Top 5 Wrong Questions Home Buyers ask Home Inspectors
A home inspection is a vital part of the home buying process that shouldn’t be glossed over or taken lightly. This is the best opportunity the buyer has to really go through the home with a fine-toothed comb to learn about what they’re buying. While the quick emotional decisions of a home purchase can be very stressful, the home inspection is a time to slow things down and think. The home inspector can teach the buyer some of the details about the home’s components, how to maintain them to get the most out of your home, and how to look for problems and address them before they cost a lot of money. They can also spot issues with some of the big-ticket items that can make buyers re-think their purchase or re-negotiate the price.
But a lot of home buyers approach the home inspection with the wrong mindset and ask the home inspector the wrong questions. Here are our top 5 examples of wrong questions that home buyers ask inspectors.
#5 How long will my (roof, furnace, air conditioner or hot water heater) last?
Your home inspector can’t predict the future or the conditions that will affect the performance of the home’s components. But they can give you some useful information about the condition of these components. If there is something damaged, improperly installed, or if the component has deteriorated due to normal wear and tear and is near the end of its useful life, the inspector can provide you with that information. There may be maintenance tasks that can help to keep the item functioning longer than it would otherwise. But there have been roofs that look perfect but develop leaks quicker than you might think, and roofs that look terrible but don’t leak. Electrical heaters or furnaces, for example, may never show a sign of distress until they stop working. We can’t always tell.
#4 Should I Buy the House (Or Would You Buy This House)?
One inspector I know answers “Would you buy this house?” with “No” every time. He then goes on to explain that he has a house and doesn’t need another one. Your inspector won’t know a home’s value in the current market, or your lifestyle needs. Ultimately, it’s a question you have to answer yourself. If you need someone to help find the answer, you should talk to your realtor. Then there’s the question of your financial situation, and that’s a conversation to have with your mortgage lender. The information the Home Inspector provides during the inspection is useful for these conversations- the condition of the home will affect its value. The repairs needed will impact whether you can afford it over the long term and if you plan to make those repairs yourself you’ll want an idea of how much work there is to do. But the inspector won’t have all of that information and shouldn’t advise you to buy or not to buy.
Another question along this line is “Is it a good house?”. How can we answer that? When my wife and I moved to Guelph we bought a home that had run into disrepair. In the first six months we removed an abandoned oil tank, replaced the 60 year old boiler (hot water heat), upgraded the main electrical panel and rewired a significant part of the house. The roof will be replaced in the next month or so and since there is no air conditioning we’ll be looking at installing something before summer. The interior is outdated and we’ll probably work our way through the house repainting walls, replacing old cabinets, and replacing the kitchen and bathroom floors. Other people would think this is a disaster, but the house is solid and fits our needs. So, what’s a good house? It depends on what you want. A home inspector shouldn’t make a judgement about whether the house is good or not. They should give you as much information about the home as possible, so that you can make that determination for yourself.
#3 Should the Windows/Doors/Insulation be Upgraded?
When we report issues with a house or its components, we try to separate them into categories that should help you decide whether or not something is a priority. Some are safety issues that you should pay attention to. An example of this is a gas furnace that is showing signs that the heat exchanger is compromised. This can result in carbon monoxide entering the living space and a life-threatening situation developing. There are building code issues that are also safety issues. Although home inspectors are typically not “to-code” inspectors and won’t necessarily criticize older installations that are not to current code, these items are in the code for good reasons. Requiring Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) electrical receptacles near sinks in bathrooms and kitchens is a code/safety issue you should pay attention to.
Then there are issues that can cost a lot of money. If a roof is nearing the end of its life, you have a choice. Is it better to wait until you absolutely have to replace it, or is it better to replace it before it leaks and starts to damage your possessions and the rest of the home? Is it better to replace a heating system before it stops providing heat, or wait until it stops? Each of these are a decision that you can delay, but the consequences of waiting can cost a lot.
Most home inspectors also give you a list of other items that 1) may require some maintenance 2) have small issues that could be repaired to work better or extend the life of the component or 3) will perform better if replaced/upgraded. Windows, doors, and insulation fall into this category. Old drafty windows are inefficient and will increase your heating and/or air conditioning costs. More insulation can help you save money as well. But these items may have been perfectly acceptable when they were installed- just not up to the current standards. A decision on whether to upgrade involves more than a home inspector’s opinion. A consultation with an energy advisor would be more helpful.
Having said that, most home inspectors, especially those with infrared cameras, can give some advice/direction where your house is leaky or where insulation may be missing. Small things like improving the seal around window and door frames with caulking or weather-stripping can go a long way to stop heat loss through air flow and make the home more energy efficient.
#2 Will the basement leak?
This is a question, similar to #5, that depends on a lot of factors. Weather conditions, what happens to the soil around the foundation (eg digging a garden bed right up against the wall) and activities of the inhabitants etc. I saw one house that had a crawl space full of water (and mold). It turned out that a rain barrel that normally discharged across a laneway when it overflowed, had been turned so the discharge was toward the home. That was enough to change the conditions dramatically. But an inspector can’t see into the future to tell you these things will happen. We can only suggest things that will help to reduce the chance they will happen. On the other hand, if there are signs that there has been leakage through the foundation in the past, we will be sure to point it out and suggest some changes that can reduce the chance of reoccurrence. How a lot is graded, condition of eaves troughs and downspouts, and the condition of sidewalks and driveways can all be factors that can be improved to direct water away from the house.
#1 How Much Do You Charge for an Inspection?
Okay, before you roll your eyes hear me out. I have no problem with anyone shopping around for the best value. But if you’re basing your decision on which inspector costs the least, you have a problem.
In today’s market you’re going to be spending close to half a million dollars or more on your home. Do you really want to trust that decision on information you get from the cheapest inspector you can find? For what? To save 50 bucks?
The cost of the inspection isn’t the thing you should be asking your inspector about. You should be asking about their background, how they got to be a Home Inspector, training, experience, association membership, standards of practise, code of ethics and in Ontario, soon you can ask about licensing. Ask about the report, photos and how it will be delivered. You want to find an inspector who will take the time and do a thorough job, communicate clearly and in a detailed report. Finally, you want to know if you can go with the inspector during the inspection to ask questions and have the issues explained directly. If you’re not there, you’ll miss half of the benefit of having an inspection.
I think you should take the time to interview the inspectors to see who communicates best with you and you trust most to do the kind of job you want. Then if you find several you are comfortable with, start asking about pricing. Chances are, the fees won’t be too different anyway. I can guarantee that GoldEye Home Inspection isn’t the most or least expensive company around. But if there is an inspector who charges significantly less than most other inspectors, you might want to ask yourself why would that be? And if there’s an inspector who is drastically more expensive than the others, ask the same question. The reason might be related to the quality of their work and subsequent demand for their services.
Buying a home is a big decision and the money involved can be staggering. That alone is reason enough to get a home inspection, and to find a good home inspector. But the issues that are typically found in a home inspection can haunt you for many years as you live in the home if not addressed at an appropriate time. Finding the right home inspector and using the information gained from the inspection in the right way can make a huge difference in how the home works for you.