Tuesday, October 19, 2010
A Home Inspection Checklist For The First-Time Buyer
Are You Ready for That First Step?
You have probably heard it said many, many times before that buying a home is probably the most important purchase you will ever make. Never is this more true than when purchasing your very first home. Its purchase holds the potential to be financially rewarding or degenerate into a nightmare if unexpected problems are discovered after the deal is closed.
The time to find problems is before the check is written, and preferably even before an offer is made. Though most real estate agents want you to sign an Agreement to Purchase and have the home inspection as a condition of sale, it is much harder to walk away from the deal once that agreement is signed, even if the home inspection finds problems. Your best line of defense is always a professional home inspection, whether you have it done before or after you sign the agreement to purchase. However, there are a few observations you can easily make yourself to determine if you want to take that next important step.
Inspection of the structure of the house is probably the most important aspect of a home inspection. The structure of a home is made up of the foundation's footings, the foundation itself, floors, walls, ceiling joists, roof rafters and sheathing. For the most part, you will not be able to see all these components, but you can look for clues to problems. Check the foundation walls for large cracks over 1/4 inch wide. Small cracks of 1/8 inch or smaller are typical and usually don't signify a problem. Large cracks suggest some major unsettling of the house which could be expensive to correct.
Check exterior brick walls for cracks as well. With exterior walls covered in siding, you won't be able to look for cracks, but look for walls that are leaning, bulging or bowing. Are the floors level or uneven? Are they solid to walk on or do they feel spongy? Uneven or spongy floors suggest a problem. Does the roof look wavy or sag in the middle? If so, there may be a problem with the construction of the roof.
Check the overall condition of the driveway and walkway. Small cracks are typical. Displacement of the concrete where one side is much higher than the other may indicate a problem.
Verify that the topography of the landscape allows for adequate drainage away from the house. Downspouts that discharge above ground should extend at least 6 feet from the foundation. Do a visual check in the basement or crawlspace for any indication of water leakage (water stains on the walls or floors along exterior walls).
Check the general condition of the walls. Look for gaps, cracks, missing or unfinished siding, soffits or fascia. Do the stairs have railings? Does every deck or porch over two feet above ground have a railing?
An asphalt shingle roof will generally last about 15 years before it needs to be replaced. How old does the roof look? Ask the current owner. If the shingles are not lying flat, then it's likely near the end of its useful life. If the roof on the front of the house looks good, check the back. Often people will only re-shingle the street facing side of the house.
Turn the furnace on and see that it is working. Are there heating registers in every room? If not, those rooms may be uncomfortable during the colder months. Check for overall cleanliness of the furnace and air filter. How old is the furnace? As the current owner. A furnace life-span is generally about 25 years. Does the furnace use a chimney or is it vented directly outside? If it uses a chimney, it is likely older and less efficient.
If the temperature outside is above 18 degrees Celsius, then turn on the air conditioner to confirm that it is working. Test the temperature at the floor registers. Has the air conditioner been maintained? Is it level? Is it rusted? Are the fins damaged? If the air conditioner is older than 15 years then budget to replace it in the near future.
You may be able to determine the age of the water heater by checking the serial number. The year of manufacture is often in the first four digits. A water heater that is older than ten years may have to be replaced or serviced.
Are the faucets leaking or dripping? Check the water pressure. With the bathtub and basin faucet turned on, flush the toilet to see if there is a significant change in water pressure. Check under the sinks to see if there is any evidence of water leakage from the pipes. A constant leak over time may lead to wood rot or mold. Does the plumbing under the sinks look newer? Older pipes may look corroded or have numerous coats of paint on them. Older plumbing is more likely to leak.
Is the main electrical service box easily accessible? Is there room for additional breakers in the distribution box if you need to add more outlets or lights in the house? Turn on the lights in every room to ensure they are working. Check that there are outlets in every room. The outlets around kitchen sinks and bathroom basins should be of the GFCI type - that is, they should automatically shut off if there is a short in the electrical line, which can easily happen around water.
You should be able to turn the light in a stairway off from both the bottom and top of the stairs for safety reasons. Bare bulbs in showers or closets are not good. Again a safety issue.
Ask the current owner if any of the outlets are controlled by a switch on the wall. Often in newer homes there are outlets controlled this way for use with a lamp.
Open and close all the windows. Check that they operate smoothly, and that the locks and handles are there. Double or triple glazed windows that appear to be foggy have lost their seal and will not be as efficient. Look for water stains and mold around the windows and check the floor below the windows for any sign of water leakage. Run your hand around the frame of the window to feel for any drafts.
Check that all the doors open and close properly. This applies to both interior and entrance doors. Older houses that have settle often have doors that stick. It's a good sign that an older house is solid if all the doors operate smoothly. Make sure all the door hardware (locks and handles) are operating. Check the weather-stripping. Does it need to be replace?
If the appliances are staying with the house, you will want to check that they are all in working order. Turn on the stove burners and oven enough to know they are working. Turn them off before moving on to something else. Check the refrigerator and freezer. Verify that the range hood over the stove is operating properly; that is, the fan and light are working. Look over the counters for any possible damage or burn marks. Open and close the cabinets and drawers. Note any problems or concerns.
In the bathrooms, if you haven't already checked the plumbing, do it now. Examine the fixtures for any damage. Are the faucets clean and shiny, or are they corroded and dirty. Calcium deposits on the faucets may indicate the house is on hard water. If so, you might want to consider adding a hard-water softener. Is there a bathroom fan? Proper ventilation in the bathroom is very important. Hot, steamy showers can quickly lead to mold buildup. If possible, verify that the ventilation actually terminates outside. If it terminates in the attic, check for mold and have the termination point fixed.
Inspection of the home's interior often boils down to cosmetic issues and aesthetics. This aspect of the inspection will include the condition of walls, drywall and paint, the condition of the finish on hardwood floors, and the general state of rugs, kitchen cabinets, light fixtures, and ceilings. Remember, the walls, ceilings and floors can all be refinished. But if there is a lot of painting and fixing to do, are you up to it? Home renovations often cost more than you would expect.
From a safety perspective, you want to be sure there are railings on all the stairs, adequate headroom exists on the stairways, and that the stairways are well lit.
Using a flashlight, check the finishes on the walls and ceiling. Look for any newly painted areas which may indicate a cover-up of a previous or existing problem. Question the current owner about any water stains or discoloration on the ceilings.
If you are happy with the results of your walk-through inspection, then maybe you have found your future home. Be aware that the observations you made, though important and maybe even significant, should not replace having a professional home inspection done. The professional inspection, though in itself not technically exhaustive, encompasses much more than you would be able to uncover.
Your Windsor Home Inspector