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Can You House-Hunt Like a Home Inspector?



What do you look for when you shop for a house?

What does it look like? Is it in the right neighborhood? Does it have enough bedrooms?  Stainless steel appliances? And the price, of course.  All of those things speak to how a house will feel and how it fits your lifestyle. But what about how the house performs?

Performs? What does that even mean?

A house is a complex set of systems that are designed to function in a way that, if they perform well, you won’t even notice. The house is designed to keep you dry and protected from the wind and elements. It keeps you from falling through the floor, or the ceiling from falling on you. It provides you with fresh water to cook and clean with and takes away waste that you don’t want to deal with. The lighting, heating, insulation, ventilation and air conditioning provide you with an environment that is comfortable and removes most of the challenges that living outdoors, or living in a bubble, would bring.

And when you’re hunting for a new home, you don’t think about any of these things, but you should. We all know that a coat of paint and some floor covering can hide a lot of history. Potpourri or the smell of baking cookies won’t always be there. Sometimes, cosmetic changes are good enough. But a house is also a living thing. Time, weather, people living in it, even gravity will change a house. If the house’s systems aren’t performing adequately, those changes can come quickly. Big expenses like the cost of a new roof or a new HVAC system can shock a new home owner and affect their lifestyle very quickly.  Water leaking through the roof or into the basement is miserable to deal with.

Okay, next you will expect some preaching about the importance of a home inspection. Well, I do believe that an inspection by a trained, experienced home inspector can help avoid some of those problems, or at least alert you so you can plan (and budget) for them. Compared to the cost of the house, it’s an inexpensive way to gain some confidence in your purchasing decision.

But this post is supposed to be about how to house hunt like a home inspector. Can’t you tell us how to do the home inspection ourselves?

Well, not quite. But you can approach house hunting with a Home Inspector’s attitude. In fact, I can help you with that. But it won’t be as simple as “5 tips to allow you to skip the Home Inspection”.

It helps to start with the understanding that there are three levels of inspection. The first, is the surface inspection. That’s what the typical home buyer will do when they are looking at how the house looks and feels. How it will work for them. I’ll try to give you some tips on how to look a little deeper- to look at things with a Home Inspector’s eye, if not the full training package and experience.

The second level of inspection is that of the Home Inspector. The home inspector’s training allows them to focus on the house’s systems, looking for things that are not functioning as they should, damaged or deficient, or unsafe. There is a level of technical knowledge required to understand all those systems, the variations and combinations that can exist in a home, how they work, how they interact, what can go wrong and the implications of things going wrong. The home inspector is trained to spot signs of failure and inadequate or unsafe conditions or poor assembly of the building systems – sometimes even when you can’t see the defect itself.

A Home Inspector has a good general technical knowledge. But a good Home Inspector knows the limits of their knowledge and experience, and will defer to the experts when the time comes. That’s the third level of inspection. A licensed electrician or plumber, for example, will be able to provide a full assessment of their system and provide the client with the best course of action to follow. And of course the cost of the repair, replacement or renovation. They may do something else a Home Inspector can’t (or shouldn’t) do – damage. By that I mean they may do some destructive investigation. They may have to cut a hole in a wall, for example, to find the source of a problem that can’t be seen.

So are you ready to begin your training in House Hunter Inspection techniques? Over the coming weeks/months I’ll be tackling one house system at a time. I’ll talk about the three levels of inspection and what you can do to make a slightly-deeper-than-surface assessment of that system of the house to help you House Hunt Like a Home Inspector!

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Steven Schroeder 2016-09-16

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