How to Interpret The Home Inspection

You are buying a home in Los Angeles and are the lucky buyer who has had your offer accepted. You are on your way to home ownership and everything should be smooth sailing. However you start to get nervous. This is a big step with financial responsibility.  You want to make sure you have not gotten in over your head.

The next step, and one which should fully educate you on what you will actually be getting into, will be to conduct a home inspection. Your Realtor® will arrange for a qualified home inspector to check out the home within the contingency period. During the course of this the inspector will examine all systems, structures and components of the building which are visible and accessible.

After the inspection, at which the buyer should be present, the inspector will go over his or her findings verbally.  They may take you around and show you examples of these findings, but overall the buyer will have a clear picture of the condition of the home and an indication of whether there are major problems or questionable items which need further investigation. A written report will follow.

This is the point at which a buyer, especially a first-time-home buyer, might panic.  So what are the main things you should you look for after the home inspection?

  • Problems with the foundation*: In most cases the general inspector will crawl under the house to do a visual inspection and will note if there are any cracks, bolting, or other problems. If so, they will recommend further inspection by a foundation professional. Even for the slightest crack, for legal reasons they will recommend one.
    • This is why I recommend bringing in a foundation inspector at the same time. Foundation problems can make or break a sale and this way you will have a clear picture of its condition.
  • Suspicious deposits*:  The inspector will report any staining or deposits they see but will not indicate their cause. Mold is a large concern in California and anything that remotely suggests the possibility of it should be investigated further.
  • Visible cracks in the chimney**: These are quite common and it will be recommended that you bring in a chimney professional to investigate further.
  • HVAC problems**:  Often these can be addressed by changing the filter, but sometimes they can be more serious.
  • Visible roof damage**:  This could be loose tiles and/or visible wear and tear.  A professional inspection will automatically be recommended.
  • Major cracks**:  These could be in interior and exterior walls, the driveway, etc.
  • Plumbing leak(s)***:  Sometimes the inspector will be able to identify the source of the leak but will still recommend a plumbing professional inspection. Generally the inspector will be able to tell you whether the plumbing has been upgraded to copper
  • Electrical problems***: These are the most common found during a home inspection. Older homes may not have upgraded electrical systems, or the outlets are not grounded, panels are missing, fuse boxes are not labeled etc.

The general inspector will not inspect the sewer line so it is recommended you bring out a sewer line inspector.

There are other issues that may come up on a report but many of them will be minor. It is the duty of the home inspector to report everything they deem is not functioning properly or shows wear and tear.

* These items are of serious concern. An inspection should be ordered immediately to ensure that the house is safe and what, if any, the cost would be to ensure that it is.

**These items may be serious and need attention, especially to determine if there is actually a problem and if there is how much it will cost to fix.

***These are often handyman issues unless the inspector points out a particular hazard.

When you receive the inspection report it will look like the sky is falling.  Anything and everything that was not 100% will be noted, often in red. Don’t be alarmed.  Here is where you need to take a step back:

Remember I said earlier that the inspector will verbally go over his or her findings with you at the end of the inspection. They will generally tell you what they feel needs attention and what isn’t so bad. Remember that conversation when you review the written report.  Case in point:  we just finished an inspection on a house built in 1909 that was one of the best inspections I have attended in terms of the findings.  The inspector indicated that the home was in good condition, especially for its age. The foundation and roof were fairly new and perfect. The plumbing was all copper and there were no leaks. The electrical system was upgraded.  In discussion with the buyers we couldn’t find anything to ask for in repairs even though the report was full of items in red.  It was all handyman stuff.

The home inspection should make a buyer comfortable about what they are walking into. Any major items found should be addressed on a Request for Repairs either asking for the seller to make those repairs or to issue a credit. If the seller agrees, then the buyer can have peace of mind. If the seller does not agree, or negotiations are not to the buyer’s satisfaction, then the buyer can cancel escrow.

Other matters that are known by the seller will have been disclosed such as non-permitted structures or upgrades, or you will be advised to do research on items that the seller is not sure about.

If you do your due diligence to the maximum you should move ahead with the purchase happily aware of what you are buying.

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