Monday, December 21, 2015

How to Pass Your Home Inspection

Home Buyers Want to Know Your Home Inside-Out!

    While home buyers are as individual as the homes they plan on purchasing, one thing they share is the desire to ensure that the home they will call their own is as perfect beneath the surface as it appears to be on the surface.
   "Will the roof end up leaking?  Is the wiring safe?"  These, and others, are questions that buyers looking at your home will seek professional help to uncover, dig into and answer.  According to the industry experts, there are more than 150 items that will be checked during a home inspection - at least 33 physical problems will come under close scrutiny during the inspection.  We've identified 11 most common of these, and if not identified and dealt with, any of these 11 items could cost you dearly in terms of repair.  In most cases, you can make a reasonable pre-inspection yourself if you know what you are looking for.  And, knowing what you are looking for can help you prevent little problems from growing into costly and unmanageable ones.

1. Defective Plumbing
Defective plumbing can manifest itself in two different ways:  leaking and clogging. A visual inspection can detect leaking, and an inspector will gauge water pressure by turning on all faucets in the highest bathroom and then flushing the toilet.  They will also test for hot water temperature using a thermometer.  How long does the hot water take to reach your highest bathroom faucets?  If the water appears dirty when first turned on at the faucet, this is a good indication the pipes are rusting or corroding, or that your hot water heater is starting to rust - which can result in severe water quality problems.  If you have a well, and rust appears, it can be a normal event, however, some buyers may ask you to install a filtration system to trap the rust.   These systems can be very expensive.  Just be prepared.  Remember, we buy our Direct Buyers a One-Year AHS Home Protection Plan.

2. Damp or Wet Basement
An inspector will check your walls for a powdery white mineral deposit a few inches off the floor, and will check any wood around the stairs leading outside or up to the first floor.  He will observe to see if you have stacked anything on wood palettes, or if you feel secure enough to stack things right on the floor.  A mildew odor is almost impossible to eliminate, and an inspector will certainly be conscious of it.  You can help that type of situation by running a dehumidifier in the basement and by placing boxes of baking soda around the basement - maybe on top of the concrete walls at the sills.  It could cost you $800.00 to over $1,500 to seal a crack in or around the basement foundation or floor - depending on severity and location.  Adding a sump pump and pit may run you the same money, and complete waterproofing (for an average 3-bedroom home) may cost upwards of $4,500 or more.  When you and your real estate agent price your home, you need to consider any of these improvements if advised.  A sump pump is not a bad thing, so don't panic.   We also protect both the Buyer and Seller by having the Seller fill out a "Seller's Description of Property Form" which simply answers 42 questions.  We then have the Buyer initial it, so that the Seller can minimize any legal action later by failing to disclose important information.  If you have had water in your cellar - disclose it.  We've announced that a Seller had 4" of water in the cellar during the storm of 1998.  The Buyer signed off, and was happy with installing his own sump pump.  Err on the side of full disclosure.  Not doing so can cost you later.

3. Inadequate Wiring and Electrical System
Your home should have a minimum of 100 amps, and it should be of the circuit breaker electrical panel type.   Wire should be copper.   Some homes have  aluminum wiring. This can be a bad thing.  Inspectors will be careful to see if you have any "octopus plugs" where you've got the toaster, iron, and half a dozen other things all  plugged into one outlet.  This is an indication of inadequate circuits and a potential fire hazard.  Check all of your smoke detectors.  In Massachusetts, you are required to have working smoke detectors, and they will be certified by your local fire department prior to closing.  Generally, we take care of this, and 66 other items on our real estate checklist (Link here to see) so that you won't have to worry about them.  If you have a 60 amp fuse type electrical panel, it's not the end of the world.  Some banks may not lend against that type of system, and some buyers will negotiate about $750.00 - $1,300.00 or more to upgrade it to a circuit breaker panel.  Again, be prepared. We may adjust your price to factor this in.  But, don't price yourself out of the market by adding too many "fudge factors".  Your agent (if they are sharp) will help you to determine the whole picture.  Some inspectors will like to see what is called "GFI" Ground Fault Interrupter outlets installed in the bathrooms and kitchen within 6' of the water - around the sink area.  This is for "shock protection".  Older homes don't have these, but it's a good idea to have them installed.  It's one less item a home inspector will worry your buyer about - and they only cost about $50.00 each to buy and install.

4. Poor Heating & Air-Conditioning Systems
Insufficient insulation, and an inadequate or poorly functioning heating system are the most common causes of poor heating.  While an adequately clean furnace, without rust on the heat exchanger, usually has life left in it, an inspector will generally tell the potential buyer, "Hey, I can't check this heat exchanger, ask the Seller to have the oil or gas company to test, inspect and certify the system."  That statement alone can cost you $150.00 or so - even if there is nothing wrong with your system.  Our  recommendation is to have it checked anyway - before the home inspection, and give the document to your listing agent.  He/she should be on the ball, and pre-empt a lot of fear or apprehension on the part of the home inspector by offering it right up front to the Buyer's agent.  Inspectors (and your potential buyer) will greatly appreciate the fact that you took care of a possible problem in advance.  Another useful tool to consider might be to buy a one-year Home Warranty that covers the heating, air-conditioning, electrical, plumbing systems, and all built-in appliances. (We automatically buy these for our buyers).  Imagine handing that to your potential buyer - and we ALWAYS hand the warranty information to the home inspector because "he's off the hook" and can relax a bit knowing that everything is covered.  We generally buy these for our buyers if they are working with us.  They cost about $400.00, but they are a great investment for the buyer, and a heck of a selling tool for the Seller.  By the way, defective heat exchangers can leak carbon monoxide, and cannot be repaired - they must be replaced.  It might not be a bad idea to have a carbon monoxide detector near the furnace - in addition to your regular smoke detector.

5. Roofing Problems
This is the "biggie"!  We have seen deals fall apart because a home inspector said, "Hey, I can't tell how old this roof is - it could last you a month - or ten more years, I don't know"  This places the thought in the buyer's mind, "Oh oh, I need a new roof!"  You don't need to have a buyer think that nasty thought!   You should get the age of your roof - if it's available, and disclose it to your agent.  If it's 10 or 12 years old, and it's a 20 year roof, the Buyer may be comfortable with not having to worry about a huge replacement cost in a few years.  If the roof is 25 years old, the buyer WILL likely raise the question of how much is a new roof, and is the Seller willing to pay for a replacement.  Water leaks will trigger the roof questions.  Check in your attic, and see if there are any water stains on the wood roof.  Check to see if the flashing around the chimney leaks.  If so, that's an easy repair.  Check outside and see if your shingles are worn, splitting or curling.  If all the conditions are right, you may get away with not having to factor a new roof into your pricing.  We have factored these things in to the initial list price, and have anticipated a price reduction, so it took any sting out of the deal for the Seller and the Buyer.  Both were happy.  It's a skill to be able to balance repairs, list price, eventual selling price, and to work Offers and Counter-Offers so that the outcome is right for both Seller and Buyer.  Sometimes, a roof repair is all you need to certify that your roof is in good repair.  A contractor may wish to certify that your roof is in "good shape", so you may wish to hire one to do the roof investigation, age certification, and repairs - if any.  With certification in hand, your Buyer's home inspector will be happy to pass that info along to their buyer.

6. Damp Attic Spaces
Not to be confused with a roof leak.  A damp attic can be caused by poor ventilation - even in brand new homes.  It can be caused by poor insulation or poor installation of vapor barriers. . . or inadequate or missing gable or roof (ridge) vents.   This can cause water, moisture, mold and mildew to form in the attic.   We have seen brand new homes dripping water from the attic down the pull-down stairway, and into the second story foyer.  All due to poor attic ventilation.   This can lead to premature wear of the roof, structure and building materials.   The cost to fix this damage could easily run over $2,500.00.  Check it out.   See if there is a lot of moisture in the attic.  Are the joists dripping?   Sometimes simply adding larger gable vents or a "ridge vent" can cure the problem.  We've seen baffles installed improperly and this caused poor ventilation.   You can be sure the Buyer's home inspector will find this problem.

7. Rotting Wood - Insect Damage
This can occur in many places (door or window frames, trim, siding, decks and fences).  The home inspector will sometimes probe the wood (sticks a metal probe into it) to see if rotting is present - especially when wood has been freshly painted.  Sometimes, wood rot is caused by moisture, and sometimes it can be caused by carpenter ants or termites.   If you see "bug parts" laying around, be sure that your Buyer's home inspector will also observe this.  He will then recommend a separate Pest Inspection to determine if you do have ants or powder post beetles or termites.  If you do, be prepared to spend about $2,500.00 or more to have the termites treated.  Some buyers have backed out of deals even when the Seller has agreed to pay for the entire treatment.   Buyers don't want or need termites.   If you do see signs, get the termite people in to inspect, treat and certify that the process has started.  This can range upwards of $1,300.  They will guarantee their work for the next owner, too, so get this documentation and eliminate the question of termites if a home inspector spots them first.  If you don't see any bug parts, or live bugs, don't panic.  Don't inspect either.  Let it be discovered by a home inspector and negotiate your deal later.  Don't go looking for trouble.  If it's there - it will likely be obvious to you.

8. Masonry Work
Take a walk around the house and look at your brick steps, your chimney, and look in the basement at your chimney (if brick).  Is the mortar falling out?  If so, your inspector will tell you that the house needs to be "pointed".  A mason will have to be hired to re-point the brick mortar.  Sometimes, bricks are missing and water has reached the underlayment (wood).  If left unattended, this water will cause moisture problems, rotting wood - or worse yet, the chimney could be clogged with fallen bricks, or the chimney could start pulling away from the house - allowing water to seep in between the chimney and wood siding - causing water damage and rot.  To re-point a 50 s.f. area would cost about $350.00.  Take care of these things before you list your property.  If you cannot afford to repair certain items, work with your real estate agent to arrange for having the work done and have the contractors paid at the closing.   We have arranged to have septic systems installed, engineering fees for septic design, de-leading work, plumbing, and final re-seeding work done - all at the same house - and have all the contractors paid from the closing proceeds.  If you are selling, there is no need to concern yourself that you can't afford to have your home ready for sale.  A good agent will work with you and your sub-contractors to ensure that the work is done, and that they are assured payment at the closing.  This is not usually done, however, until the Offer is negotiated, the P&S is signed and the Buyer has bank commitment.  Otherwise, you and your agent are on the hook for repairs if your deal falls apart.  You and your agent are a "team".  There have been occasions where a contractor would not do the job without being paid, and the Seller could not afford to do the repair.  We have pre-paid some of these things, and we then receive our money back at the closing.  You work as a "team".  You and your agent are in this for the whole ride.  Choose a good one.

9. Unsafe or Over-fused Electrical Circuits
Unlike item # 3 above, this is where your Buyer's home inspector spots a fire hazard when more amperage is drawn on the circuit than was intended.  15 amp circuits (fused or breaker type) are the most common in  a typical home, with larger service for large appliances such as stoves or electric dryers.  It will cost you about $750.00 (or more) to replace your fuse panel with a breaker panel.  Home inspectors like to check the circuits to see if you have too many wires going into the fuse or breaker.  This is "overloading" the circuit and is a potential fire hazard. The inspector will check to see if the box is grounded properly.  He or she will check your electric dryer to see if it is grounded properly.  All of these "safety items" will be addressed in his or her report and generally - the Seller makes these "safety repairs".  Other "little stuff" in the report should be negotiated between your agent  and the Buyer's agent.   For example, the report may say that the bulkhead is rusty and could use painting.  This is normal, and most inspectors point out preventative maintenance items to potential buyers.  Good home inspectors NEVER scare a buyer.  They simply state the facts, and tell of the remedies.  Some home inspectors should be in other professions because they do SCARE buyers - especially first-time home buyers who are nervous anyway.  A skilled agent will be able to talk to the home inspector to determine if he/she will handle situations properly, fairly, ethically, and with the minimum of "nervous worry wart language" to the buyer.

10. Adequate Security Features & Radon Levels
An inspector will look for the basic safety features that will protect your home - such as proper locks on the windows, deadbolts on your doors, slider security, smoke detectors in the proper areas (off the bedrooms in the hallway, in the basement near the furnace, etc.).  Installing the carbon monoxide detectors is a good idea.  Your family's life depends on adequate smoke detector operation, and we personally recommend both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  We've seen detectors without batteries - because someone in the family wanted one for the TV remote!  Your entry doors should have deadbolts installed.  You should have smoke detectors installed because it is a requirement of Mass. law and you won't close without certification.   Now, about Radon gas.  Some Buyers may ask for (they pay for it) a Radon gas canister to be placed in the basement of your home.  If the Radon levels come back at or above a 4.0 reading, you should re-test in the event the can was no good.  Re-test could be done electronically at this time for a more accurate reading.  This could cost about $75.00.  If this test comes back at or above 4.0 P.C.L., you may have to install a "Radon Mitigation System" wherein a system of pipes and a fan is installed below the basement floor and the gas is vented to the outside - sucked through the pipes by a fan.  This system can cost the Seller around $1,300.00, but your house won't sell without doing it.  Your may wish to buy a radon can ($40.00), and install it yourself, run the test for 8 hours, send the can off to the lab, and get the result first.   If you do, it may be a good investment.  You can offer the test results to the Buyer.  The Buyer may wish to test anyway, but you will already know what the results will be.  It may take a little of the "Radon Worry" edge off you.  John bought a "rehab house" in Norton.  He had a home inspection, but knew that the home had lots of problems. The home had an asbestos-covered furnace, for example.  John had the radon check performed (clean) and had the asbestos people remove the furnace and all asbestos (cost about $1,100.00. The proper paperwork is in John's file for when he sell that home.  It takes all of the buyer's fears away to answer questions BEFORE they arise, and have all of the documentation to prove things to them....including having any building permits available.

11. Structural/Foundation Problems
An inspector will certainly investigate the underlying footings of your home as structural integrity is fundamental to a good home.  The inspector will check the support columns underneath your carrying beams.  He (or she) will check where the beams are set into the concrete wall.  Your walls and floors will be checked for cracks.  Sometimes, inspectors will notice "leveling jacks" placed under beams.  Sometimes, they will tell the Buyer that this is not the best setup, and may recommend replacing them with "lally columns".  This may require digging a hole in the cellar floor, about 24" deep - pouring a concrete footing, then installing the lally column.   This can cost upwards of $1,000.  We've seen homes where powder post beetles have come and gone - leaving joists and carrying beams "punky".  The cost to replace could exceed $15,000!  Work with your agent.  Find a knowledgeable one to walk you through your own home and point out things that should be done before you get your home ready to sell.  A final note about home inspectors.  Most of them are very knowledgeable.  Most of them want you to sell your home.  Most of them will not scare a potential buyer away.  All of them will tell the Buyer the facts about your home, and will detail the facts in their multi-page report.  The Buyer's agent will work with you to correct "safety items".  Some buyer's agents may ask you to do other types of work on the list prepared by the home inspector.  These "other items" are negotiable, and your agent should be able to work out the details of repair (or not) of those items with the buyer's agent - to the satisfaction of the Buyer and Seller.  It's obvious - choose the right agent up front, and avoid the pitfalls.

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