How To Look At A House

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Should a home inspection scare you?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Sometimes, yes. There are definitely homes that you should be scared of: ones with major structural problems, mold infestation, or that require multiple big-ticket repairs. But most of the time a home inspection gives you a laundry list of things that need to be fixed or replaced—many of them minor—for which an approximate dollar cost can be totaled up. Nothing to fear, but maybe some further negotiation or budget adjustment to do. 

   So when does an inspection report scare away a homebuyer unnecessarily? Here’s a few scenarios:

  • PERFECT HOME SYNDROME - When you find that wonderful home you hoped for, there is a tendency to think of it as near perfect. In fact, many first-time homebuyers tell us some variation of “This is the ideal home for me. Please don’t find anything wrong with it!” But we always find a few defects that yank away the halo; and it is unfortunate when the homebuyer cancels the contract on a very acceptable house because it wasn’t quite as perfect as they thought.
  • TECH TALK OVERLOAD - Home inspection reports are loaded with technical jargon that can make defects appear more onerous than they are. Take, for example, the common defect “reversed polarity at wall receptacle.” Sounds serious, but means that two wires were installed backwards, and takes just a couple of minutes for an electrician to fix. If the report doesn’t offer a clear explanation of the significance of a defect, ask the inspector for clarification. And if you get even more obtuse words, say you want to get an explanation in simple English.
  • LONG LIST OF MINOR STUFF - Sometimes we issue a report with a list of thirty defects, which covers two pages in the summary and looks a bit overwhelming. But, on further examination, twenty-eight of them are simple things like a missing cover plate at an electric receptacle or leaves backing up the gutter. Sort through your report and focus on the big items when making a decision.

   Then again, here are two reasons to walk away and start looking for another home:

  • EXPENSIVE REPAIR, BUT EXACT COST UNKNOWN - If the repair required is a big deal, but the exact cost can’t be determined until after further exploration inside the walls or underground after you own the home, you have to decide how much risk you are willing to accept. It becomes a gamble. Most repairs end up costing about ten to twenty percent more than the original ball-park estimate anyway, but an open-ended repair cost is a good reason to be scared.
  • COST OF HOUSE + REPAIRS = MORE THAN COST OF COMPARABLE HOUSE IN GOOD CONDITION. A fixer-upper with a low price tag can be alluring, but do your math carefully. Buying a house for $120,000 when comparable houses in good condition nearby are selling for $160,000 is not a good deal if the home requires $50,000 worth of repairs and can’t be occupied for two months while being remodeled.

   Probably most important of all, give yourself enough time after the home inspection to reflect on the issues uncovered and maybe get a few contractor estimates. Try to avoid having the inspection on the ninth day of a ten-day inspection period, for example.

    Also, see our blog posts What makes a house fail the home inspection? and The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector?

   Visit our HOME INSPECTION page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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