Home Inspections: Myth vs. Fact
All real estate transactions are a bit different, but you can almost certainly count on going through a home inspection between acceptance of contract and settlement day. Through my years as an agent, I’ve found this step in the process to be one of the most misunderstood. That’s why I’ve decided to clear up some of the common myths about home inspections, as well as share some insider tips that will have you approaching the process a little differently than the average home buyer or seller.
Myth #1: The home inspection is going to tell me whether the house “passes” or “fails.”
Fact: The idea that a property will either pass or fail an inspection is not only false, but it also tends to make both parties feel as if they’re walking on eggshells during inspection day. It’s important to view the home inspection as a resource, not a “test.”
A general home inspector will evaluate each component of the home and determine its present condition. If they discover any defects, they will note them. However, it’s important to remember that not all defects have the same magnitude. Most inspectors will use a rating scale, typically ranging from “satisfactory” to “fair” to “poor.”
For example, a roof with 30-year architectural shingles which was installed 10 years ago may receive a marginal or fair rating on an inspector’s scale because a shingle is missing or because pipe collars need to be caulked or replaced, or because there are several nail pops. The whole roof didn’t “fail;” it simply needs attention in a few small spots in order for it to achieve its 30-year design life.
Going into an inspection, worrying about the house “passing” or “failing” not only misleads you, but it also may prevent you from making the most of this step in the transaction. That leads to my first insider tip.
Insider Tip: As a homebuyer, make sure that you ask questions about upkeep, maintenance, and use of the home during your home inspection.
While the home inspector certainly is there to let you know if there are problems with the home, a good one is also there to try to educate you as much as they can about the home in the few hours you’re with them. Make sure you come with great notes on the questions that you have about the home (i.e. “how does this heating system work?”, or “what do I need to do to keep the pool in top running condition?”).
Understand that most inspections are going to be about 90% informational and about 10% problem-finding. Direct your focus proportionally and you’ll take a lot of great information away that will help you with maintenance and use during your term of ownership.
Myth #2: Once we’re doing with the inspection, we’ll send the seller the report and have them fix everything
Fact: Unless you’re buying a newly-built home, you’re not going to be buying a perfect one. The objective during the home inspection is to understand if there are any significant defects that were previously undisclosed or that you haven’t yet noticed. When crafting a reply with repair or concession requests for the home seller after having your inspections, typically those requests will be best received if they include items that were not previously disclosed to you.
The other things that you should take into consideration are which items are “to be expected” — either for the vintage or the price of the home. For example, it would not be at all surprising to learn that the spindle spacing of a handrail on the steps of a home built in 1930 are not in compliance with current code specifications. Or, if you’re buying a home for $50,000 less than everything else in the neighborhood, that you will have repairs to make to the electrical system and to the plumbing lines.
On the flipside, it also wouldn’t be unreasonable to request that damage be fixed for certain items if they are in worse condition than advertised. You might request that windows be repaired or replaced if there are issues found, if it was previously noted that the home had “replacement windows throughout.” Generally, you have more room to scrutinize a home if you’re paying top-of-market price and it was represented to be fully renovated.
As with every facet of a transaction, each successful negotiation is a matter of striking a balance between what you need and what the other party needs. The end goal is to make the deal feel right for both of you. Consider all solutions (credit, adjustment in purchase price, repairs prior to settlement) and talk through those issues to come to a reasonable resolution.
Insider Tip: Whether you’re buying or selling the home, after the general inspections are completed, don’t be afraid to call in an expert on any issues that were discovered for a more in-depth analysis.
Most home inspectors have a broad range of knowledge, but lack expertise in specific areas and trades. Their reports tend to defer to experts in various areas of construction. For example, if the heating and air system is 15 years old and did not seem to be functioning correctly during the inspection, they would likely note that the system is nearing the end of its lifespan, and thus should be serviced (or replaced) by a qualified HVAC contractor.
So, which one is it — repair or replace? These are the sorts of things that you will want to call in experts for.
Myth #3: I’m buying new construction. There’s no need to have the home inspected; everything is brand new!
Fact: There are a LOT of hands on your new home as it’s being built, and people make mistakes. Contractors forget to install an exhaust fan in the bathroom, the building inspector misses it too. The sub-contractor who was supposed to caulk after the siding was installed around the windows skipped over your house. The sump pump was damaged when it sucked up insulation into the impeller before the build was complete. The hardwood floors that cost you extra weren’t installed properly, and now they’re buckling in some areas. (These, by the way, are all real-world examples of things I’ve come across in pre-delivery walkthroughs on new homes our clients have purchased.)
Most new home builders use agreements of sale and riders to those agreements that include provisions for inspections throughout your build process. One may be prior to drywall being installed, another will likely be shortly before you go to settlement, and another takes place about a month after you’ve moved in (this is often referred to as the “one month punch list” inspection).
For your pre-purchase walk throughs, consider having a home inspector with you during those visits. For the small cost of the inspection, you’ll have a set of trained eyes on the home with you and the worst case is the best case — nothing’s wrong. Typically this inspection will uncover oversights more than anything. But if there is poor workmanship, they’ll be able to point that out as well. Spending hundreds for reassurance when you’re spending hundreds of thousands is cheap peace of mind.
Insider Tip: If you’re going to schedule to have an inspector with you for the walkthroughs in your process, ask the builder’s rep to give you 7 to 10 days notice of those walkthroughs. Generally, a home inspector will need to schedule you in with some advance notice, and the builder won’t want to delay these walkthroughs if they can avoid it since it would impact their delivery/settle timeline.
“Real Time Real Estate” is a limited blog series by Paul Augustine, Associate Broker at RE/MAX Centre Realtors, written to help you navigate the good and bad in the era of COVID-19.