What Types of Home Inspections Can a Buyer Do?

Buyers can conduct numerous specialized inspections before closing on a home

Home inspector explaining damage and repairs to homeowner
Getty Images/Steve Debenport

Question:

What types of home inspections can a buyer do?

A reader asks: "My husband and I had our offer accepted last night on a house in a really cool neighborhood. The house is a little old, so we're concerned that it might not pass a home inspection. Our agent says a home inspector might refer us to other inspectors. What other inspectors? What types of home inspections can a buyer do?"

Answer:

Your real estate agent should be able to give you a list of the types of home inspections that are generally conducted in your area.

She is correct in saying that your home inspector might recommend that you hire specialists.

Does a Home Inspector Check Everything in a House?

A general home inspection does not include items that require a specialist. For example, a home inspector might measure the differential temperature reading from an air conditioning unit, find it low and recommend the unit be inspected by an HVAC specialist. The inspector might have an idea of what is wrong but is unqualified to diagnose the problem.

Types of Home Inspections

General home inspectors look for defects. If they spot something unusual that lies outside of their scope of expertise, they'll recommend that you obtain a more specialized inspection.

  • Wood destroying pests

    You can find wood destroying pests in just about any part of the country, but especially in warm climates. A pest inspection will disclose not only termites or powder post beetles, for example, but also dry-rot.

     

  • Chimney

    Some older chimneys don't have flue liners, or the brick inside the chimney may be crumbling. A chimney inspector will also make sure smoke is discharged properly.

     

  • Electrical

    A general home inspector may tell you that the electrical box is so old that it no longer complies with city code, but an electrician can tell you the best brands to replace it with and how much it costs, among other disclosures. Be sure to check out the electrical panel and google the model number to make sure it has not been recalled.

     

  • Heating and air conditioning

    Most furnaces must be taken apart to determine whether the heat exchanger is cracked, for example, or to find out why the unit is malfunctioning. An HVAC specialist can tell you what's wrong, how much it costs to fix the unit, and whether it needs to be replaced.

     

  • Lead-based paint

    The federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in 1978, but homes newer than 1978 can still contain lead-based paint. You have the right to have the home tested for lead-based paint. To remove lead-based paint, hire a certified lead abatement contractor.

     

  • Square footage

    You may want to verify the square footage of your home. Public records documents sometimes contain mistakes. Sellers can calculate square footage yourself or hire an appraiser. The buyer's appraiser will undoubtedly measure the square footage.

     

  • Easements and encroachments

    Your owner's title policy will disclose easements, but some encroachments may require a physical inspection. Ask the title company to send you the actual easement documents from the public records.You can also hire a surveyor to prepare an improvement location certificate, or ILC, which shows encroachments.

     

  • Foundation

    While a home inspector can tell you if your home was built on a slab or raised foundation, a foundation engineer can tell you if the home is sliding or the foundation is faulty. Note suspicious cracks, it makes a difference whether they are vertical or horizontal, and often horizontal are worse.

     

  • Lot size and boundaries

    A preliminary search for a title policy will give you a plat map, showing the boundaries and size of the lot. Consider hiring a surveyor if you want this information verified. Don't rely on fences to determine boundaries.

     

  • Pool and spa

    Pool and spa experts can give you an estimated life expectancy on crucial key components such as the heater or spa blower. These specialists also check for leaks. Sometimes pools are covered under home warranties for an additional cost.

     

  • Roof inspection

    If the seller won't pay for a roof certification on an older roof, then get your own. Make sure the company is reputable and likely to be in business later should you have a claim. It is best if the roof inspector does not also replace roofs.

     

  • Sewer or septic system inspection

    Some older homes may not be connected to a sewer system. Get a sewer inspection. Modern technology calls for a digital camera to be inserted into the sewer line and pushed through to the main line. Many sewer inspectors make movies for you.

     

  • Soil stability

    Testing the soil is important if you're buying a home on the side of a hill, because you don't want it sliding away during a rainstorm. Some areas also are prone to soil contamination.

     

  • Arborist

    The best way to determine if the trees on the property are healthy is to hire an arborist to inspect them.

     

  • Water systems and plumbing

    If the plumbing is galvanized, a plumber can tell you if it needs to be replaced. Some galvanized pipes are so clogged that you can barely fit the lead of a pencil through them.

     

  • Well

    Inspect the construction of the well and find out the depth of the water table, including water sanitation.

     

  • Radon or methane gas

    A mitigation contractor can test for radon or methane gas and recommend ways to remove it.

     

  • Asbestos

    The only way to tell if a material actually contains asbestos is to have it tested. Taking a sample to a lab is preferred over do-it-yourself home tests.

     

  • Formaldehyde

    Formaldehyde is a colorless and flammable gas used as a chemical in building products. It is known to cause cancer in rats. Hire a qualified formaldehyde inspector to do this inspection.

     

  • Mold

    Mold can trigger health problems in even healthy individuals. There are many different types of mold. You can test for mold presence in a home by testing the air quality.

     

  • Permits and Zoning

    Go to your city planning department and ask to see the permits on the home. Sometimes people remodel without permits. The zoning department can tell you, for example, if it is legal to run a home-based business from your home.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.