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What Types of Home Inspections Can a Buyer Do?

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house being examined under a magnifying glass

A home inspector doesn't specialize in every type of home inspection.

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Question: What Types of Home Inspections Can a Buyer Do?
A reader asks, "My husband and I had our offer accepted last night on a house in a really cool neighborhood. The house is a little old, so we're concerned that it might not pass a home inspection. Our agent says a home inspector might refer us to other inspectors. What other inspectors? What types of home inspections can a buyer do?"
Answer: Your real estate agent should be able to give you a list of the types of home inspections that are generally conducted in your area. She is correct in saying that your home inspector might suggest that you hire other inspectors.

Does a Home Inspector Check Everything in a House?

A general home inspection does not include specific items that require a specialist to examine. For example, a home inspector might measure the differential temperature reading from an air conditioning unit, find it low and suggest the A/C be inspected by an HVAC specialist. The inspector may have an idea of what is wrong, but is probably unqualified to take it apart and diagnose the problem.

Here are Types of Home Inspections

General home inspectors look for defects. If they spot something unusual that lies outside of their scope of professional experience, they will suggest that you obtain a more specialized inspection.

  • Wood Destroying Pests

    You can find wood destroying pests in just about any part of the country, but especially in warm climates. A pest inspection will disclose not only termites or powder post beetles, for example, but also dry-rot.

  • Chimney

    Some older chimneys don't have flue liners or the brick inside the chimney may be crumbling. A chimney inspector will also make sure smoke is discharged properly.

  • Electrical

    A general home inspector may tell you that the electrical box is so old that it no longer complies with city code, but an electrician can tell you the best brands to replace it with and how much it costs, among other disclosures.

  • Heating and Air Conditioning

    With most furnaces, you have to take it apart to determine if the heat exchanger is cracked, for example, or to find out why the furnace is malfunctioning. An HVAC specialist can tell you what's wrong, how much it will cost to fix it and whether it needs to be replaced.

  • Lead-Based Paint

    The federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in 1978, but homes newer than 1978 can still contain lead-based paint. You have the right to have the home tested for lead-based paint. To remove lead-based paint, hire a certified lead abatement contractor.

  • Square Footage

    You may want to verify the square footage of your home. Because public records are input by humans, mistakes can happen. You can calculate square footage yourself or hire an appraiser.

  • Easements and Encroachments

    Your owner's title policy will disclose easements, but some encroachments may require a physical inspection. Ask the title company to send you the actual easement documents from the public records.

  • Foundation

    While a home inspector can tell you if your home was built on a slab or raised foundation, a foundation engineer can tell you if the home is sliding or the foundation is faulty.

  • Lot Size and Boundaries

    A preliminary search for a title policy will give you a plat map, showing the boundaries and size of the lot. If you want this information verified, you may want to hire a surveyor.

  • Pool and Spa

    Pool and spa experts can give you an estimated life expectancy on crucial key components such as the heater or spa blower. They will also check for leaks.

  • Roof Inspection

    If the seller won't pay for a roof certification on an older roof, then get your own. Make sure the company is reputable and likely to be in business later if you have a claim.

  • Sewer or Septic System Inspection

    Many older homes may not be connected to a sewer system. Get a sewer inspection. Modern technology calls for a digital camera to be inserted into the sewer line and pushed through to the main line.

  • Soil Stability

    Testing the soil is important if you're buying a home on the side of a hill, because you don't want it sliding away during a rainstorm. Some areas also are prone soil contamination.

  • Arborist

    The best way to determine if the trees on the property are healthy is to hire an arborist to inspect them.

  • Water Systems and Plumbing

    If the plumbing is galvanized, a plumber can tell you if it needs to be replaced. Some galvanized pipes are so clogged that you can barely fit the lead of a pencil through it.

  • Well

    Inspect the construction of the well and find out the depth of the water table, including water sanitation.

  • Radon or Methane Gas

    A mitigation contractor can test for radon or methane gas and recommend ways to remove it.

  • Asbestos

    The only way to tell if a material actually contains asbestos is have it tested. Taking a sample to a lab is preferred over do-it-yourself home tests.

  • Formaldehyde

    Formaldehyde is a colorless and flammable gas used as a chemical in building products. It's known to cause cancer in rats.

  • Mold

    Mold can trigger health problems in even healthy individuals. There are many different types of mold. You can test for mold in the home by testing air quality.

  • Permits and Zoning

    Go to your city planning department and ask to see the permits on the home. Sometimes people remodel without permits. The zoning department can tell you, for example, if it's legal to run a home-based business from your home.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.

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