It’s almost guaranteed that your home inspector will find problems worth bringing to your attention. It’s guaranteed because imperfection is normal. Up to a point, anyway. In most cases, you’ll be able to work with it.
For a heads-up on what to expect, check out this list of the top nine home inspection problems nationally, year after year, according to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).
You’ll also learn a little about what these problems might mean for your purchase agreement, your wallet, and your new-homeowner to-do list. But so much depends on your location and the specifics of the home — you’ll need tailored advice from your home inspector. It is part of a home inspector’s responsibility to give you a sense of how significant these issues are or could be, and how important it is to follow up.
1. Poor surface grading and drainage
This is by far the most common problem home inspectors find. When water pools around the house instead of flowing away from it, it can eventually undermine the structure, cracking the slab or footings. Water might penetrate the basement or crawlspace, and that can create a mold problem, among other things.
Correcting poor drainage can be as simple as adding downspout extenders. But it can also require costly fixes. For example, building a retaining wall to guide water away from the house, or installing a drainage system in the basement. “If there’s signs of structural deterioration,” says Loden, “you probably need to see what it’s going to cost to correct it.”
2. Improper and undersized electrical wiring
The electrical systems of older homes may need upgrades. Beyond that, home inspectors often find dangerous overloads, improper grounding, and bad connections. Aren’t there laws against these kinds of things? Well, yes, but a surprising number of people try to DIY electrical work.
Safety issues should be fixed before you move in. If the system is simply out-of-date, you might not be legally required to meet current codes unless you make other upgrades to the house, Loden says. However, if you’re like most Americans, you have a lot of appliances and devices. For convenience and safety, you should plan on upgrading the system.
3. A bad roof
Shingling a roof is expensive, so many homeowners put it off. Inspectors regularly see roofs that are completely shot. On a smaller scale, damaged shingles or improper flashing can create leaks, and even a small leak can eventually do a lot of damage.
It’s not too big a deal to repair damaged shingles or caulk a few leaky spots. After you close, do that stuff ASAP to avoid bigger, more expensive problems down the road. However, if it’s time or nearly time for a whole new roof, you might want to negotiate a price break.
4. Poor or old heating systems
Replacing a heating system is another expensive project, and even mere maintenance isn’t exactly cheap, so malfunctioning or just plain tired systems are another common problem. Home inspectors often see unreliable controls, unsafe exhaust flues, and cracked heat exchangers. These systems should be serviced every year. If you don’t tune them up, it will create more wear, and it will make it less energy efficient. So it’s going to cost more to heat or cool your property.
Safety issues should of course be fixed before you move in. If the system is just old, plan to start saving for a new one.
5. Overall maintenance
Peeling or dirty paint, crumbling masonry, battered light fixtures, broken appliances … Whether it’s because of money, time, or plain-old neglect, general maintenance gets away from a lot of homeowners. You’ve probably noticed this while home shopping!
General neglect can be a red flag, but it could just be a lot of minor stuff. It may be largely cosmetic, but don’t underestimate what it will take to neaten up the place. Added up, it could be a big chunk of money.
6. Structural problems
Construction flaws or neglected issues like poor drainage can damage foundations, floor joists, rafters, and more. These kinds of things are more common in older homes, where they've had more time to develop. Structural issues aren’t always serious, but they can turn serious if the cause isn’t addressed.
If your inspector is concerned, don’t take any chances. A foundation repair, for example, can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Before you finalize your purchase agreement, bring in a structural engineer to take a closer look. Be sure to hire an actual structural engineer with “PE” (professional engineer) licensure — not a structural repair contractor.
7. Plumbing problems
Plumbing problems can include old or incompatible piping, defective fixtures and waste lines, natural gas leaks, and DIY jobs that are accidents waiting to happen.
To avoid giant repair bills later, don’t put off “small” fixes noted in your inspection report. If there’s any serious rot, consider getting an estimate on the repair before you finalize your purchase agreement. If a toilet doesn’t feel stable or something like that, then that floor is probably going to have to be replaced. Mold is a potential problem too.
8. Exterior issues
Flaws in windows, doors, and walls are openings for water and air. Poor caulking and/or weather stripping mean the house may be cold and drafty.One chronic issue tends to be exterior doors with no flashing on the sill at the bottom, just caulk. (Flashing is sheet metal that’s used to weatherproof joints and angles.) That’s not enough protection from the weather. It can cost several thousand dollars to repair the eventual water damage.
Any exterior issue that involves moisture penetration should be high on your to-do list once you close on your new home. If there’s serious rot involved, consider getting an estimate on the repair before you finalize your purchase agreement. You inspector might call out a mold concern too.
9. Poor ventilation
Poor ventilation can refer to a range of issues that are likely to create a build-up of moisture, mold, toxins, or, in the case of a roof, heat. These can damage your house or your health. Tightly sealed homes that haven’t been designed equally well for ventilation can present moisture and air-quality problems.
Ventilation needs vary a lot by location. In arid Arizona, bathrooms don’t even need exhaust fans, for example. But in the Northeast, it’s critical to vent moist bathroom air to the outdoors — not into the attic, which inspectors sometimes see. If you vent it into the attic, it’s going to condense on the structure. This is never good.
Ventilation problems and their fixes can be complicated. Be sure you understand your inspector’s assessment and recommendations. A moisture fix might be as simple as installing a bathroom fan. A too-hot attic might need a roof vent so shingles don’t overheat and become brittle. A crawlspace that shouldn’t be ventilated might need to be encapsulated.
In summary, this list is not exhaustive. Neither should you wait to properly maintain or make repairs on your home -- whether selling or looking to buy.
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