Checklist for Home Inspections
Did Your Home Inspector Check the Essentials?
Nowadays, home buyers have it drilled into their heads that they need home inspections. In California, for example, real estate agents advise home buyers to do various types of home inspections 15 ways from Sunday; they don't shut up about it. Our purchase contracts contain two pages that discuss reasons for home inspections, and those two pages are repeated in the buyer's broker agreement. Home inspections are a huge deal.
Completed improperly, they don't always show a buyer everything that could be wrong.
But what does a home inspection report disclose? Home buyers are often in the dark about home construction and its components, and have difficulty deciphering home inspections. The terminology might be complicated, too, and few know the difference between a joist and a stud. How would a buyer who has never owned a home know what should be included on the checklist for home inspections? Many buyers also don't know how to figure out which types of defects are serious or whether their home inspector checked all the essentials. This can be frightening for a buyer.
Home Inspection Checklist Comparisons
All home inspections are different and can vary dramatically from state to state, as well as across counties and cities. Much depends on the home inspector and which association, if any, to which the home inspector belongs.
Because I am most familiar with home inspections conducted in accordance with the standards of practice established by the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, the following information is based on NACHI guidelines.
Home Inspection Checklist of Items Not Inspected
Understand that California home inspectors are not licensed, nor are they licensed in many states.
However, a home inspector's standard practice typically does not include the following, for which a specific license to inspect and identify may be required:
- Radon, Methane, Radiation and Formaldehyde
- Wood-Destroying Organisms
- Mold, Mildew and Fungi
General Home Inspection Checklist Items
- Structural Elements.
Construction of walls, ceilings, floors, roof and foundation. Ask about horizontal cracks versus parallel cracks. Does the foundation seem secure? Does the roof leak? Has there been a fire in the attic?
- Exterior Evaluation.
Wall covering, landscaping, grading, elevation, drainage, driveways, fences, sidewalks, fascia, trim, doors, windows, lights and exterior receptacles. If the exterior is covered in siding, what is under it?
- Roof and Attic.
Framing, ventilation, type of roof construction, flashing and gutters. It does not include a guarantee of roof condition nor a roof certification. How many layers are on the roof? When will it need to be replaced? What is the average life expectancy of a roof?
Identification of pipe materials used for potable, drain, waste and vent pipes. including condition. Toilets, showers, sinks, faucets and traps. It does not include a sewer inspection. Ask whether the plumbing is copper and be careful of faulty joints such as those that can occur with Kitec plumbing.
- Systems and Components.
Water heaters, furnaces, air conditioning, duct work, chimney, fireplace and sprinklers. Usually a separate chimney inspection is performed if the inspector suspects there is a problem. Not all home inspectors will check sprinklers to make sure they operate correctly.
Main panel, circuit breakers, types of wiring, grounding, exhaust fans, receptacles, ceiling fans and light fixtures. Ask if the electrical panel is on a recall list. Is it up to code? Does the electrical panel user breakers (preferred) or fuses (outdated)?
Dishwasher, range and oven, built-in microwaves, garbage disposal and, yes, even smoke detectors. Washers and dryers are typically included as well if they remain with the home, but ask because those appliances are personal property.
Slab, walls, ceiling, vents, entry, firewall, garage door, openers, lights, receptacles, exterior, windows and roof. If the garage is attached to the home, it might also require a pest inspection, depending on the type of loan the borrower is obtaining. Does the garage have a firewall? Is the door to the garage from the house have self-closing hinges?
Home Inspection Checklist Items Needing Service
Home inspection reports do not describe the condition of every component if it's in excellent shape, but should note every item that is defective or needing service. The serious problems are:
- Health and safety issues (within reason)
- Roofs with a short life expectancy
- Furnace / A/C malfunctions
- Foundation deficiencies
- Moisture / drainage issues
Home Inspection Checklist Items Sellers Should Fix
If you have a choice, it might be smarter to hire your own contractors and supervise repairs. Before issuing a formal request to repair, consider the seller's incentive to hire the cheapest contractor and to replace appliances with the least expensive brands.
Although home inspectors are reluctant to and, in some cases, refuse to disclose repair costs, call a contractor to determine the scope and expense to fix minor problems yourself. No home is perfect. Every home will have issues noted or flagged in a home inspection. Even new homes.
A repair issue that will be a deal breaker for a first-time home buyer, causing the buyer to cancel the contract, will not faze a home buyer versed in home repair. Talk to your agent, family, friends and call a few contractors to discuss which types of defects are minor. Perhaps a simple solution is available such as replacing a $1.99 receptacle, which can resolve many outlet problems.
Pat yourself on the back, too, for getting a home inspection. Some buyers feel a home inspection is unnecessary, especially if they are buying new construction. If a light switch doesn't work or the air conditioner blows out hot air, those are problems you can see and test. The problems that aren't readily identifiable to you such as code violations, a furnace that leaks carbon monoxide or a failing chimney, are the types of defects a home inspector could identify in a new home. Builders' contractors make mistakes, too.
At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.