Dear Monty: We will be starting our home search soon. We have not toured a physical home but have seen a few videos. We will not buy a home without a home inspection. We want to know where to pay close attention. When we begin touring houses, we wonder if there are any "hotspots" we should check for problems in pre-owned homes.
Monty's Answer: There are areas where home inspectors are more likely to discover defects. There are also areas you will not be able to see, and if you could, you may not know what to observe -- a home inspection is a visual inspection only. One component to test that a home inspector does not or will not inspect is the main sewer line in the house to the street or septic tank. Some home inspectors have a camera snake, but most often, a plumber does it as a separate inspection and fee.
Hotspots In Home Inspections
No. 1: The exterior. The natural elements are aging the exterior daily. Rain, snow, wind, sun and humidity erode the roof. Nature also takes its toll on windows, siding and concrete. A negative grade will direct water toward the foundation. Water is a home's biggest enemy -- the older the house, the sharper the home inspector's eye.
No. 2: The basement. There are expensive components here: the foundation, the electrical system, the base of the plumbing system, the furnace and the floor joists (part of the platform) that the entire structure rests upon.
No. 3: Crawl spaces. These are the out-of-the-way spaces that get very little attention. Often, they are difficult to access, are under stairwells and have no lighting. While you wouldn't think much can happen here, it can. Water is very sneaky in a home. From the entry point, it will often find a way to travel along a stud, pipe or wire and first become visible some distance from the source. Vermin sometimes find a way in and look for quiet and dark places to live.
No. 4: Attics. The inside surface is on the opposite side of the roof. The attic is likely part of the ventilation system. The plumbing stack rises through it and leaves the interior through a sealed roof hole. The sun, wind and rain are assaulting the roof constantly, and when the roof fails, the first place water appears is in the attic.
No. 5: Bathrooms. There is much water in the bathroom. Three different fixtures have moving parts. Tile grout and silicone sealant around the tub or shower walls or at the base of the tub can deteriorate over time. Time increases the exposure of the plumbing to an unobservable leak. One place you may look is on the ceilings directly below the bathroom(s).
No. 6: Kitchens. The risk in kitchens is with the built-in appliances. A dishwasher means water is present. Inspectors check to see if built-in appliances function. They do not validate that the cooking temperature thermostat is accurate. Read the inspection agreement to learn what they inspect. You will also discover what they do not examine.
Everything else is not a hotspot, but items can still be flagged elsewhere. Reading the industry's standards of practice (SOP) is an intelligent way to best understand the purpose of an inspection. Here are Monty's tips on finding a good inspector.
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