Where should a Buyer Start
Due diligence can be a stressful process for everybody involved in a real estate transaction but it’s a safeguard for you as a buyer because you don’t want to buy a money pit, right? You’ll want an idea how old the roof and essential appliances are because it helps with negotiations as well as budgeting for future replacements. The focus here is having an inspector that not only knows what they’re looking at but also doesn’t blow things out of proportion or make big scary statements that could unnecessarily break a deal. My job as an inspector is to present an objective, unbiased, and informed report of flaws or concerns in the home you’re hoping to buy.
There’s not much in a house that money can’t fix, but knowing your limit is what’s most important. If your furnace is 40 years old but still working then I’m out of line by telling you WHEN it’s going to fail, but rather I should emphasize that it’s currently working as expected but is so far beyond its typical lifespan that you should be prepared to have to replace it sooner rather than later. See the difference? I’ve come across gas water heaters still kicking after 35 years even though they’re only expected to go for 8-12 years. Conversely, I’ve found brand new AC units in brand new homes that won’t even kick on.
Careful of Cost
It’s easy for buyers to look at a list of inspectors with prices next to their name and fixate on the cheapest one because costs add up and bills seem to come out of nowhere when trying to buy a house, but it’s worth asking WHY that inspector is the cheapest. Do they know what they’re doing? How are they staying on top of market trends and new developments in building practices?
If someone is charging $50-$100 less than everyone else then they’ll make up the cost difference in volume, sure, but how does that affect the way they treat you, your prospective home, and the report you’re paying them for? If an inspector is consistently doing 3 or 4 jobs a day, then it becomes more about manufacturing reports and collecting payment rather than making sure you have a positive experience and are confident in the house you’re buying.
Don’t let your inspection be little more than something to mark off your “buyer to-do list”, because there’s a lot on the line for you. A house is a huge investment and a good inspector will just about always find enough issues in any used home to more than offset their price when you and your agent return to the negotiating table with the sellers.
Licensing? Education? What?
One thing that seems to catch a lot of buyers off guard in Utah is that, as of this writing, there’s absolutely no oversight for home inspectors around here. There are no education requirements, all it takes is for somebody to tell you they’re an inspector. That’s not to say that most inspectors around here are garbage, many are quite good at what they do; but you should definitely be cautious in who you do hire and not just focus on how much they charge.
Get to know your Inspector
I had the privilege of being trained by and working with a very successful franchise in Oklahoma, there was 50+ years of collective building and inspection experience between the team and they’d already been through so many different learning (read: negative) experiences that they helped educate me on how much more there is to this profession than just walking around a house and acting like I knew what I was doing, and I’ve learned a lot since then.
I’ve heard stories from realtors about inspectors calling out “issues” that haven’t been a concern for over 15 years, but how would typical buyers know that? Is it your job to know when water heater manufacturers isolated the combustion chambers of gas fueled units? (spoiler) Before that change, the standard safety requirement was that any water heater installed in a garage be elevated 18” off the ground in case of flammable vapors or materials making their way to the open flame below the tank.
Just because somebody’s taking your money in exchange for services rendered doesn’t mean they’re an expert.
So how can you tell who’s a fraud, who’s a hack, and who’s serious about their profession? The easiest way is to ask what kind of insurance coverage they have. At minimum, inspectors should carry general liability insurance that covers at least the average price of homes in their service area. Good inspectors also make sure to carry Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance as well. If your inspector is scraping the bottom of the barrel for insurance coverage, then what’s that mean for you as a buyer?
There are a lot of horror stories floating around online of buyers following up with their inspector about concerns in their home shortly after moving in, but the inspector will ignore/avoid them, point to their agreement contract that usually limits liability to the cost of the inspection, or if it’s REALLY bad they’ll just shut down their company and disappear. But none of that helps the buyers who are now in a lurch, does it? Another good way to vet potential home inspectors is to ask questions about construction or things they typically find in homes. Common complaints from realtors about inspectors are that they talk down to buyers, talk over their heads, or make a big deal out of small things. Giving the inspector the greenlight to run off at the mouth about how much they know can be telling about how they’ll treat you.
Little Issues, Bigger Problems
At different realtor presentations and meetings I’ve sponsored, I get asked what the most common concern is that I see on houses. It’s nothing fancy or exciting or glamorous, it’s just the potential for standing water against the house. I’ve seen some pretty horrific things like tiny little 15 amp electrical conductors hooked up to 60 amp breakers or being used as a jumper from a 40 amp conductor, but if that was common then we’d see a whole lot more houses burning down. So why is the water thing a concern and why is it so prevalent?
Soil often expands and contracts with moisture, and that can turn into something like a massage for the foundation of a home. The problem is that we don’t want to massage the foundation. We don’t want the foundation to move at all. And it’s common because it seems so innocuous, right? “It’s just water, it’ll seep into the soil and dry up with no problem.” But it’s not that simple, and I’ve seen hundreds of examples of why. The exterior picture on the right is a more extreme illustration, but the gentler slopes are more difficult to photograph well. The bottom two pictures are some homeowners’ harsh realities, the first is inside a basement and the second is the brick siding of someone’s house. This is all fixable, but it can be quite an undertaking.
So do yourself a favor and check on the grading and drainage around your house a few times a year because it’s such a small thing but can cascade into several thousands of dollars to fix.
Here to Help
Helping people in a practical way is a cornerstone of how Bedrock Inspections operates, and it’s important to educate people when it comes to the maintenance of their home because it’s such a big investment and it does take effort. If you have any questions about your home, feel free to reach out and we’ll do our best to get you pointed in the right direction.