You’ve finally found the perfect – or near-perfect – house. You’ve haggled, negotiated, and appear close to finalizing the deal. But first you’ll want to hire a professional inspector – and then you’ll want to do some inspecting yourself, including the home’s major systems.
An inspection involves a qualified professional who will take an objective look at the condition of the property and prepare a report. But it’s also important that you, as the buyer, carefully inspect every foot of the house for things that might not be included in the professional inspection, as well as the things that are, like the systems – heating, cooling, plumbing, electrical service, and the water heater.
Why inspect? You are about to engage in a significant financial transaction, probably your biggest ever. You want to make sure the house is in good condition to prevent headaches down the road. It could potentially cost you thousands of dollars to replace or fix common system problem.
There’s a lot to know about the house that you are planning on calling home. A house consists of many complex components, including structural framing; physical components; and electrical, plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning systems.
Whether you buy a particular home may come down to an instinctive, emotional decision – you love that kitchen or know the floor plan will suit your family perfectly. Knowing that, you may find the inspection task easier if you try to assume the role of a detective, a sort of domestic investigator.
As you go from one end of the house to the other, you may find it useful to have a checklist with you for reference. Make notes as you go – you will be trying to absorb a great deal in a short time. Take at least two trips in and out and around the house. We all kid ourselves a little bit – at first we don’t see what we don’t want to see, but sometimes a second look will reveal what we missed earlier.
After you have completed your thorough survey of the outside and the inside, it’s time to get to the bottom of the house: to the basement, or wherever the working parts of its vital systems are to be found. If you get an idea that you might find a particular house livable, now you have to determine how well it functions, that is the infrastructure of the house – the systems that heat it, cool it, and supply with water and power.
Freddie Mac suggests your major systems inspection include the following:
- Plumbing system. Check type of water pipes and sewer lines, that can be seen, for rusting or leaking; turn on faucets to test water pressure and volume; look for clogged or sluggish drains or dripping faucets. Pay special attention to joints and unions, where corrosion is most likely to occur. If pipes are galvanized or steel, and the house is old, check carefully along the entire length of the pipe.
- Electrical system. The important points in judging a house’s electrical service are capacity and condition. Check load center and observe if there are fuses or circuit breakers; check age and look for signs of wear or exposed wires.
- Heating system. Check the type of heating system such as warm air, hot water, or electrical, and determine age and condition. Fire it up to ensure the thermostat is working properly. Check for gas leaks and cracked heat exchanger.
- Water heater. Check for signs of leaking or rusting. Determine capacity and recovery rate, age, and condition.
- Air conditioning/cooling system. If applicable, check type of air conditioning or cooling system, age, condition, freon, and leaks. Again, turn the thermostat to the cooling mode so you can test the air conditioner. Note: the location of the thermostat is very important. It should be centrally located inside the house, preferably on an inner wall, away from drafts (such as door and window drafts) and direct sunshine.
- Basement. If applicable, basement area should be checked for signs of water leaking, dampness, flooding, dry rot, termites, and for adequate lighting.
- Attic. If applicable, the attic should be checked for signs of leaks and any rodent or insect infestation, and if insulated, check type and quantity.It’s very hard to find the perfect house. You shouldn’t get too concerned with the small stuff that will likely be replaced anyway – appliances, a broken screen, or a door that doesn’t close tightly. Over the years you will probably be replacing the appliances and you’ll fix the screen.
In addition to the systems, you’ll want to inspect the exterior, the kitchen and bathrooms, the basements, walls, ceilings, windows, doors, insulation, and ventilation.
Don’t lose sight of the big picture. If the house has a major systems problem, then you’ll want to renegotiate or go back to the drawing board and start house hunting again. Although it may seem like a hassle at the time, it would be an even bigger hassle – and expense – to contend with a major problem down the road.
Written by Michele Dawson