How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

What are the best home inspection tips for homebuyers?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Here’s our “Top 10” tips for evaluating the condition of a home you are considering buying. Nine of them are things you can look for during a casual walk-through and don’t require any tools. The tenth is a tip to ensure you get the most value from your home inspector.

1) Look at the roof from the ground. Each type of roof shows its age in a different way. Asphalt shingles start to curl at the edges as they reach the end of their lifespan, and evidence of curling is easiest to see when looking up the roof from the ground. Curled shingle edges mean the roof is at or very near the end of its lifespan. Because shingles also become brittle as they age, damaged and missing shingles are another sign of an older roof.

    Metal roofs corrode as they age, and rusty areas mean probable roof leaks. Tile roofs are hard to evaluate because the tile is not the actual roof. It’s a protective covering for the layer of roofing underneath.

2) Check the slope of the land around the house. Ideally, the ground should slope away from the house in all directions. If the house is built on the side of a hill or other sloping site, you want to see evidence that a pad of fill was added to provide the necessary ground slope away from the house for at least a few feet all around. Look for small gullies or other evidence of site drainage problems. Also, make sure that the neighboring land does not drain onto the property.

3) Sight down the walls. Walls that are in structural distress bulge in or out. Look for diagonal cracks at corners, or at the tops and bottoms of  windows and doors—a sign of settling or lifting of the ground under the home. 

4) Listen, smell, and feel. Squeaks in a wood floor, traffic noise noticeable inside the home, a moldy smell, or the feel of a sagging floor as you walk across it are all things you will detect when you use all your senses while looking at a house. Scented candles burning during your visit or heavy smell plug-in room air fresheners may be an attempt to conceal a problem.

5) Open the electric panel door. No electrical knowledge necessary for this. First, notice whether the panel has circuit breakers (rows of switches) or fuses (little glass circles). Fuses indicate an ancient electrical system. Look at main disconnect switch for a number, which is the size of the panel in amps. It will be 100, 125, 150, 200, or 225. Older panels are 100 or 125 amps and may not be adequate for the long list of appliances used today in a home. Holes in the front of the panel cover and unprotected wires (not in conduit) around the panel box will be a problem.

6) Test a few windows. They should open easily and stay in place when released. Clouded-over glass indicates an insulating window that has lost the gas between the twin panes. Stuck windows could just be old or the result of structural settlement of the wall around it.

7) What’s missing? Is there a dishwasher in the kitchen, a garage door opener, a dryer receptacle and vent in the laundry, and water service for the refrigerator? These things are sometimes not there in older houses.

8) Look up and down. Look up for overhanging tree branches and the condition of the soffit (underside of roof overhang) and facia, and down at the ground for trip hazards and damage along the base of home. On the inside, scrutinize ceilings and floors for stains, cracks, or other defects. Try to sweep your view top to bottom as you go.

9) Check out the pipes. While you may not know much about plumbing, you can recognize leak stains at pipe joints, corrosion at shut-off valves, and haphazard homeowner plumbing repairs. Be sure to look at the top of the water heater and peek into the cabinets under sinks. 

10) Be there for the inspection. While it is important to have a good home inspector evaluate the house after your offer has been accepted, it’s  equally important that you be there for the inspection. Review your concerns with the inspector at the beginning and ask lots of questions. Your understanding of the home will be much more complete if you be sure to attend the home inspection. Also, see our blog posts Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement? and How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection?

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  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts: 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

 Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1940s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

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