What Inspections Should a Buyer Request When Purchasing a Property?

You’ve been searching for the perfect home. You believe you’ve finally found it. You’re ready to make an offer and get moving on a purchase.

But first, keep in mind that with houses, there is often more going on beneath the surface. The sellers may have everything looking spiffy for showings, but that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. The seller, in California, also has extensive disclosure obligations, but that does not relieve you as the buyer from doing your own investigations into what exactly you are buying, and that means inspections.

The opportunity to perform inspections before removing any inspection contingency contained in the purchase contract and closing on the purchase of a home is of critical importance. The standard California purchase agreement used in most residential purchases contains a provision making the offer contingent upon the home passing these inspections or agreeing on repairs for whatever is found during the inspections. What exactly should you be looking for?

General home inspection. First, do not do the home inspection yourself. Use a professional, insured home inspector (and perhaps more than one), who will check the home thoroughly for signs of a variety of problems, such as:

  • A failing roof
  • Wood rot (more likely to be found in the termite inspection)
  • Grading problems that might lead to standing water, water entering the home, or erosion
  • Structural issues
  • Leaking plumbing
  • Air conditioning or heating systems that show signs of failure
  • Cracks in the foundation
  • Electrical problems
  • Issues with windows, doors, seals, weatherproofing, etc

A general home inspector should spend considerable time investigating the basement, if the home has one. (Yes, some homes in California do have basements!) Many of the more serious problems that can occur in houses will begin in the basement or other out-of-the-way areas of the home. One result of the general inspection might well be a recommendation to get a specialized inspector to review potential issues in specific areas, e.g. the roof or the electrical system. Think carefully before ignoring these recommendations!

Pests. Your general home inspector might discover signs of a pest problem, but it is critical to have a separate pest control professional investigate the structure. In particular, they will look for signs of a termite infestation, a problem you do not want to inherit.

Lead paint. Most older homes have lead paint within them. Federal law dictates that its presence must be disclosed by home sellers. Your general home inspector can also tell you if he or she finds evidence of lead paint in the home.

Mold inspection. This is a bigger problem in more humid environments. However, mold can invade any home that has ever suffered water damage. Keep in mind that even a past plumbing incident can expose the interior of the house to significant moisture (and therefore mold). Since some types of mold are linked to health problems, obtaining a mold inspection may be worth your time if there are preliminary indications.

Radon inspection. Radon is a potentially dangerous radioactive material that is sometimes present in the soil around a home or even in the air. It can be more prevalent in some areas than others. A radon inspection will uncover toxic levels of radon. Depending upon the source of the radon, the problem can often be corrected.

Water system inspection. If the home uses well water, you should seek an inspection of the system. When wells begin to fail, drilling a new one can lead to excessive expense.

Septic system inspection. If the home uses a septic tank, it’s a good idea to have that system inspected by a professional. Septic tanks can and do fail. They are expensive (and messy) to replace.

In addition to all of these items, check to be sure that the home’s smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly. This will not only save your home in the event of a fire or other event, but might save your life as well.

As always, please contact our real estate attorneys if you have questions about proceeding with the purchase of a home. It is always easier to anticipate potential problems and avoid them, rather than deal with them after the fact.

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