The home inspection is the crucial event that you hold your breath for when buying a home. It’s an opportunity for a licensed professional to examine every inch of your potential new location for problems – both minor and deal-killing issues.
But with so much at stake, why wait for the inspection to begin the investigation? Open days and private screenings are the perfect time to get a little curious. Let’s be clear: We certainly do not recommend that you forego the expertise of a house inspector. However, you can get a jump start to get your inspector’s attention to some potential problem areas.
These eight critical problems are easy to uncover – even without a license from a home inspector. So take a look at it.
1. Seal crack
Get on your knees and examine the caulking around the sinks and tubs. While cracks can only be a sign of age, it can also indicate mold in the wall (a no-go unless you’re facing a major challenge).
“Any cracks or holes must be cleaned up before you go any further,” says Bill Horne, a former landlord and commercial property owner. Also, keep an eye out for dark spots, which could also indicate something evil is growing underneath.
2. Insulated recessed light
You may not get a look at the attic during a demonstration, but do your best to scurry up there. Access to the attic allows you to check for insulation issues, storage space, and security issues such as poorly installed recessed lighting.
Once you get up there, find out where the recessed lights are installed. Is there any insulation on the cans?
“There’s a fire hazard if there is,” says Horne. “You need to make sure that the lights are replaced or the insulation repositioned if it does.”
3. Insulation with the foil side up
Take a look between your feet as you browse the attic. If the insulation of the house was installed between the joists, then it is better not to see your reflection in the mirror.
“If the foil-side of the insulation is facing up, moisture has likely destroyed it,” says Horne. The foil-lined side, also known as the “vapor barrier”, should face the warm side of the house – that is, your main rooms – and not the cold attic.
To be clear, if you look up and see slide that’s fine. With the insulation installed between the rafters, the foil points downwards and protects the (relatively) warmer attic from the cold outside.
4. Slouching walls
It’s not just a two-episode gag from “How I Met Your Mother”. Crooked or crooked walls or floors that are not level can indicate serious foundation problems.
No need to level up every open house. A careful eye is good enough (until inspection). And here are a few fun hacks: Put a coin on the edge. If it rolls, you have a crooked bottom. Or press your cheek against the wall and look for any strange slopes or irregularities.
You don’t have to fire a house just because something is wrong. Remember: old structures settle in strange ways. But if what you see seems strange, make sure to add it to the list of items to inspect.
5. Rusty cellar pillars
If you can poke around an unfinished basement, Horne recommends examining the Lally columns – the thin steel tubes that hold the main girders in place.
Look for peelings or rust, which “is a sign the basement might be damp,” he says. Even if moisture tests don’t indicate a problem, rust can affect the support of the column.
6. Multiple pipe styles
Mixing several pipe styles together doesn’t necessarily mean something nefarious is going on. Perhaps the homeowner replaced the system bit by bit and ran out of money (hence the sale?). However, if you see a mix of different styles – maybe cast iron and PVC – be sure to notify your inspector to find out why. Frozen water pipes may have forced a partial replacement.
A bad winter and the resulting burst pipes do not necessarily mean that something is bad.
But “it’s a danger sign because it means that there was a lot of water in the basement at some point,” says Horne.
When the sellers deal with the problem, the home should be safe to buy. If not, now is your problem. And water problems cause nightmare headaches.
7. Slow drainage
During a tour, make sure that the water is flowing – at least wherever the Realtor® allows you. Turn on the faucets for each sink, toilet, or tub and carefully watch the water drain.
“Slow drainage indicates clogged drains or an inferior installation,” says Horne. It’s getting worse: there could even be a sewer disaster – and that’s an expensive solution.
Horne also suggests visiting the basement or basement while everything is up. Look for drops – another great way to identify potential installation or pipe problems.
8. Too few ventilation pipes
While checking out, take a look at the roof in the back yard and count the ventilation pipes. A vent pipe should match the kitchen, and there should be an additional vent pipe for each bathroom.
As with most problems, a lack of vents doesn’t make the house uninhabitable. Sure, if the bathrooms aren’t ventilated it could mean an extra cost, but it’s not the end of the world.
But don’t assume that even if the kitchen and all of the bathrooms are ventilated you are clear. If the vent ends in the attic, dangerous amounts of moisture can enter your home.
Make sure your home inspector is made aware of the problem and have your realtor discuss it with the seller. Your shrewd detective work could result in a better deal on your dream home or prevent you from buying a money pit.