Don't Let an Imperfect Home Inspection Scare You Away
Unless it's new construction, no home will be in perfect condition. So don't panic when an inspection yields less than stellar results.
The property inspection is a critically important part of the homebuying process. Most buyers like to know that the home they will be purchasing is structurally sound and that the systems are safe. That sounds reasonable enough. Yet, as a working agent, I often see the inspection process nearly derail the transaction, and not for the right reasons.
Don’t forget why you came
Any inspector or agent will tell you that the purpose of the home inspection is to investigate conditions which may rightly affect the decision to buy. Health and safety issues top the list; no buyer wants to unknowingly move their family into a death-trap or a money pit. Too often, however, the inspection becomes confused with an opportunity to pursue perfection. Unless the home you are purchasing is new construction, it will not be perfect.
So what is important? Faulty wiring, missing or inoperable smoke detectors, and, in California, water heaters which are not equipped with proper seismic strapping are all good examples. Other things generally considered “inalienable” rights include working appliances, water-tight roofs and windows, and plumbing which doesn’t tend to channel Old Faithful.
The inspector will not limit items called out in the report to the “biggies,” however. Their job is to thoroughly inspect each room in the home for deficiencies, however small. And, too often the buyers will request a list of repairs which reads like the blueprint for the Hubble telescope. I always advise my clients that if they want the best chance that the seller will address the truly important stuff, it is critical to avoid getting bogged down with minutia.
Will the fact that a drain stop in the guest bath is a little out of whack really be enough for you to cancel contract? Probably not. On the other hand, the under sink cabinet which, thanks to an ongoing pipe leak, needs a serious shave and suggests the presence of mold may be something worth the seller’s attention. You can adjust the sprinkler hitting the garden window after you move in; a carbon monoxide leak at the furnace should probably be addressed before you hit the hay for the first time in your new home.
So, in order to assess what is really important, you need to simply read the report. Right? Not necessarily.
You had to be there
Most of the time, it’s not enough to just read the inspection report. You really do have to be there. This is because inspectors like everyone else are concerned about liability. For this reason, their written words tend to err on the side of caution.
Inspector at the home: “This outlet has reversed polarity.”
Buyer at the home: “What is reversed polarity?”
Inspector at the home: “It is (speaking loudly and slowly) when the polarity is reversed. I’ll note it in the report.”
Inspector in the report: “Electrical outlets at various locations show evidence of improper and/or faulty wiring and/or gross negligence on the part of the contractor who had no personal stake in the safety of future owners or their families. Recommend a complete toxic mold investigation and remediation by a licensed HVAC/OPEC/FDIC/Structural Engineering specialist as well as immediate relocation of any remaining, living occupants to high ground in a neighboring county.”
I embellished, of course, but only a little. And if the actual findings don’t scare you back to your rental, the boilerplate language in the report will. We recently had an inspection on a newer home where the inspector found only a dime-sized spot of discoloration on the carpet outside of the shower stall. The inspector confessed that somebody must have dripped a little. The report, however, told a different story. “We recommend a full evaluation and remediation as needed of this area as well as the entire dwelling by a qualified, licensed mold specialist,” it read. The entire dwelling? Because someone didn’t use the plush towel? And this one I didn’t make up.
Due diligence and common sense can coexist
As a buyer it is your right and your privilege to thoroughly investigate the condition of the home you wish to purchase. In fact, I’ll go one step further; it is your obligation. But, you owe it to yourself and the seller to remember that unless the home is new, it is not and will never be again. Fight the important battles rather than petty squabbles and, whatever you do, make sure you are there for the inspection so that you can make the distinction.