Before buying into a monthly mortgage payment, 77% of home buyers hire an inspector to go through their new digs with a fine-toothed comb. This is a very good idea.
That extra set of eyes gives buyers peace of mind that a new house won't have a leaky roof or cracked foundation. Or something even worse. But what you might not realize is that countless conundrums go unnoticed during a home inspection simply because the inspector doesn't look for them.
And those undetected flaws could add up to expensive repairs.
Here's the deal: Home inspectors aren't regulated by federal guidelines. Each state has its own licensing and/or certification requirements. They vary from Texas, which requires 130 classroom hours of real estate inspection training, to Georgia, which requires an inspector have a business license and a letter of recommendation -- and little else.
That means home buyers have to do their own homework to make sure they're working with a reputable and thorough inspector. Make sure to verify an inspector's references and ask to review the checklist of items covered during an inspection.
And, once you've done that, ask your inspector to check for these budget busters.
If you're buying a home for the first time, you're probably swooning over the idea of having your own washer/dryer or dishwasher. And to make sure your new BFF won't break -- and break your heart -- an inspector should run these kind of appliances to check for functionality and leaks.
But inspectors don't always go over all the bells and whistles on appliances.
"Checking the water dispenser for issues on a fridge isn't standard," says Tom Kraeutler, a former home inspector, author of "My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure," and a syndicated radio host.
That oversight could mean you walk into a flooded kitchen if the seal on the water dispenser is faulty or the ice machine springs a leak.
To put a home's plumbing through its paces, all faucets should be turned on; toilets should be flushed multiple times; and drain pipes -- even if they're under the house -- checked for leaks while the water is running.
When it comes to sinks, the faucets need to be run long enough to fill them before draining in order to spot a leaky pipe or drain. In the shower, an inspector will need to block the drain pan with a washcloth or rubber jar opener and fill the shower to the top of the "pan" or floor, The water should sit for 15 to 20 minutes to test for leaks in the drain, Kraeutler says.
"That also helps spot if the shower pan is faulty, which is a super-expensive fix," he says.
Another thing: Leaky shower tiles happen when gaps form in the tile grout or caulk. And they show up only when wet. To simulate showering, the inspector needs to splash his hands under the water and check the integrity of grout and caulk.
Cracked sewage and drainage pipes
Home inspections are always limited to what is visible and accessible, Kraeutler says. So cracks in underground or buried pipes and drain lines will be checked only if your inspector conducts a camera inspection.
That in-depth look into your drain will cost you extra. But the additional few hundred dollars are a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands you'll shell out repairing or replacing faulty sewage and drainage pipes.
Corroded central air conditioning
Did you know that air-conditioning units can't be tested in certain temperatures?
It has to be at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit outside in order to run a unit -- temperatures lower than that can cause damage to the air conditioner, Kraeutler says. That means inspections done in cool temperatures could have an inspector ignoring the AC altogether.
So if it's too cold to run the unit, ask your inspector how he looks for potential problems. You'll want to make sure the inspector examines all connections and looks for signs of damage, says Will Hawkins, owner of All Pro Drain in Austin, TX.
And, if the temperature is 55 or higher, make sure the AC is run for several hours to test the functioning of the unit's condenser coil.
"We've had customers notice condensation or water seeping through the walls in a few hours [of turning on the air conditioner] or overnight," Hawkins says. "And unless the AC is run for several hours, that's something a home inspector would be hard pressed to see during his run-through."
Dangerous DIY improvements
It might be tempting to spruce up your home with some DIY projects before putting it on the market. But if those home improvements are completed with low-quality materials or not installed properly, a buyer could face an exorbitant -- and unexpected -- renovation.
A DIY renovation could be dangerous, too. If a basement or attic is finished without proper permits, electrical and plumbing work might not be up to code. And that could mean potential damage -- or even danger -- to the residents.
Although many home inspectors check for construction permits with the local municipality, Kraeutler suggests verifying that step isn't overlooked.
Damp porches, decks, and balconies
You might not think of decks and balconies as sources of expensive leaks. But costs of damage can surge up to $100,000, according to Bill Leys, owner of Division 7 Waterproofing Consultants and a deck inspector in San Luis Obispo, CA.
"A deck or balcony can also have serious safety issues and be at risk of collapse," he says.
Asking your inspector about cracks, rusted flashing, and soft areas around drains can help keep water from seeping into your home.
One final tip: Most home inspections are performed at least two months before closing. A lot can change in that time -- especially if a house is vacant, Kraeutler says. Consider having a follow-up inspection the day of (or no earlier than the day before) closing to ensure you're not purchasing a money pit.