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Unlocking the Key to Smart Home Buying: The Importance of Home Inspections

One of the most important things to do when purchasing a home is a home inspection. Before you write an offer to purchase a home, you should have been able to see it personally with your real estate agent, but you wouldn’t normally have done a thorough inspection by getting on the roof, looking in the attic, operating all the appliances, opening the electric breaker box, and other detailed inspections. That’s what a home inspection is for, and you can wait until your offer is accepted before you do this.

 

In your written offer to the seller, you have the opportunity toask for a certain number of days in order to hire a professional home inspector to do a thorough inspection of the home.Depending on how busy the home inspectors are, 5 business days is usually plenty of time to get it done, but if they are busy, or you will be doing more than just the general home inspection, you may need more time. It is a good idea to consult with your preferred home inspector prior to writing an offer to find out how far out they are scheduled. If you don’t have a home inspector you like to use, your real estate agent will know of some reputable ones that they can recommend.

 

These inspections are generally around $400 to $500 and well worth the money spent. They will go over the home with a fine-toothed comb looking for anything that might be a concern to someone purchasing the property. Although they will look at the electrical system, the heating and cooling systems, the plumbing, the construction of the home, and other specific parts of the home, it is important to keep in mind that these inspectors are generally familiar with everything going on in a home, but they are not specialists in any one area. They may notice something concerning in the furnace for example andrecommend that you have a licensed heating and cooling specialist look at it to determine if it is serious or not.

 

Once they are done inspecting the home, they will normally go over what they saw with you verbally and send you a thorough written report in about a day. Their report will include everything they looked at and will note any concerns they had.There will normally be many things in their report, so it could look scary. If this is your first time buying a home, you may want to give the whole list to the seller and tell them you want them to fix everything, but it is important to understand that no home is perfect. So, what should you ask the seller to fix?

 

I like to put everything in the report in 3 categories: 1)improvements that would be nice to do but aren’t necessary, 2) maintenance items that really should be corrected and put them on your to-do list to work on later, and 3) serious deficiencies that are currently a safety, structural, or health-related issue. When deciding which deficiencies you should ask the seller to correct, discuss them with your agent and get their input. They should have a lot of experience dealing with inspection issues on both sides of the transaction.

 

Remember, the seller may not even be aware of these issues. I had a client purchasing a very nice home in a beautiful Des Moines neighborhood. The home inspector discovered that a family of raccoons had found a way into the attic and spent the winter living next to a canned light fixture that provided warmth when the light was on. The seller was totally unaware of the intruders and agreed to close up the access point to prevent future visitors and remove all the soiled insulation replacing it with new. This is exactly what home inspections are meant for and a perfect example of a problem that you should expect the seller to correct.

 

A home inspection is not meant to expect a seller to bring an older home up to current standards. An example of this is any time an inspector determines that electric outlets next to a water source (like the kitchen sink) don’t have GFCI protection. They will put this in their report because it is a safety concern. But if the home was built prior to the 1970s, it won’t have them because they weren’t required, so don’t expect the seller to retrofit the home with GFCI outlets just because you would like to have them. If there is an outlet that is protected by a GFCI breaker or outlet, but isn’t functioning as intended, then it would be acceptable to ask the seller to correct the issue.

 

You also need to consider the circumstances of each purchase. If the home is being sold because the owners are financially distressed, it won’t do any good to require that they fix a laundry list of problems because they can’t afford to do it. You will be purchasing the home in its as-is condition, but at least you are aware of what problems you are purchasing and perhaps the purchase price will need to be adjusted accordingly if it wasn’t already priced to include those problems.

 

There are some specialty inspections that I should mention. One of them is a radon inspection. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is ubiquitous. It is in outdoor air and will seep into a home through cracks in concrete and sump pump pits.  Many home inspectors have gotten certified to test for radon in homes and will offer to do the test for an upcharge. Why is it important to know the level of radon in the home? The United States government believes that extended exposure to elevated levels of radon is a cause of lung cancer. If the average level of radon in a home is 4 pCi/L (pico-curies per liter) or more, it is considered dangerous in America. Other countries have different levels they consider dangerous.

 

The United States has been testing for radon since the 1950s, but it seemed to become an industry standard around 2010. Home inspectors were convincing homebuyers that they should do the test and when the test results would come back at or above the recommended safe level, buyers would ask the sellers to install radon mitigation systems and retest for a safe level, or most buyers would walk. The problem with this in my opinion, is that these radon mitigation systems aren’t cheap, usually costing from $750 to $2,500 depending on the home and that the test period was usually only 48 hours. Radon levels in a home are constantly changing depending on weather and other factors. Another test could be done in another 48-hour period and get entirely different results. Asking a seller to shell out that much money based on short-term test results that could be different next week isn’t really fair.

 

You are also asking someone who wasn’t concerned about radon in their home the whole time they lived there to install a mitigation system when they are moving out. It obviously would not be a priority for the sellers, but if it is to the buyer, they should buy the house and then install a mitigation system themselves. Again, these are my opinions.

 

Another inspection I may recommend to buyers is a sewer line scope, mostly depending on the age of the home and sometimes because of the location of the home. Homes built between 1945 and 1972 may have orangeburg (a bituminous fiber pipe) connecting the house to the city’s sewer system. Orangeburg will easily collapse over time which results in a very costly repair if you need to replace your sewer line. It is important to know if the home you are purchasing has orangeburg pipe underground so you can either avoid it completely by cancelling your offer, ask the seller to replace it prior to closing, or have the seller pay for a sewer line insurance policy. These insurance policies are sometimes available through the city municipal wastewater department and are very affordable. Your homeowner insurance policy may also cover sewer line replacement as well, so you should ask your insurance agent.

 

The last inspection I will mention is a home lead test. Lead-based paint was banned in 1978, so a home built prior to that may have lead in the paint. These tests are very rarely done. I have only had one client do a home lead test in the 23 years of my real estate career. Lead-based paint can be problematic if it is peeling, flaking, or if you are sanding or scraping it. In older homes, windows were taller, and the lower windowsill would be close to the floor. Toddlers and younger children would stand at the window holding on to the windowsill, which would be at the same level as their mouth. It was natural for them to gnaw at the windowsill and ingest paint chips. Lead has a very sweet taste,so the paint was very satisfying for them, which brought on health problems.

 

In summary, a thorough home inspection is crucial when buying a property. While a showing with your agent offers a first look, it can't replace the detailed examination an inspector provides. Requesting inspection time in your offer allows you to uncover any issues before committing to a home. Inspectors identify various concerns, helping you prioritize repairs during negotiations. Considering specialty inspections for older homes, like radon, sewer lines, and lead testing, can offer further insights. Ultimately, investing in an inspection empowers informed decisions and a smoother home buying process.

 

Norwalk IA Real Estate – Jon Niemeyer, Broker/Owner/REALTOR® at EXIT Realty North Star. I list and sell real estate in Central Iowa including Norwalk, Des Moines, West Des Moines, Cumming, Indianola, Carlisle, Waukee, Urbandale, Grimes, Clive, Johnston, Ankeny, Altoona, and Pleasant Hill in the Counties of Warren, Polk, Dallas, and Madison. Call Jon Niemeyer at 515-490-4675.

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