The ultimate in homebuyer due diligence: doing your own inspection
When a house is right for you, you just know it. It hits you like a ton of bricks. You make your offer, negotiations follow, and your offer is accepted. Now what? A home inspection (assuming the seller agreed to make it a condition of the sale and the house has been lived in before) is usually next.
BiggerPockets’ Mindy Jensen acknowledges that a professional inspection can cost buyers, on average, $200 to $400 or more, depending on how large or old the house is. Before you call the pros in, however, it’s truly wise to do a DIY inspection. You may have been mesmerized by the home itself when you made your offer, but now it’s time to get real — to look for things ahead of time that you may not have noticed before.
A professional home inspector will look at specific things to report on — things that might need to be replaced or have a short shelf life left on them (recommended repairs/replacements over time) and whether things are in working order (outlets, appliances, faucets, drainage). But what YOU might notice are things like faded or crunchy carpeting, windows that look like they were installed at different times, doors that stick or close on their own (unbalanced), and vertigo-inducing floors that feel uneven when you walk on them.
Start with a clipboard and make up a checklist of your own. Perhaps you thought the floors were wood, but at closer inspection, they are a wood look-alike. The inspector might also gloss over the walls of the house, so check for holes, cracks, and touch the walls for cold spots (bad insulation). As for trim and anything made of wood, are there damaged spots on baseboards, around doors, or any missing pieces? “Animals can be brutal to wood trim, and matching old trim is almost impossible,” says Jensen. “If there is damage, it may make sense to replace the trim completely.” Is the home a two-story or more? Walk up and down the stairs and touch every spindle on the railing. Are they sturdy or wobbly? Do the stairs creak?
Big things to consider are the furnace and water heater. Jensen advises looking for any stickers on the furnace that indicate the installation date and if you can’t find it, get this information as soon as possible. Around the water heater, check for water around the base for damage or other signs of wear. and check the date of installation there as well.
Whether it’s in the kitchen or bathrooms, chances are good that your inspector won’t open and close every cabinet and drawer to make sure they move smoothly and that they don’t prevent access to anything, so do it yourself. Even open the oven door to make sure the springs work, the oven lights up, and is in working condition. On the stove, turn on each burner. In the fridge, see if the door opens and seals properly. And open and inspect the dishwasher to make sure the unit still turns on and functions as it’s meant to.
While you go through this process, room by room, you’ll begin to notice things like damage, lack of access (believe it or not, new owners have found nothing but a wall behind a cabinet door), scratches, missing items, wear spots, and even ventilation if you are in there long enough. If the upper floor feels ten degrees warmer than it does downstairs, you may need to install a whole-house fan or a zoned heating and cooling system. And if you notice odors, there may be mold forming.
Outside, turn on the sprinkler system to test the water pressure. Uneven walkways may be root or water intrusion. Check the fencing for loose boards and the overall sturdiness. And if the house has siding, check for any decay and wood rot that may become a bigger problem as time goes on. Jensen also advices to look at the mortar between the bricks, if applicable, to see if it’s cracking or missing.
You get the drift. Put your inspector hat on and most of all, take photos! “In your DIY home inspection, taking pictures is key to the overall process,” says Jensen. “These pictures document what you saw in your inspection. They can back you up if you see anything that looks suspect before making an offer. Photos can also prove the state of the property: This way, the owner can’t claim that you caused any damage. You’d have the photos as proof that the damage was already there.”
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