Before you buy a home, it is important to make sure there are no major defects with the property. A professional home inspection is a great source, but buyers should know that it doesn't detect every problem.
An inspection is a standard part of the homebuying process that can affect how much you pay for the home. For example, if an inspection unearths a small, fixable problem, you could ask the seller to fix it before you take possession or ask for a seller's credit for closing costs so you can make the fix yourself. (Another major factor in home affordability is your credit -- you can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.)
Most quality inspectors will report on your home's structure, roofing, plumbing, electrical, insulation, heating and air-conditioning systems -- but what do they not cover that you may need a specialist to examine?
1. Septic systems & underground storage
A big part of your home's value can be buried in the yard. Since the septic tank is not visible, it often gets forgotten. Checking on plumbing doesn't mean everything will continue to run without trouble.
The septic system basically consists of the tank, a distribution box on the side of the tank and a drainage field. Overuse can really disturb a properly functioning system, from waste pooling underneath the septic field to waste migrating to the distribution box. It's a good idea to have the system checked out (some home inspectors are qualified to do this) so you know what you are dealing with before you unpack your moving boxes.
It's also a good idea to check on the storage tanks that hold heating oil if this applies to your potential new home. Staying above-ground will not give you all the information you need to make a safe decision on the home inspection.
2. Yard health
There are even more elements outside the physical home that often go overlooked. Take, for example, your landscaping. Your tree and plant health can be hard to test (especially in winter), but may impact both your safety and your home's resale value down the line.
A sprinkler system inspection can also be a telling sign of property quality -- take a look at the controllers, connections, sprinkler head, pressure differentials, drains, sensors and water meters. System leaks or failures can lead to costly water bills and serious home damage.
Finally, home inspectors may not be qualified to check the complex equipment of your swimming pool like pumps, heaters and filters or pressure-test for leaks. And don't leave out electrical equipment, decking surfaces, safety covers and hardware, which should all be evaluated for condition and durability.
3. Termites & asbestos
While you may think everything inside the house is covered, a home inspection does not always reveal the potential dangers of termites and asbestos.
Asbestos is a set of six toxic, naturally-occurring silicate minerals previously used widely in American construction. You may want to hire an additional inspector to test for asbestos and another company entirely to have it removed. Products including pipe covering, tiling, wall and flooring materials, attic insulation, window putty, door gaskets and roofing materials have all been identified as potential asbestos carriers. Living with it can cause respiratory diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer -- and they may take 20 to 50 years to manifest.
And when it comes to termites, you can look for your mud tubs and wood damage on your own, or hire an extermination professional. Some major companies even offer these services for free. If you suspect your future property could be in danger of an infestation, it's important not to delay in getting inspected. Termites cause an estimated $50 billion in damage to buildings and homes in 49 of the 50 states every year.
Remember that your home inspection may be different depending on your property features and location. For instance, there are no termites in Alaska, but you may have other specific concerns about pipe freezing or energy generators. No matter what it is that you find important, make sure your inspection will reveal the information you need. Unless you have negotiated a special agreement with the home's seller, you will have to pay the few hundred dollars an inspection costs. Look for inspectors with a registered license or ask your real estate agent for a referral. When need be, don't hesitate to call for a specialist.