What do you wish you would have asked?
December 14, 2007 4:50 AM   Subscribe

What questions do I NEED to ask during the inspection of the home I just bought? Also, what questions should I ask the seller/seller's agent during the inspection?

I have an agent representing me, but I just want to make sure we ask all the important questions.
posted by elquien to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Leon at 4:56 AM on December 14, 2007

Ask how much life they think is left in major systems and structures: furnace, hot water heater, roof, appliances. They may not be able to give you an official answer in their report, but a good inspector will have seen hundreds of homes and should be able to give you a ballpark. Make a note of this and start saving your pennies, because karma will make everything will start to fall apart at about the same time.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:09 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I saw the post noted by Leon...this question is specific to the inspection process.
posted by elquien at 5:30 AM on December 14, 2007

You might want to make sure you are the one hiring and paying for the inspector as opposed to the real estate agent, so that he will be more likely to let you know about any flaws. Also seconding the answer about life expectancy of major systems; when I bought my current house I was told that the HVAC was near the end of its life expectancy and so I was prepared to replace it when the time came within the first couple of years of moving in.
posted by TedW at 5:38 AM on December 14, 2007

You've already bought the house?!?? And now you're doing the inspection? Wow. Usually, the inspection happens before the purchase, because things that are turned up in the inspection are up for negotiation between the seller and the buyer. Unless you bought "as is"? Since you've already purchased, your only option now is to figure out what you need to fix/replace immediately, and what can wait. So ask the inspector questions about that. Ask the seller/seller's agent the names and contact # of people who did previous repairs (if any). If you like their work, then you can contact them. If you don't like their work, you know to avoid them.Since you've already bought, I'm assuming it was probably "as is", and in most as-is cases, the houses are in very very poor condition. You should clarify what passes inspection and what doesn't. If the inspection turns up a whole slew of things that aren't up to code, then you might still have negotiation room, unless, of course, the contract says that making sure that things are up to code is the buyer's responsiblity--again, common in as-is cases. Good luck!
posted by peachy at 5:45 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

One more thing. The seller/seller's agent may or may not be present at the inspection. I've had the sellers be present only once, and that was considered weird. In every place I've lived, the seller is also legally required to tell the truth--so if they know that there is mold, termites, flooding in the basement, etc., they must disclose. If the seller hasn't lived on the premises, they can truthfully say that they don't know. So ask direct questions to the seller/seller's agent. But at this point, since you've already bought, you don't have any room for negotiation in terms of the selling price. But you can still ask--mold, termites, leaks in the roof, how much their heating/cooling bill is in the middle of winter/summer.
posted by peachy at 5:51 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had to do a doubletake after reading peachy's response. It is mostly pointless to inspect a home after buying it. After the inspection on the home I eventually bought I managed to knock $1000 off the asking price. If the deal is already sealed then you can't do that.

Nevertheless, a good inspector will answer all of your questions without you needing to ask them. There really are no generic questions that need to be asked. Specific questions could be asked depending on the house and your base of knowledge. However, we don't know that based on your original post. Depending on whether the house in question is a mobile home, yurt, Victorian mansion, adobe, or brand new will make a difference in the questions asked. Maintenance and repair issues probably will top that list.
posted by JJ86 at 6:03 AM on December 14, 2007

Response by poster: Sorry for the confusion, all. I haven't bought yet...I've put an offer in, contingent on inspection of course!
posted by elquien at 6:06 AM on December 14, 2007

Follow the inspector around, ask how everything works. Do not think that you are "bothering" him. This is your best chance to learn as much about your house as you possibly can.
posted by desuetude at 6:19 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Things we did not learn from our inspection that I wish we had known:

- there was no tar paper under the roof
- there was no vapor barrier under the siding
- the J channels around doors, windows, and chimney were not installed properly (this was caught in the instance of our doorwall, but somehow they missed that the lack of J channel had caused large holes beneath our deck)
- the sump pump is a cheap version that had to be replaced right away
- the toilet in one of our bathrooms was not vented properly

Now, with the first two, I'm not entirely certain how the inspector could have known (you can't pull siding off during an inspection, I don't think). But I sure wish we had known.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:29 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Find out whether or not the home has radon.
posted by roue at 6:43 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

1. They need to check the roof, walk it, poke it, see what is under there and how the shingles are doing.
2. They need to look under the house. You need to go under the house. Get a gas leak detector and a mold detector and see if anything dangerous is going on.
3. See how much insulation you have everywhere. (My house has NONE in the walls, you never know)
4. Check the attic for any leaks or water damage or anything else.
5. Make sure he takes lots and lots of pictures.
6. Have him check the furnace and air units and anythign else like that.
7. Check condition of all exterior siding.
8. Have him check stability of all decks, porches, outbuildings etc.
9. Check sewer lines and such or septic or whatever, find out what you have in that place.

First and foremost follow him around as much as possible, ask any question that pops in your head. If he says. "Hmmm..." say, "What?"
posted by stormygrey at 6:43 AM on December 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

The furnace in the house we were about to buy had a cracked firebox, which we wouldn't have found out about had our realtor not asked why the tin exhaust stack was blackened by soot. We were all walking around on the roof, but had been paying attention to other stuff, and I would never have even noticed it.

It cost the seller $1300 to replace.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 6:44 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not really so much of an "ask the inspector" question, but to consider before you hire one: Make sure he/she is well insured. If they mess up, you don't want to be footing the bill for it.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 6:47 AM on December 14, 2007

Keep asking, "how big a deal is that?" each time the inspector points out an issue. A report might list a whole bunch of things, from a mis-wired outlet to a cracked foundation; only a few of those things are really important and point to expensive looming repairs. On the inspection reports I've seen, perhaps 90% of the items listed are just not big deals; you want to concentrate your attention on the ones that are serious.

And prepare yourself mentally for finding out a year later about all the obvious things that the inspector should have seen, but apparently didn't.
posted by Forktine at 6:54 AM on December 14, 2007

The best advice I ever received was to hold the inspection on a day when it was raining outside (huge downpour). Leaks can be a homeowner's worst nightmare, and roof replacement is expensive. It's important to identify any problems early and make repair costs part of the final settlement.
posted by galimatias at 7:21 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Make sure you know where the main water valve is. Trust me, that's *very* handy information to have and the inspector will know where it is.
posted by zuhl at 8:15 AM on December 14, 2007

Keep asking, "how big a deal is that?" each time the inspector points out an issue. A report might list a whole bunch of things, from a mis-wired outlet to a cracked foundation; only a few of those things are really important and point to expensive looming repairs.

Inspectors are very concerned about liability-- EVERYTHING is a big deal to them. You need to use your judgement there or ask someone specific to the issue (like a structural engineer if the inspector is worried about the foundation).
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:15 AM on December 14, 2007

So when you go through your inspection the inspector should be licensed and bonded and provide references.

The rough cost is between 300 and 600 bucks depending on the size of the house.

There will be things your inspect identifies as possible issues but won't know enough it himself to identify and call out to fix. These may be issues such as pest abatement, chimney work, possibly electrical and plumbing.

Wheny ou get the inspection report read it, then put it down and read it again, make some notes and get additional inspections in areas that concern you. At this point you can go back to your agent and discuss the issues and either cash off the price or a hold back from the seller put int o escrow to remediate the identified problems.

When you're satisfied things are fixed or appreciated by both parties you can waive your contingency if you want to, there's paperwork involved there.

When you've finished buying the house, I suggest you address the issues called out in the inspection, they will likely be noted and brought up when you try to sell the house in the future and why deal with that stuff then ?
posted by iamabot at 8:32 AM on December 14, 2007

Inspectors are very concerned about liability-- EVERYTHING is a big deal to them.

I think it depends. My inspector was immensely helpful in helping us prioritize. Obviously, he made it clear that hey, his job is to inspect, so ideally, every detail is important. But he's very experienced and also owns a 100-yr-old rowhouse, so he was very pragmatic about answering "what happens if we don't fix that soon?"

When he identifies problems, ask him what needs to done specifically and write it down. Obviously he can't take you through it step-by-step, but when he says "looks like part of your soil line is cracked" you can at least get a general idea of what's involved. This is invaluable to help you know what the heck your talking about when you have to then hire contractors.

Go up onto the roof with him. Insist. (If you're scared of heights, buckle down and endure it.) You need to see your roof with your own eyes and have the condition explained to you. Water damage and chimney damage is no joke.

Other thing I wish I'd done: the previous owner of our house didn't clear out the rest of his belongings until immediately before settlement. I wish we'd pushed harder to do so (particularly the basement!) prior to inspection, as all the boxes of old baby clothes and such impeded the inspector's ability to see what was going on. It turned out that nothing terrible was hidden by the excessive storage, but it was a pain in the ass for both the inspector and ourselves.
posted by desuetude at 8:35 AM on December 14, 2007

Buy a copy of The Virgin Homeowner. In addition to covering inspections, it is a system-by-system explanation of your house and things you need to understand and keep an eye on.

When we bought our house, we hired a home inspector contingent on them being willing to work with n00bs and we also brought along a set of neon colored toe-tags and with guidance from the inspectors labeled every single shut-off valve in the house. Let me tell you, that saved our bacon once so far.
posted by plinth at 8:53 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

In every place I've lived, the seller is also legally required to tell the truth--so if they know that there is mold, termites, flooding in the basement, etc., they must disclose.

Partially true - While most jurisdictions require sellers to tell the truth when answering questions about the house, they generally aren't required to disclose anything unless asked. It's up to you to ask, so definitely ask about any horrible thing you could imagine that would make you not want to buy the house and/or significantly re-negotiate the price. And the inspection is the right time to do that.
posted by dchase at 9:05 AM on December 14, 2007

One thing to keep in mind about home inspectors -- they are generalists, not specialists. So when they say the house has a problem with its roof/foundation/chimney/etc., an inspection of the offending home component by a roofer/structural contractor/chimney sweep can save you a lot of money and heartache.

Example: this past June we put in an offer on a 93-year old house. During the inspection, the inspector identified some foundation issues. He didn't think they were a big deal, but to be safe we got a foundation inspection from a structural engineer (for $400, I think). Acting on his report, we got three estimates from different contractors for about $40,000 of work (!) that needs to be done. We ended up buying the house anyway, but only after negotiating the full amount from the seller to pay for the work. (We're planning to start in the spring.) Had we not laid out the money for the foundation inspection, we would have had a nasty surprise in a few years.
posted by harkin banks at 10:37 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just did this. I googled Home Inspection Checklist and got a bunch of different checklists. That pretty much covered all the bases. The inspector generated a report that listed all the major systems of the house, and noted the condition of all components, and whether it was major or minor. Also gave suggestions for repair. Ask the inspector for a copy of the report form. And the seller agreed to several repairs - some he probably knew were needed, but some he didn't.
posted by theora55 at 12:02 PM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

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