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Home inspection fail: electrical, plumbing, and roofing, oh my!

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | August 18, 2014

As life events go, buying or selling a house is one of the more stressful ones. Once an offer is accepted, the clock starts ticking toward closing day, and you have to jump through a lot of hoops before getting there.

Whether you are the buyer or the seller, you can run into obstacles that threaten to kill the deal at any point in the transaction. Many of these mini-crises turn out to be just bumps in the road. Things proceed and you close on the house. But when one of those bumps turns out to be bad news from the home inspector, is it all over?

Ignoring a major problem won't make it go away. Sooner or later, someone is going to have to pony up the money to fix the issue before damage to the entire house becomes not just more expensive but more extensive. Here are some things to look out for, straight from the home inspectors themselves! Check out the image at the bottom of this article for the most common problems turned up in home inspections.

Home inspection concerns: Now what?

The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) defines a home inspection as an "examination of the current condition of a house." However, the home inspector "…will not pass or fail a house, but rather describe its physical condition and indicate what components and systems may need major repair or replacement."

"There is no such thing as a perfect house," says Brian Wetzel, owner of a HouseMaster Home Inspections franchise in North Carolina. Wetzel has been in building and construction since 1994 and a home inspector for eleven years. "Even if you buy a new construction home -- in fact, especially with a new construction home, you can find problems," he says.

Things like damaged or broken trusses that may have been installed and improperly patched together when the house was being built can become an issue when you go to re-sell, according to Wetzel. If they haven't been repaired by an engineer -- the only person qualified to fix an engineered product like a truss -- then one may need to be brought in after the inspection at a cost of $400-$500 just to determine how to correct the problem, he says.

That's why he recommends that buyers who are contemplating purchasing even a brand new home should not shy away from independently having a home inspection done by a qualified, impartial inspector and not just rely on the builder's word. Municipal inspections that are conducted as the house is going up, according to ASHI, only verify compliance with local codes; appraisals simply determine what a house is worth in a particular market. Neither one is any assurance that the house is problem-free when you purchase it.

A good home inspection should catch all kinds of concerns because the longer they go undetected, the worse they can get. Wetzel says that some of the worst problems are the ones that are structural, particularly with the foundation. When he sees signs that a foundation is sinking -- cracks in exterior walls, windows and sliding doors that stick, floors that slope or sag -- these can be indications the foundation was not done right in the first place.

He says you have to find out why the foundation has moved and what the probability is that it will continue to move. The typical fix for a sinking foundation is to lift and stabilize it with helical piers that are anchored to the foundation. They turn, like a drill, and are pushed as far into the ground as needed to resist further movement. The cost depends on how deep they have to go. Each helical pier can cost between $3,000 and $7,000 each, multiplied by the number that are necessary.

What could be worse than structural issues?

In addition to doing home inspections for buyers, George Hebert, owner of Premier Certified Inspections for the past seven years in the Tampa Bay area of Florida specializes in home inspections of older homes for insurance companies. He reports everything he notices in his inspection. "Anything that's not perfect gets my attention -- anything not working, not right, not up to code; we point it out."

But when it comes to major issues that should concern the home buyer or owner, Hebert says he worries more about "those that jeopardize people rather than houses. Choose your poison: The roof leaking like a sieve and causing substantial water damage that leads to mold [a serious health hazard], or electrical situations where the house is in danger of burning down." In Florida he also sees unprotected pools, a drowning hazard for small children.

He is not afraid to make recommendations when he sees something needs to be improved, especially if it poses a danger. Once an avid DIY-remodeler who bought, re-habbed, and flipped houses, he knows the kind of "worst nightmares bone-headed remodelers" can create by "putting pearls on the pig to get as much as they can from selling the house" and covering up the ugly truth. One of the most dangerous things he has found during an inspection was "a main breaker box supplying power to the house that was wired with a coat hanger."

He sees his share of other dangerous electrical issues, too, such as in older homes with aluminum wiring, or with certain makes of breaker boxes that have been known to fail and cause fires.

What issues are worth negotiating?

Not every issue uncovered during an inspection is that serious, and blowing a minor problem out of proportion could create bad vibes and spell "no sale."

If you're the seller, how much is the problem going to cost you to fix, or how much will you have to concede to the buyer to make the repairs? If you're the buyer, what should you ask from the seller, or should you just walk away from this house no matter how much you love it?

In Las Vegas, George Hoeye, owner of Nevada Home Inspections LLC, has been in construction for almost three decades and has been doing home inspections -- 400 or more per year -- for the past five. He does a lot of inspections for investors, mostly homes that are in bank-owned foreclosures or short sales, but during this past year more for home buyers.

He has seen his share of problems caused by lack of maintenance or, like Hebert, modifications being made by investors interested in a quick turnover. They "make the home look nice and neglect the unseen components of the home," says Hoeye. Most of the big issues he has run into, however, have been caused by vandalism: broken windows, doors and garage doors; missing or damaged heating and cooling units; stolen plumbing pipes and electrical wiring. Some of the worst problems he's found are "mainly lack of homeowner maintenance/modification issues…improper plumbing and electrical repair issues, due to homeowner remodeling," and "foundation cracks in older homes." He has also come across "several types of plumbing pipes that have been the subject of class action litigation."

But mostly what he finds are not necessarily deal-breakers. These include "broken, cracked, or loose concrete roof tiles, AC not working properly, and dirty HVAC filters."

Fix or fold?

When it comes time to decide what to do about a less-than-stellar home inspection report, the home inspector probably is not going to tell you what to do. Regardless of what he uncovers during an inspection, Wetzel insists the home inspector is a "data collector and presents the facts." Wetzel says he does not offer advice as to whether or not to buy a house or make the required repairs. He has no way of knowing and cannot assume what position the client is in to make the necessary improvements.

In the final analysis, it depends on how comfortable and knowledgeable you are about the type and extent of repairs needed and whether you can shoulder the additional expense. If your home inspection report looks like the algebra final you flunked in high school or your history essays with lots of unflattering comments, you might want to rethink your love affair with the house. No house deal is too big to fail.

home inspection common problems

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.

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