After looking at so many homes, when you finally fall in love with one, it’s way too easy to be wowed by the stuff that doesn’t matter: pretty-colored paint, a winding staircase, granite countertops and gorgeous flooring. This is where an old “momily” comes into play: “Pretty is as pretty does.”
Wipe the stars from your eyes, put on your big-kid glasses, and get ready to see just what this dream house “does.” Your friends at RealEstate.com have put together a handy checklist to take with you to the home. Use this checklist immediately after making the offer to purchase and before you call out the home inspector. This way, you can supply him or her with an extra set of “eyes” for problems that may be of concern to you.
Before you hop in the car, Mr. or Ms. Holmes, here are a few items to add to your investigator’s bag:
- Measuring tape (to ensure the rooms have enough square footage for your belongings)
- Awl or screwdriver
- Camera (still or video to record any concerns)
- Flashlight (for inspecting dark places, such as under a sink)
- Small can (hairspray, cat food, vegetables, etc.)
Exterior Visual Inspection
- Use the binoculars to inspect the roof. Look for missing or damaged tiles or shingles. While you are looking up there, check the chimney for signs of cracks or separation.
- Inspect all paved areas for cracks or uneven areas.
- Are there cracks in the foundation?
- Is there a woodpile touching the home? Woodpiles are attractive to termites and should never touch the exterior of the home. If this is the case, use the awl to gently poke into the home where the woodpile is touching it. If it inserts easily, the home may be infested with termites. Make a note to either hire a pest inspector or have the inspector look for signs of a termite infestation.
- Check stairs or steps for signs of cracking, breakage and loose railings.
- Inspect deck railings and check that the deck isn’t pulling away from the house.
- Is the siding in good condition?
- Is there evidence of a room addition?
- Pay close attention to the landscaping. Ensure that the earth gently slopes away from the house.
- Inspect fences for signs of rotting.
- Look for cracks in the swimming pool and spa, as well as loose tiles and damaged decking.
- Run the irrigation system and check for broken and inoperable lines.
Check the Home’s Interior
- Check the windows for signs of mold. Is there condensation in dual-paned windows?
- Look for signs of water intrusion under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, around the toilet, refrigerator, water heater and washer/dryer.
- Pay attention to musty odors and make a note of which rooms contain the strongest smells.
- Inspect the basement for signs of water intrusion.
Walls, Ceilings, Floors, Doors and Windows
- Inspect the ceilings for cracks and water stains.
- Do the walls have cracks, holes or stains? Pay close attention to the walls in the basement. Do you notice a white powdery substance?
- Ensure that all windows are operable, that the glass and frames are not cracked or broken, and that they contain no evidence of mold.
- Do the floors seem uneven or sloped? If you’re unsure, dig out the can you brought along with you and lay it on the floor. If it rolls, the floor is sloping.
- Check wood and tile floors for cracks and other damage.
- Do the doorframes have cracks or have they pulled away from the door? Do the locks operate? Do they swing open or shut when they should remain stationary?
Bathrooms and Kitchens
- Press your foot around the base of the toilet. If the floor feels spongy or soft, there could be a leak. Make note of this for your home inspector.
- Look for missing grout and stained or cracked tile.
- Identify any leaking or dripping faucets, toilets and pipes under the sinks. Ensure the stoppers in sinks and tubs are operable.
- Look for exposed wires.
- Are there any broken light fixtures?
- Do the ceiling fans operate?
Tip: Don’t attempt to check the power box or wiring unless you are an electrical contractor. Leave that task up to your home inspector.
- Is the water heater strapped properly? Is it large enough to accommodate your needs? Look for signs of leaking and rust on and around the water heater.
- Does the garbage disposer operate?
- Is there noise in the pipes when you run the water?
- Are the pipes wrapped properly to protect them from freezing?
- Turn on the shower to ensure adequate water pressure.
- Flush the toilets. The bowls should empty and fill back to the original level.
Miscellaneous Interior Inspections
- Does the house contain an adequate number of smoke alarms, and are they properly located? Your home inspector will investigate their operability.
- Inspect the fireplace for broken bricks, cracks and separation from the wall. Is it screened adequately? If it’s a gas fireplace, make a note to remind your home inspector to check the valve to ensure it works.
- Wiggle the railings on stairways. Are they secure?
Additional Considerations for an Older House
While you’ll most likely never know what type of maintenance, if any, has been routinely performed on an older house, it is important to perform your due diligence with regard to lead in the home. Lead-based paint and lead pipes are common in older homes, they are considered environmental toxins and can lead to health problems.
If the home was built before 1986, it bears additional scrutiny, especially if you have children. Ask your home inspector for more information and request that he or she check the home for these hazards.