Home Inspections – 9 Tips to Minimize Your Risk as a Buyer by Finding the Right Inspector

This article is written for buyers of real estate in California, but most of the tips are applicable to every state. The State of California and the California Department of Real Estate now strongly recommend that every buyer of property in the State have a professional home inspection.

1. What is a home inspection?

A home inspection examines the physical and operational condition of a property through visual means and through testing of plumbing fixtures, electrical systems, appliances and heating and air conditioning systems. Inspections include the roof, foundation, water drainage, walls, floors, windows, doors, and more. Home inspections do NOT include inspection for living organisms including mold and termites. However, most home inspectors will comment if they see evidence of water, mold, infestation and/or damage from any of those.

2. Are there inspection standards?

To quote the California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA) Standards of Practice, “A Real Estate inspection is a non-invasive physical examination designed to identify material defects in the systems, structures, and components of a buildings…” and, “A material defect is a condition that significantly affects the value, desirability, habitability, or safety of the building.” For the entire document see the CREIA Standards.

3. What is reported?

The inspection report itemizes each “material defect” that needs attention. Reports vary considerably. Some are complicated checklists and narratives without pictures. Others include full color pictures with captions explaining what is in the picture. Most buyers find reports with pictures are much more useful because they make defects clearer to the seller when you ask the seller to fix a defect. As you know, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

4. Look for the latest InfraRed (IR) thermal imaging.

Every inspection should include measurements of electrical outlets with electricity monitors. Water pressure should be taken with a pressure meter. Temperature probes are used to be sure heaters and air conditioners are working properly. The latest technology is InfraRed (IR) thermal imaging. This is an invaluable tool that some inspectors are starting to use. It can show defects the human eye cannot, such as the presence of moisture in floors, walls and ceilings. It shows defects in insulation and leaks in air and heating systems. If you can find an inspection company offering IR thermal imaging, consider them first.

5. What about licensing and credentials?

Few people know that the State of California does neither control nor license home inspectors! So it is very important to investigate the qualifications of any inspector. Get references from the inspector or talk to agents who have worked with the inspector. Look for the inspector’s membership in industry organizations. Your inspector should adhere to the CREIA Standards of Practice mentioned earlier. Other organizations include the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, NACHI (www.nachi.org), and the American Society of Home Inspectors, ASHI (www.ashi.org).

6. Be sure you know the background of the person actually doing the inspection.
Many good home inspectors are one man companies. Others are franchises with the inspector/owner running his local office. Others are companies that have many inspectors on payroll with varying amounts of experience. Any time you consider any company, be sure to get the qualifications of the one person assigned to your job.

7. Look for a guarantee in writing.

Unlike most other businesses, very few home inspectors fully guarantee their work. A good guarantee does not just offer your money back for the cost of an inspection, but actually pays to correct any defect that was missed by the inspector during an inspection. Don’t accept any verbal comments about guarantees. An inspection company with a real guarantee will have it in writing on their web site.

8. What should it cost?

The cost of a home inspection will vary greatly. A 1000 square foot condo will be lower in cost than a 3000 square foot home. Never make a decision on price alone. Saving $100 by going with the cheapest inspection can cost $1000s of dollars if something is missed.

9. How do I find the inspector’s credentials?

Look for an inspector with an informative web site. You should be able to see the inspector’s background, experience, qualifications, Certifications, sample report and customer references. Look for a guarantee, the details of which should be spelled out. Call the inspector and ask any questions you have.

Note: This article is copyrighted by the author but buyers and home inspectors are encouraged to copy and use this article as long as the author’s name and web site are kept with it.

Home Inspection Tips – Lowering Radon Levels

It’s possible a home inspection will reveal the existence of radon gas seeping up through the ground into the living area of the home you want to buy. Radon is known for causing lung cancer, so you don’t want it around. What can you do to decrease the seriousness of the problem? In other words, what do you do to mitigate the radon threat?

Radon resistant techniques can be simple and passive and will lower radon levels when done properly. They can lower levels of moisture and other soil gasses, too. Radon resistant techniques have the additional benefit of making your home more energy efficient and can help you save on energy costs. Save money when a home is first built by not having to deal with the problem later if these techniques are put into place with common building materials.

Even in a new home, radon testing should be done to be sure the level is below 4 pCi/L. If radon levels are high, a passive system can be turned into what’s called an active system by adding a vent fan to reduce radon levels.

You’ll need to find someone who is considered to be a qualified radon mitigator to install radon resistant techniques, whether your home is new or not. Costs will vary, but should be similar to other home repairs you may need to have done.

What are these radon resistant techniques? It’s important to note that this depends on your home’s foundation. Also, if you’re having a house built, ask your builder if they’re using EPA’s recommended approach.

The first radon resistant technique of note is a gas-permeable layer, which is used only in homes with casement and slab-on-grade foundations. It is not used in homes with crawlspace foundations. It usually consists of a four inch layer of clean gravel placed under the slab or flooring system. It’s meant to allow the gas to move freely under the house. Plastic sheeting is placed on top of the gas permeable layer and under the slab to help prevent the soil gas from getting into the home

When a home has crawl spaces, plastic sheeting is placed over the crawlspace floor. This serves as a moisture barrier as well.

Sealing and caulking is another technique. Any below-grade openings in the concrete foundation floor are sealed to reduce the amount of soil gases getting into the home.

When there’s a gas-permeable layer under the home, a vent pipe is put into the gravel and runs through the house and to the roof to vent gases away from the living area. The pipe used is a 3- or 4-inch gas-tight or PVC pipe, or other gas-tight pipe.

If it’s necessary to use a vent fan to reduce high radon levels, an electrical junction box is included in the attic to make the wiring and installation of a vent fan easier. A separate junction box is put in the living space to power the vent fan alarm. That’s because an alarm is installed along the vent fan to indicate when that fan isn’t operating properly.

Your home inspector or other qualified radon mitigation professional should know the best place to put radon test equipment. It should go into the lowest level of the home that’s occupied regularly, such as any place used as a bedroom, play or exercise area, den or workshop. The EPA says testing should not be done in a closet, stairway, hallway, crawl space or in an enclosed area where there’s either high humidity or breezy air circulation. Avoid places like the kitchen, laundry room,bathroom or furnace room.

There’s no way to accurately know the level of radon in the home you’re building, buying or selling unless radon testing is done. Be sure your home inspector or other qualified professional can do the testing for you. You don’t have to put your family’s health at risk from radon.

4 Home Inspection Tips for a Buyer’s Peace of Mind

Buying a home is a major event for most people. Since we do it so infrequently, there are many facets of the process which are not familiar to the average buyer. One very important aspect of the home buying process is getting a professional home inspection.

Home inspections can uncover hidden flaws an untrained person would not notice. Sometimes the inspectors discover defects that could cost hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to correct. Even when they discover minor flaws, you can add to your contract that the seller will correct them. Alternatively, you will have some ammunition to possibly negotiate a lower price. Here are a few inspection tips:

Home Inspection Tip No. 1

Be sure to select an inspector who has had training and a lot of experience in inspection. An experienced inspector will be familiar with good construction methods, and will recognize any visible defects in the structure, or in the installation of ancillary systems such as electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems. He or she will likely be aware of current recalls of various appliances and what options are available to owners.

Home Inspection Tip No. 2

Choose an inspector from the local area. An inspector from the area will be familiar with local building codes. He or she will also be familiar with common problems associated with the neighborhood, and with individual home builders in the area.

Home Inspection Tip No. 3

Be sure you are present and tag along with the inspector while he or she inspects your potential purchase. Most inspectors prefer you to be there so they can point out specific defects, as well as the good features of your prospective purchase. This will give you a much better understanding of the items in his or her report. Ask questions about anything you see or don’t understand.

Home Inspection Tip No. 4

Don’t plan on doing your own inspection. There are hundreds of items that need to be inspected. Without formal training or years in the home construction trades, the average person will not be able to recognize many potential defects. A professional home inspection only costs a few hundred dollars to protect your investment of more than 500 times as much. This is no time to be penny wise and pound foolish.

You will get an unbiased evaluation from your inspector. You should expect to get a detailed report, with a description of both good and bad findings, along with appropriate diagrams and photos as necessary to document those findings.

Following the tips above will make you aware of any potential problems, and allow you to proceed with your transaction with the confidence that you are buying a sound property, or will be once any potential defects are addressed. A thorough inspection takes the emotion out of the equation, and gives you peace of mind knowing you are making your decision based on the facts.