A Checklist for Home Inspections
Learn what to expect from an inspection and tips to make sure your inspector doesn't overlook defects.
Keeping your home clean and free of clutter will ensure the inspector can easily access all rooms.(Getty Images)
Even in a seller's market, smart homebuyers aren't going to make a purchase without having a property professionally inspected first.
"Today's buyers are really very savvy," says Robin Kencel, associate broker with the Robin Kencel Group of Compass Real Estate in Greenwich, Connecticut. That's why it's important for sellers to know where their house may fall short of a buyer's expectations. "The more we can head off anything that can be a negotiation point, the better."
To do that, sellers should do their own property review to identify potential problem areas, from potential water leaks to dangerous mold. Then, they can make inexpensive repairs and avoid unpleasant surprises during an inspection. "When you own a home, you become blind to some of the little things," says Deborah Savoie, a realtor with Long and Foster Real Estate, Inc. in Annapolis, Maryland.
For first-time homebuyers, an inspection is a crucial part of the process. It offers the chance to discover any flaws in a property and back out of a sale, if needed. Your real estate broker may recommend a trusted inspector. Otherwise, look for an experienced professional who can provide references, has positive reviews online and a good score with the Better Business Bureau. Also request a copy of their inspection form, so you can see what items are covered in a standard inspection.
While inspectors provide a vital service, both buyers and sellers should understand their limitations. "Our job is not to upgrade a house," says Bob McKinley, owner of Healthy Home Inspections in Baltimore. An inspector isn't going to recommend how a house can be improved. "We just make sure everything they have (in the house) is working properly."
With that in mind, use the following checklist to stay prepared before a home inspection.
Ensure lights are working and switches are covered. McKinley says nonworking lights are a common problem he encounters when performing inspections. A general home inspection will include a visual review of the electrical system. The cover to the electrical panel will be removed and wiring inspected to determine if the workmanship meets industry and state standards. If anything about the electrical system raises concerns, an inspector will recommend bringing in a licensed electrician for further review.
Likewise, make sure all electrical outlets and switches have intact covers. While electrical receptacles are often in good condition in living spaces, McKinley says he often sees cracked or missing covers in basements. It only costs 49 cents to buy a new one at the hardware store and installing them yourself can avoid another ding on the inspection report.
Perform routine maintenance tasks. Replace the filters on furnaces and air conditioning units and make sure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order.
If buyers see these maintenance tasks have been neglected, "They are going to assume other things aren't maintained either," says J.B. Sassano, president of home improvement firm Mr. Handyman, a Neighborly company. Also keep in mind inspectors may check the condition of build-in appliances and will likely note any obvious maintenance defects in their report.
Clean out the mechanical room. Take time to clean out the mechanical room and check for any problems with your HVAC system such as leaks. "Inspectors are going to look for the big-dollar items," Sassano says. Keeping the room clean makes it easy for inspectors to get a clear look at a system's connecting pipes and check for required safety features.
Ensure appliances and fireplaces can be tested. Inspectors want to test appliances but can't always do that if washers and dryers are full of clothes, McKinley says. They'll also want to see that a gas fireplace is in working order, but that means the pilot has to be lit. "Home inspectors aren't going to go and light a pilot light," he says.
If an inspector can't test an appliance or fireplace, he may note that a seller should demonstrate it to the buyer before a sale. That means one more thing to put on your to-do list prior to closing, so it's best to ensure everything is accessible and in working order before an inspection.
Walk around the exterior. Buyers should review the exterior of their house and look for peeling paint, loose siding and hanging gutters. "They need to look at their house like they are going to buy it again," Savoie says. Then, correct problems before they become an issue for a potential buyer. An inspector and buyer will be wary of standing pools of water or a crumbling foundation.
Check windows and doors. "Windows are one of the biggest bugaboos for houses that are 30 to 40 years old," McKinley says. Vinyl windows can become sticky and difficult to open. However, buying inexpensive silicone spray from a home improvement store is an easy way to ensure inspectors will be able to open and close all windows.
McKinley also recommends checking that all interior and exterior doors open and close easily. Clear out the tracks of sliding doors and lubricate those as needed as well. If you have wood-framed windows, be sure they don't have any soft or rotten spots. In addition to ensuring windows are working properly, an inspector will also look for gaps in the framing that should be caulked and rotted wood.
Cover up old water stains. Long after a pipe or roof leak has been addressed, a stain may remain on the ceiling or drywall. If an inspector sees a stain, he or she will use a moisture meter to determine whether it is recent. However, even if there is no moisture found, the mere presence of a stain can make people leery of a home.
"An old stain scares people are much as a new stain," McKinley says. Fortunately, stains are easy to cover with paint, so put this task on your pre-inspection checklist.
Look for mold. Mold is another thing that can scare away a potential buyer. "It used to be radon was a hot-button issue," Kencel says. "The new issue seems to be mold."
Check basements, attics, bathrooms and garages for mold. Fortunately, most mold can be killed with a fungicide found at home improvement stores, McKinley says. Adding a dehumidifier to a room will help reduce moisture and prevent future mold from growing in the area.
Declutter the interior. While an inspector isn't going to be scoring your house on how it's staged, keeping the property clean and free of clutter will make it easy for all rooms to be accessed.
If you're worried that cleaning up a house will uncover undesirable elements, Savoie says there are often simple and inexpensive ways to address a questionable area. "You don't have to re-stain your floor," she says as an example. "You just have to clean it with (the cleaning product) Old English." Work with your real estate agent to determine how best to address unsightly features without breaking the bank.
Be upfront about home issues. Should your review turn up a problem that can't be easily fixed, notify a prospective buyer. You don't want a potential buyer to feel you're not honest or are trying to conceal known flaws. While it's always nice to be able to correct problems before an inspection, that's not always possible. "Some people don't have a couple thousand dollars right now," Savoie says. A good alternative can be offering a credit at closing so buyers can make needed updates themselves.
As for buyers, once they receive an inspection report, they can consult with their broker to determine which defects, such as sticky windows, they are willing to overlook and which may take them back to the negotiating table.