Inspect the Home Before You Buy
When shopping for a home, most people tend to only see the cosmetic features, such as the size and cleanliness of the rooms, and the color of the walls and carpeting. However, there are numerous more important points to consider when looking for a home such as its soundness and structure. Usually during the preliminary viewing process the buyer will spend 10 minutes in a house they are not interested in buying and surprisingly only 30 to 45 minutes in the home they select for their families needs for a good many years.
Many people today, upon selecting a house they are serious about buying, choose to hire a professional house inspector to do a thorough investigation, which is a good idea. These professionals are well trained and make a living through finding fault with the property you are considering purchasing. Their report will put into prospective the repairs and maintenance requiring immediate attention and long range expectations. But until then, you can and should do your own inspection as it may save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
Is the House Standing Straight?
Start by looking at how the house stands. Are there signs of uneven settlement? A leaning house can lead to major problems.
Check the foundation walls. Hairline cracks are not usually serious, but large vertical cracks may mean settling and potential dampness problems.
If there is a porch, check the angle of it to the ground. If there is a slant, it may either mean that the porch is poorly built or that the house is settling. Watch for porches that slant inward as water runoff may damage the interior of the house.
Look at the roof, binoculars work best, or let a professional inspector do a thorough inspection later. Water will run off a pitched roof, but it will also be difficult to climb on. A flat roof may not be the most attractive, but it will be easier to access for repairs. Nevertheless, make sure there is no visible sag in the roof and that the chimney is straight and solid. Ensure that shingles are not missing, curled, drooping or ripped.
You should also go up into the attic to check the condition of the roofing material and the beams that hold the roof together. Make sure that gutters are in place all around the house, too, and that they do not leak.
As for the siding, there should not be signs of bubbling paint or water damage. Don't be afraid to ask what is underneath the siding.
While brick is a sturdy building material for outside walls, the mortar that holds the bricks together can dry, crack and crumble. Repair costs can be high so find out if the mortar joints between the bricks have been reinforced.
Shingles can last a lifetime and can be replaced easily, but they can also become brittle with age. Aluminum siding has little upkeep, though replacement costs can be high. If the exterior is stucco, it should sound solid, not hollow when tapped with a wooden object. Also keep in mind that while an unpainted wood surface is resistant to wear and tear, painted wood will need to be re-painted about every five years.
Exterior basement cracks that go right through may have serious problems, so keep your eye open for those. The ground should also be built up next to the exterior walls so water will drain away from the house.
The walkway to the house is also worth inspecting. Cement walks are generally the safest while brick walks tend to catch more dirt and can be hazardous should bricks work loose.
Furthermore, tall trees may look attractive, provide shade for the house, reduce air-conditioning needs, and add value to the house, but they can also be troublesome. If there are roots growing under the sidewalks, they may raise the cement. Check to make sure wires overhead are free of interference from tree limbs, too.
If you are unsure of anything, ask your real estate representative for his or her opinion, as well as for names of reputable inspection agencies.
Check for Cracks, Leaks and Patches
When inspecting the inside of the house, look at the size of the supporting beams in the basement. Any sags could mean the whole structure is shaky. Cracks in basements walls may let in more wetness so make sure the basement is adequately waterproofed.
Pierce some of the woodwork with a knife. If the wood is soft, it may mean dry-rot. If fine sawdust is present it may mean ants.
When looking at painted walls look for prominent cracks which may suggest poor construction or a heating or water pipe problem.
Tap on the wallboard surfaces, too. Half-inch surfaces are preferable but if the walboards sound thin and hollow you probably have the cheaper one-quarter inch surface.
If edges of wallpaper are curling take into account you may have to replace them. And don't forget to look up. Water marks on the ceiling may indicate leakage problems.
If there is wall-to-wall carpeting try to lift up an edge to see the actual condition of the floor. If there are signs of weakness or unevenness in the wood flooring you may have to lay a new floor. Squeaks don't necessarily spell trouble but they may indicate poor workmanship.
Don't overlook the parts of the house such as heating, insulation, air conditioning and plumbing systems which you can't see and may be difficult to inspect. How is the house heated? Ask the seller about his or her fuel bills. Find out the extent of the insulation throughout the house such as the garage, basement walls, crawl spaces and attic.
Check if door and window frames are caulked and weather-stripped, too. You can find out how well the chimney draws by blowing some smoke into the fireplace to see if it rises easily. Also find out if screens and storm windows come with the house. If not and insulation is poor you may have to spend a few thousand dollars to purchase them.
If the house has central air conditioning look for signs of rust or deterioration on the condenser. As for plumbing, assess the condition of pipes and drains. Copper, bronze or brass pipes are the best although the new plastics are gaining popularity. If pipes are exposed in the basement see if there are patches, wires or rags, or if they make any clanking sounds when you turn on the faucets. If they do, you know something is wrong. Flush the toilets to see how noisy they are and make sure the water pressure is good by turning on several faucets at once.
Pinpoint Weak Spots Before Signing.
When you sign a contract for a house one of the qualifications usually written into the contract is that purchase is contingent on the report of an inspection service that is satisfactory to you. (Your real estate representative will be able to help you with such details.)
In general, wait until after you have made a deal with the seller before you have it done because you don't want to spend money for an inspection on a house you may never own. Keep in mind that the buyer's price should reflect the seller's concession to the house's flaws.
On the whole, not every problem is a disaster and you don't want to turn down a well-priced home because it needs a few hundred dollars in repairs. But if you can pinpoint the weak spots and determine what the repairs will cost before you buy a home you will have peace of mind knowing you made the right decision and enjoy your home more.