This Old House needs an inspector?
November 8, 2011 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Is a home inspector worth it to find out what deferred maintenance must be done immediately in an inherited house that I'm not selling right away? I'm thinking of getting one just to solve the deferred maintenance issues of an inherited house.

I and my dad co-inherited my parents' 1970's era house. My dad has dementia and Parkinson's and recently moved back to a care home after breaking his hip. I live in the family home. (I also have power of attorney.)

To put it mildly, there are deferred repairs all over the place. Mom got somewhat round the bend as she aged and refused to do repairs unless forced to (that is why there is a big stain on the ceiling from a leaky roof, thankfully replaced; and why the cabinet under the sink was rotting from a leak she thought would "fix itself."). It was not a case of lack of money, just denial.

When I first moved in, the water heater sprang a leak and had to be replaced. The repairman and I found it was not up to code - not braced! And I live in an earthquake zone! Yikes! The new one is braced.

I'm thinking of hiring a home inspector to go over the house and see what else absolutely needs to be done in terms of safety and keeping the house from catching fire or being eaten by termites. My next-door neighbor is a realtor so I can get her to recommend one to me.

However, I am not planning to sell the house right away if at all - I'm job hunting, and would like to stay in California, but with the 11% unemployment rate here I might need to move. So things are up in the air right now.

There's money for repairs, no loans needed, but I'd like to prioritize safety and habitability issues over things like paint and a new kitchen. I'm also not very experienced as a homeowner, having rented most of my life and had landlords take care of things. Hence a home inspector, who would know more than I. I suppose I could get a checklist and do it myself, but a) I am not an expert and b) I have a fear of heights and refuse to climb a ladder higher than a stepstool.

WWTGD (What Would The Green Do)?
posted by Rosie M. Banks to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it's a great idea. Being an inexperienced homeowner, the inspection will give you some direction and some stucture on how to attack all the work that needs to be done. Some day you will want to sell the house, and having an inspection done now will tell you where to start, what are the priorities, what are the timelines, what should these things cost. In essence it will give a quickie course in how to take care of your new home. When it comes time to sell it, you'll have a much more valuable house to sell.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:32 AM on November 8, 2011

Absolutly. Besides prioritizing issues for you, a good inspector can tell you what repairs will cost. Well worth it.
posted by mmf at 10:46 AM on November 8, 2011

As a word of caution, home inspectors in my area (and in my experience) have missed a) a faulty roof, b) improperly installed plumbing, c) incorrect wiring, d) a rusted-out boiler, and e) a furnace vented into the chimney. I would suggest that you grab reliable plumbers, electricians, etc., and have them take a look.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:46 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agree with t j wise, home inspectors come in good, bad and mediocre, many of them pretty bad (including the last one I engaged). I'd recommend checking him/her out carefully before hiring one.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 11:08 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have a friend or family member who is a real estate agent, he or she may be able to suggest a good home inspector.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:14 AM on November 8, 2011

What might be better than a home inspector is a good general contractor that specializes in home renovation work. This can be tough to also find a good one though. I would recommend getting two or three to come in and take a look, and go with the one you like the best and seems the most honest. A good way to check on them is anything that two or more contractors find is likely to be honestly bad, especially if they give you the same fix (this assumes, of course, you don't tell them about the multiple inspections). Also, don't get a 'free estimate'. Call them up and tell them you want to buy a couple of hours of their time to come and evaluate your home, with exactly what you told us. The honest ones will take you up on it, the dishonest ones will constantly be trying to upsell you and talk about upgrades, not repairs. They will all give you some kind of cost estimate however. Once again, the ones that are closest to the high end of average are probably honest.
posted by bartonlong at 11:20 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing getting one from a reputable company. I had it done for a townhouse I was would have meant a lot to me to own this house, but it needed WAY too much work.

If you are in the NY area, Richard Perri at Professional Home Inspection Corp. is excellent.
posted by brujita at 11:26 AM on November 8, 2011

Vindaloo's wife here. Similar situation to yours: we inherited a 1920s duplex in Montreal w/ deferred maintenance, due to a hands-off landlord + easygoing long-term tenants in place.

Best decision we ever made was to hire a home inspector to help us assess & prioritize the many needed repairs. We researched through local realtors & our provincial certifying agency to find a well-reputed inspector, & paid a premium to retain his services.

Absolutely, for peace of mind, pay the few hundred dollars for an inspection, then further call in specialized trades (roofers, plumbers, electricians, general contractor, etc) for estimates & 2nd opinions on any problems uncovered. Good luck!
posted by Vindaloo at 11:36 AM on November 8, 2011

I like bartonlong's suggestion of contractors over home inspectors. My home inspector missed SO. MUCH. STUFF. and fixated on weird code violations that actually were not really a problem - I don't care that the stair railing isn't as tall as it should be and the garage needed painting but I really, really would have liked to know about the giant plumbing leak behind the downstairs bathroom and the uninsulated pipes outside the laundry room before I bought the house. After I bought - and after the first flood, thanks to aforementioned leak - I went through the lengthy checklist from the inspector with a contractor friend. Most of the inspection list was ridiculous and unimportant, he said as we went through the house, but you really need to look at this, this and this - only one of those was on the list.

I asked my friend why the inspector had focused on this piddly stuff and he told me that home inspectors are trained primarily to look for local building code violations, not necessarily for issues that affect your quality of life in the house. This is because the mortgage company gets a copy of the home inspection and if things aren't up to code, they may refuse the loan. Sure, it's good to know what is and isn't up to code, but some violations, like unpainted surfaces and stair heights and so on, can be easily fixed by the homeowner and are not really dangerous or things that need immediate fixes. Since you want to know the most important stuff right away, I'd go with a contractor or two or even a couple of local handymen type guys and save the home inspector for when you're thinking about selling.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:17 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for the replies so far! The reason I thought of a home inspector vs. a contractor or electrician, etc. was I wanted an objective report from a disinterested party, not someone with an incentive to sell me extras. The heads-up on what inspectors tend to look for was something I didn't know, so thanks, Mygothlaundry!

As I said, the woman next door is a realtor (and so is the mom of a friend) so I can get referrals there. Ditto contractors. Whoever I get I plan to check out beforehand.

Bartonlong's suggestion that I pay them for their time and check them out while doing so is great. Thank you.

I know this place needs, at the very least, new paint, new carpet, and landscaping; but I want to prioritize and spend on what really needs to be done - an electrical system or foundation that needs work is a much higher priority over cosmetic repairs and an updated kitchen - I do not want to wind up polishing a turd.

Thanks for your help/suggestions!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:32 PM on November 8, 2011

Nthing the use of a recommended home inspector. Definitely shadow the inspector while s/he is doing their thing - you'll learn more about what things "should" look like.

The report will help you prioritize what you want or need to do.

If you decide to sell, you can provide the report along with a supplemental summary of what you've (had) done in the interim.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 3:44 PM on November 8, 2011

I'm with vindaloo above.

My wife and I used a very good home inspector 3 times when considering houses (he joked that we were so experienced 'now you can do it yourself'). He took me around (hands and knees when necessary, through the basements and attics) with his checklists and discussed every item including his evaluation and recommendations. Sat us down afterwards to review all the sheets.

There are books (example, not a recommendation) about home inspection which allow you to prepare for assessments by contractors and tradesmen, accompany them and ask questions, or even do it yourself.

Some of the contractors will try to sell services or have blind spots and you will want to have one of these advisors be an impartial inspector, IMO. As long as you explain what you are doing a good inspector should be valuable.
posted by lathrop at 3:46 PM on November 8, 2011

My experience was somewhat similar to mygothlaundry's; the inspection was 100% useless (I think he found a miswired outlet, or something equally trivial, while missing things like the roof condition) except that it allowed the mortgage to go through. Any experienced contractor who does renovation work can assess the structural stuff; electrical, plumbing, and HVAC are all probably worth talking about with specialists.

It's definitely worth having a relationship with those people before you are facing urgent and expensive projects, and paying someone for an hour of their time is a cheap investment compared to a disaster later. The good thing is that you only need to find the first one, and they can lead you to the others. Any good renovations contractor will have trusted electricians and plumbers; any good plumber will know which contractors do good work; etc. If you are really stuck finding the first one, do you have a vocational community college near you? Calling up the lead instructor in the relevant program and ask them for some trusted names works well.
posted by Forktine at 4:43 PM on November 8, 2011

Repairs will be needed top down, outside in. How is the roof? If you don't know how hold it is or suspect it need care, replace it. Then start work on the exterior shell, then on the interior utilities.
posted by andreap at 5:31 AM on November 9, 2011

A good and experienced home inspector is the best choice. I would hesitate hiring a handyman, electrician, plumber or HVAC guy because they will find things wrong and sell you on having them fix it whether it is important or not.

Finding a qualified home inspector is easy if you know realtors who deal with them constantly. Always double check with Angie's List or the BBB and other references will seal the deal. I have never had a problem with finding a good inspector but I never settled with the first listing in the yellow pages either.
posted by JJ86 at 5:57 AM on November 9, 2011

Personally, I wouldn't pick a home inspector recommended by a realtor. Even an honest realtor will probably have an unconscious bias toward a home inspector who says everything's OK.

(Amusingly, I actually worked with brujita's inspector.)

I also recommend picking up a home inspection book, no matter what inspector you work with. I like this one. Your inspector is bound to miss something, and knowing a thing or two is worth a lot. Especially in Asbestosland... excuse me, California.
posted by zvs at 8:54 AM on November 10, 2011

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