Continuing Money Education: Close-Up: Home Inspection

Physician's Money DigestJuly31 2004
Volume 11
Issue 14

Presented by McNeil, Makers of Tylenol


Home Inspection: An objective visual examination of the physical structure and systems of a home, from roof to foundation.

As a health care professional, you know the importance of routine examinations. Just because a patient feels fine on the outside, doesn't mean there isn't something wrong on the inside that, if left undetected and untreated, could magnify into a major health concern down the road. Why treat a home differently?

According to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI; 800-743-2744;, a standard home inspection summarizes findings from a visual inspection of the condition of a home's heating system; central air conditioning system; interior plumbing and electrical systems; roof, attic, and visible insulation; walls, ceilings, floors, windows, and doors; and foundation, basement, and visible structures of the home. In other words, it's like a head-to-toe physical.

Why is it so important? According to a study conducted by housing economist Robert Sheehan, approximately 40% of all homes in the United States have at least one major defect. Do you want to take a chance like that with the home you're buying?

Performing an Inspection

Home Buying for Dummies

There are several different types of property inspections. According to (Hungry Minds, Inc; 2001), the type of inspections you should do depends on what part of the country you live in, how the home is constructed, and your plans for the property after the purchase. The three most common types of inspections are the prepurchase interior and exterior inspection, a pest control inspection, and an architect or general contractor's inspection.

The prepurchase inspection is the most common, encompassing a complete visual inspection from roof to foundation. It can take several hours to complete, and can cost between $200 and $500, depending on the size of the house. It's a good idea to be present during the inspection, ask questions, and learn firsthand about the condition of the home you're contemplating purchasing. In fact, a good inspector will insist that you be present.

Depending on the results of the prepurchase inspection, the inspector might recommend an additional type of inspection, either of the pest control or architect variety. Think of it as a primary care physician recommending a patient to a specialist. A pest control inspection generally costs between $75 and $225, and checks for property damage caused only by wood-destroying insects and organisms. An architect's inspection is important if you're considering doing corrective or major renovation work on the property, such as adding a new bathroom. You don't want to find out after the fact that the renovation does not conform to local building codes.

Inspecting the Inspector

Home Buying for Dummies

One of the problems with home inspections is that most states do not regulate, certify, or license the people who perform them. What happens all too often is that contractors inspect houses, and then do the corrective work that they discover during their own inspections. In effect, notes, they're finding and creating work for themselves. Better to hire someone who only does inspections.

Home Buying for Dummies

You can find a qualified home inspector the same way patients find good doctors, by word-of-mouth referrals from friends and business associates. However, beware of real estate agents who are only too eager to recommend an inspector. According to , the reason could be that these inspectors have a tendency to go easy on their inspections. Better to have someone who is tough.

You can also check with ASHI. All ASHI-certified members have performed at least 250 property inspections and passed two written proficiency exams as a prerequisite of membership. It doesn't guarantee that you'll get a good inspector, but it certainly increases the chances.

Inspection Red Flags

Home Buying for Dummies

Acomprehensive, professional inspection isn't something the average homeowner should undertake alone. However, there are some danger signs of serious structural problems that, according to , almost anyone can spot:

  • Large cracks. Any crack that you can stick your finger into is a large crack. Watch for vertical cracks on any walls and long, horizontal cracks on exterior walls of a house.

Moisture. Look for water stains on ceilings, walls, and floors, and feel basement walls for dampness. If a house smells moldy, find the source.

  • Stickiness. All doors, cabinets, and windows should open and close easily.

Looseness. You should not be able to see daylight around windows, doors, or skylights.

  • Unevenness. Floors should not slope, and walls should not bulge.

Pop Quiz

1) A standard home inspection should include a visual examination of the

  • Foundation
  • All of the above

2) If you're planning a major renovation for the home you buy, you'll need what type of inspection?

  • Pest control
  • New home

3) It doesn't matter whether or not you're present during an inspection because you'll receive a written report from the inspector. True or false?

  • False

4) A good source for finding a home inspector is

  • The American Society of Home Inspectors
  • Your aunt Millie

5) A danger sign of serious structural problems in a home is

  • Stickiness
  • All of the above

Answers: 1) d; 2) c; 3) b; 4) b; 5) d.

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