Next to getting your loan approved, understanding and working through the home inspection is probably the most emotionally exhaustive part of the home buying experience.
This integral step helps the buyer understand the inner workings of the home and what aspects of the structure, if any, need to be addressed. In a highly competitive market like Denver, the seller has had the upper hand when it comes to any negotiations regarding flaws or defects in the home. Regardless, the potential buyer should almost never waive the home inspection step.
Since buying a home is probably the biggest financial investment you’ll make in your lifetime, it’s imperative you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Knowing what improvements you’ll have to make in the future and what the home maintenance costs will be is critical in not getting in over your head when purchasing a home.
Health and Safety Components are Critical in a Home Inspection
That being said, typically anything involving a health or safety issue must be addressed by the seller. However, whether the seller agrees to absorb the entire cost or split it with the buyer, the negotiations will vary from transaction to transaction.
And it’s important for the buyer to set appropriate expectations when deciding which flaws to pursue and which defects aren’t worth haggling over.
Scott Hayzlett of Vango Inspections of Denver has 20+ years in the building trades. He understands the importance of communicating clearly and professionally so the home buyer understands your home inside and out. However, he also stresses that the home inspection report only provides a quick snapshot of how the home’s systems function and the overall state of the structure.
“People need to understand that the home inspector gets a very small window to examine a house, usually two-to-four hours,” said Hayzlett. “The inspector won’t catch everything. If you’re buying a house in the summer, it’s hard to get a clear picture of how well the furnace is working. Likewise, in the winter, it’s difficult to examine the air conditioning system very well. There are restrictions on what we can do and those limitations need to be communicated to the buyer.”
Some of the big-ticket items in a home include the HVAC system, sewer line, roof, electrical panel, hot water heater, and major appliances. The home buyer should know the age of these systems and typically how long each one will last.
Age of Home Often Dictate Inspector’s Focus
It’s important to understand that that home inspection report may be incredibly detailed or fairly short and to the point. If the home is older, there may be more flaws that may or may not have to be addressed.
“The age of the home will dictate some of the specific things that a home inspector should key in on,” he said. “For example, with some of the 100 + year old homes in Denver, inspectors should be definitely looking at the wiring and electrical panel. Certain electrical panels from specific years have to be replaced since they are known fire hazards.
“Obviously building standards change over the years and it’s important to keep homes up to a certain safety standard. One example is having GFI outlets in the kitchen and bathrooms. These electrical outlets prevent electrocution and are an integral part of a safe home.”
Examples of Key (and sometimes lesser know) Safety Elements of a Home
Hayzlett likes to give a few examples of key safety features that should never be dismissed or ignored:
- P-trap: This is the P-shaped pipe found under the sinks in a home. Its distinctive appearance eliminates toxic sewer gases from backing up into a home and traps debris that otherwise may form clogs deep in the plumbing system. If a home doesn’t have these pipes, it needs to be re-plumbed
- GFI outlets: These types of outlets prevent electrocution should an electrical appliance or device be dropped in the sink, tub or shower, or while standing in a damp area. These outlets contain a special type of circuit breaker that can automatically shut off the power directly if it detects an electrical fault. You can’t force someone to get GFIs installed but it’s important to understand these devices can prevent injury and potentially save your life.
- Heat exchange: Part of the furnace, this device separates exhaust gases from the supply to the house. This is a critical component of the furnace that needs to be carefully examined during a home inspection.
- Egress: The window egress is required in basement bedrooms to be considered conforming. An egress should be large enough to allow a person to escape through the window should there be a flood, fire, or other emergencies. There are specific dimensions and requirements necessary to meet the code for an egress window.
- Sewer line: Sewer lines are a big deal and should always be scoped. This is typically an additional cost for the buyer but it is well worth the peace of mind it will provide as sewer line repairs can be costly. Be aware there is a spectrum of opinions on how to deal with a sewer line that needs attention. Total replacement isn’t always necessary and homebuyers should know there are other options. Make sure to get three estimates, and be leery of contractors who do both scopes and repairs since there is definitely a conflict of interest.
Be Hyper-Aware When Touring a Home
Finally, Hayzlett advises keeping your eyes “wide open” when touring a home.
“Take a careful look at the hot water heater and check the date of installation, look for items that seem “out of place,” and be very cautious when it comes to buying fix and flips, especially if it is your first purchase,” he warns. “Fix-and-flips can be a real problem if you don’t know what you’re doing.”