In the 1986 film “The Money Pit” with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, doors come off their hinges, staircases tumble down and a bathtub falls through the second floor and shatters. While such scenes make great slapstick comedy on the silver screen, there is nothing funny about purchasing a house with structural flaws, safety hazards or in need of expensive repairs.
This isn't the way you want to start life in a new home, and such an outcome is preventable.
Home inspections should reveal the condition of plumbing and electrical systems, structure, foundation, windows and roof.
Inspectors can tell you the age of the house, spot previous renovations, and let you know which potential problems can wait and which need immediate attention.
What home inspectors look for
Writer Jann Seal provided the following list of items on a home inspector’s checklist. Remember that, since home inspections aren't regulated federally or by the state of Kansas, items included on a home inspector’s checklist may vary.
• Structural components (roof, foundation, walls, floors, ceilings, attic checked for water leakage or condensation, especially around electrical fixtures)
• Exterior faults (inspection may reveal deteriorated stair treads, settlement cracks or areas where additional caulking is needed)
• Roofing (examined for loose shingles or tiles, gutter debris, skylights and chimneys checked for proper sealants)
• Plumbing (piping, drains, vents and waste systems, tested for leakage, mineral deposits, fitting issues or bacteria)
• Electrical (tested for fit and safe and efficient operation; smoke and carbon monoxide detectors noted)
• Heating/air conditioning (verified in working order, no corrosion on pipes, chimneys sound and clear of bird nests)
• Insulation/ventilation (attic crawl space insulation, vapor retarders, venting fans, under floor insulation examined for deterioration)
• Interior/built-in appliances (doors, floors, stairways, counters, cabinetry, and number of windows, noting any items not functioning properly)
What home inspections may not cover
Mike Holmes, author of "The Holmes Inspection: The Essential Guide for Every Homeowner, Buyer and Seller," writes that, based on an assortment of home inspection contracts, home inspections may not cover:
• Airflow and air quality
• Building code compliance
• Central vacuum system (especially for wood floors or tile)
• Cosmetic items (such as paint)
• Environmental risks
• Fireplaces or wood stove
• Security and alarm systems
• Septic tank systems
• Spas (including hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms)
• In-house sprinkler systems
• Swimming pools
• Termites or other wood-boring insects, pests, or animal infestations
• Toxic substances (mold, fungi, PCBs — Polychorinated biphenyls, manmade chemicals widely used in some electrical equipment — lead, asbestos, etc.)
• Urea formaldehydes foam insulation (UFFI, commonly used in the 1970s)
• Perforated pipe bed (presence or condition)
• Window air conditioners
Who pays and how much does it cost?
Usually the homebuyer pays for a home inspection, but this may be negotiated with the seller.
The cost of a primary home inspection usually averages between $300 and $500. For additional inspections, additional charges apply. This will vary depending on the age and size of the home.
For example, a new home wouldn't need to be inspected for mold or pest infestation.
Questions you should ask when hiring a home inspector
Holmes recommends that homebuyers ask a prospective home inspector how long he or she has been in business and what experience they have had in the building trades. He recommends looking for people who have worked as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, general contractors, engineers or municipal building inspectors.
Ask the inspector whether they are certified, a member of an association of home inspectors, and to provide 10 references from people who have hired them in the past three to five years. Ask people what kind of experience they have had with this inspector, whether any problems cropped up after they bought their homes and whether they would hire the inspector again.
A visit with a home inspector
Maurie Blick is owner of Home Team Inspection Service Topeka, 4021 S.W. 10th, Suite 103, an affiliate of Cincinnati-based Home Team Inspection Service. He is certified by the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, a master electrician, and owned an electrical company, M.C. Blick Electrical Construction LLC in Topeka, for 30 years. He has been in the home inspection business for 14 years.
Home Team Inspection Service specializes in a “team approach” that involves coordinating with experts to inspect for structural concerns, pest infestations, plumbing and sewer issues, electrical systems, radon and mold.
The team approach always involves a mechanical inspector. Home Team Inspection Services Topeka partners with Keith Smith, owner of College Hill Plumbing and Heating, 2850 S.E. Adams.
“We always bring a licensed mechanical inspector on all of our inspections,” Blick said.
In some cases a home inspection may involve a sewer inspection, a radon inspection or a termite or mold inspection.
What is included in a primary home inspection?
Blick said a primary home inspection covers all major systems: electrical, plumbing, structural (such as the foundation and floor) and furnace, water heater and air conditioning.
His team also includes experts in areas that allow him to provide additional inspections as needed, for radon, mold, pests and sewer problems.
Blick said home inspectors take note of minor issues but focus on major issues that may affect a buyer’s decision to purchase a home. These items might include safety issues and major defects that require expensive repairs.
“We try to locate and identify major issues with a property… so we can protect our client from significant losses,” he said.
How an inspection unfolds
Home inspections typically begin with a walk-around. Justin Blick, Maurie Blick’s son and a master inspector with Home Team Inspection Service, summarized a home inspection, beginning with a description of a walk-around.
A walk-around involves evaluating the exterior of the property, assessing for such items as the condition of siding and looking out for possible storm water drainage.
Next, he assesses the roof covering. If he finds hail damage, for example, he recommends further evaluation by an insurance adjustor.
The attic is next. An attic inspection could reveal broken trusses or rafters, fire or water damage, faulty insulation or the work of rodents.
Garages are checked to see that the doors are operational, and inspectors look for possible issues with the foundation that can occur over time or be caused by such environmental conditions as earthquakes.
Inside the home, he examines all systems: electrical, plumbing, windows, doors and fireplaces. Next, he inspects the crawl space or basement of the home, checking the foundation for moisture intrusion, stormwater and mechanical systems, including air conditioning and water heaters.
“We literally look at hundreds of items during an inspection,” he said.
After a thorough inspection of the property, he invites the clients and real estate agents to talk about the inspection and discuss any further inspections he might recommend.
Maurie Blick recommends buyers get bids from professional contractors if major issues emerge.
According to the national insurance industry, Blick said, the most common problems home inspectors find are plumbing; electrical; furnace and air conditioning; exterior issues, including siding and drainage; roof; and structural issues, including the foundation.
Kansas doesn't require home inspectors to be licensed
According to Inspection Certification Associates, as of July 1, 2013, Kansas was one of the few states that don't have licensing requirements for home inspectors.
In states with licensing, real estate agents and their clients just want to see that home inspectors are licensed. In states that don't require licensing, real estate agents and their clients want to see that inspectors have training and are certified in home inspection.
Maurie Blick said that although home inspections aren't required by the state, they still may be required by a lender. Also, lenders routinely require termite inspections. So although home inspections are optional, 80 percent of home sales involve inspections, he said.
Kansas disclosure requirements
According to Brian Farkas, of the online legal encyclopedia, Kansas statutes require home sellers to disclose to potential buyers any environmental hazards affecting the property, the physical condition of the property, any material defects in the property, any material defects in the title to the property, and any material limitation on the seller's ability to perform under the terms of the purchase contract.
Because there are currently no national standards for such issues, Holmes advises buyers not to depend on disclosure forms. He said to make sure for yourself that the house is a good bet and worth the money.
National practice standards
Although there are no federal regulations for home inspectors, there are national practice standards. Home inspectors are expected to abide by the American Society of Home Inspectors national practice standards and code of ethics.
Maurie Blick said homebuyers should also “make sure you’re working with a home inspector who has insurance, a professional liability plan and errors and omissions insurance."
“Vet the prospective home inspector’s experience and background,” he said.
Another advantage a home inspector might have is a background in construction, he said.
Times when home inspections are advantageous
According to Blick, most home inspections are for homebuyers after they make an offer. He recommends that buyers have a signed purchase agreement before they order a home inspection.
Sellers may prefer to obtain a pre-listing home inspection. However, some experts advise buyers not to rely on a seller’s home inspection, instead recommending that buyers obtain an independent inspection.
Sellers can obtain pre-listing home inspections, and buyers can order post-offer home inspections. Other types of home inspections include homeowner maintenance inspections, new homebuyer inspections and builders warranty inspections.
“In 2018, we have performed more than 1200 inspections,” Blick said. "Although a home inspection by a qualified home inspector can greatly improve your chances of having a good outcome, no inspector can guarantee that you won’t have any issues after you move in. A home inspection helps to reduce the risk, but nobody can completely eliminate it.”
January is National Radon Action Month
Radon is a toxic gas emitted from ledge rock in the ground and can be present in the air in lower level areas of the home and in the water.
It is the leading cause of cancer among non-smokers in America. You can't see, taste or smell radon although it may be present in your home at dangerous levels. Home inspectors will perform a radon inspection in your home for a little more than $100.
Carolyn Cogswell is a freelance writer from Topeka. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.