convenient to ask the seller to do so for us! At their cost.

With that said, if the seller can provide copies of a septic inspection and proof it was pumped within the past 3-4 years, many time that may suffice. It depends on other variables however.  In Georgia, the Georgia Department of Public Health provides a homeowner’s guide to managing septic systems. For Georgia home buyers (or homeowners), this is very handy information!

air quality

Many homeowners routinely check the air in their homes for radon, an odorless, colorless radioactive gas. It enters the home through cracks in the foundation slab or crawlspace and you might not have known, but radon gas can even enter the home through well water. Concentrations of the gas are naturally higher in the winter, when homes are closed up tight against the elements.

The concern with radon is that it is a carcinogen, and in fact, radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the country, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The U.S. Surgeon General urges that all homeowners test their homes for radon. Testing can be performed with DIY test kits you find at your local home improvement store or by professionals. If readings are above EPA limits, mitigation, requires the help of a professional.

lead paint

Homes built before 1978 were typically painted with products that contained lead. If you have small children, it is highly suggested that you determine if the home you hope to purchase has lead-based paint.

This is because, according to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the absorption of lead into the body, even by breathing the dust, may lead to damage to the liver, brain, and other vital organs.

The EPA requires that homeowners disclose potential lead problems to buyers but not all homeowners are aware of what’s in the paint on their walls. So, if the home was built prior to 1978, be safe and have it tested for lead-based paint. You can learn more about this toxic paint on the EPA’s website. What’s interesting is that I sold a home once that had traces of lead paint even in the stained wood floors.  It’s not just on the window sill. Lead paint and traces of lead can be anywhere in the home.

Of course, these are not the only optional tests you may wish to have performed on your new home. If your home inspector does not alleviate concerns about your suspicions over potential structural problems, your agent or home inspector is sure to recommend or refer you to a structural engineer. Roofing issues? Once again, your agent probably knows a few roofing professionals who are highly qualified and will come very well recommended. Getting back to that analogy that a home inspector is a general practitioner or ER doctor. If that’s so, then if they see problems or issues that raise questions they can’t answer, that’s when a good buyer’s agent too will refer you to a specialist!  As an agent I deal with all these issues and ‘symptoms’ every day!  I have specialist who are licensed and focus on any area that might be ailing your home when in due diligence to make sure once again that you know what you are buying!  That way, we can avoid buyer’s remorse so you can enjoy that home to its fullest after closing day!

Due diligence is not only an obligation ‘to yourself,’ but it helps protect your pocketbook. More importantly, it protects your family’s health and safety as well.

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