Affording a home involves more than having enough money to cover the down payment, closing costs and monthly mortgage obligations.| Maintaining the overall condition of the home while you live in it and the repairs or preventive measures needed to do so can be just as costly.
This kit will explain how to conduct your own consumer home inspection with an easytouse, stepbystep approach. Once you've evaluated your results, you'll be better equipped to make a wise decision, whether it's
- "Yes, I like this home; it suits the needs of my family, and I can afford to buy and maintain it." or
- "No, I cannot realistically afford to buy and maintain this home."
Either way, it pays to know what you're up against before you make an offer to purchase. The consumer home inspection does not replace the professional home inspection. You do the consumer home inspection before making an offer to purchase a home. Once you conduct your own consumer home inspection and make a decision to buy a particular home, you will sign a contract and have the home you've selected professionally inspected. The professional home inspector gives you an objective and comprehensive report before closing.
In addition, you may want to have the home tested for possible environmental hazards which are not usually visible, including, lead in the water, lead in paint, asbestos, radon or other toxic materials.
Make sure you can afford to buy your home and maintain it. Equip yourself with the tools you need to make an educated decision in your own best interest Learn what's ahead of you now, rather than down the road An informed homebuyer is a successful homeowner.
Before You Conduct a Consumer Home Inspection Schedule your home inspection during day-light hours. You may want to bring along the following tools
- The Consumer Home Inspection Form
- A powerful flashlight to use in basements and crawl spaces
- A stepladder to look in the attic to check insulation, the underside of the roof and indirect lighting fixtures
- A tape recorder to record any information too lengthy to note on the inspection form
- A circuit tester to check the circuits
Plan to go through the home completely two times so you can do an overall analysis. Remember to consider the following when you conduct your home inspection so you can effectively evaluate the home:
- The existing condition of all systems and equipment
- Any unusual features that may increase or decrease the appeal of the home
- Any problems or features you want your professional home inspector to check out
- The quality and condition of the structure
- Routine house cleaning and maintenance items: paint, furnace filters, gutters, caulking in bathrooms, landscaping, floors, appliances, walls, etc.
What to Expect
A Consumer Home Inspection Kit will give you the information you need to
- Identify a home's distinguishing features that make it attractive for purchase
- Estimate the costs and identify solutions for any problems uncovered during the consumer home inspection
- Provide a basis for comparing homes you are considering buying
GO TO STEP ONE-Interviewing the Owners and/or Occupants
GO TO STEP TWO-General Observations Throughout the Home
GO TO STEP THREE-Final Analysis
Interviewing the Owners and/or Occupants
It's possible to collect a tremendous amount of useful information before you conduct the consumer home inspection by sitting down with the sellers or occupants. Ask openended, leading questions. You may begin by asking the occupants these questions:
- Are you aware of any termite damage or activity in your home? Virtually all homes sold today require a termite inspection and certificate so a complete history of any damage, treatment or repair is important to know from the start.
- Does your home have any existing or repaired structural problems, such as cracks in the basement floor, rotted floor joists or settlement cracks in the walls?
- Do you ever have moisture in your basement? A typical concern when buying a home is a wet basement or crawl space. It's important to learn about a wet basement early so that it can be repaired or you can negotiate the price of repair before you buy the home.
- Have you seen any signs of a leaking roof? If the roof has leaked in the past, it's important to determine whether repairs were made or a new roof was installed. If the home has an asphalt/fiberglass shingle roof, which normally lasts 15 to 18 years and the home is 17 years old, ask if the roof has been replaced recently. A professional home inspector can determine this for you.
- Have you experienced any problems with the heating or air conditioning systems? Find out the ages of the heating and cooling equipment and any problems the occupants may have had with the systems.
- Have you tested your home for radon recently? The risks from radon gas vary greatly in different parts of the country. Contact the local environmental protection agency to obtain information about the presence of radon in the area.
- Is the electrical service satisfactory? Find out the capacity of the electrical service and whether the occupants have had problems, such as fuses blowing frequently, circuits overloading, outlets not working or lights flickering when appliances are turned on.
- What is the condition of the plumbing system? Find out about the water pressure, whether the plumbing leaks, whether there's enough hot water, the age of the water heater and whether the system has been updated in any way.
- Have you remodeled or made improvements to your home? If improvements have been made to the home, inquire about the competence of the individual or company who provided the service. Check the credentials of the person who made the improvements, to make sure he or she is a licensed builder, owner or technician.
- Was your home built before 1978? Before 1960? Some homes built before 1978 and many homes built before 1960 contain lead-based paint. If the paint is chipping, peeling, cracking, flaking etc., and contains lead, it may be dangerous especially for children under age seven. You may wish to inquire specifically if the home contains lead paint or if it has ever been tested for lead paint.
Back to Top
General Observations Throughout the Home
Floor Plans In large homes with only one bathroom, you should consider the cost of installing a second bath on the bedroom level or a powder room on the first floor. Look at the amount and quality of storage space. Does it fit your needs? Check to see if the home plan provides separation between personal and shared areas. The room layouts and circulation patterns should allow for flexible furniture arrangement. Notice whether the parking space is convenient and provides for guest parking. Check for convenient layout. For example, the laundry room should be close to where the laundry is generated, ideally, on the second floor.
Also, the refrigerator door should open toward the counter and work space of the kitchen.
Walls & Ceilings In nearly all homes built before World War II, the walls and ceilings were made of plaster. While the exterior walls in a brick home built before 1935 are usually built with the plaster directly on masonry, the walls are very solid, though they don't provide for air space or prevent condensation.
The interior walls and ceilings in a home built before 1935 are usually made of plaster on wood lath. Over time, wood lath loses its resilience and pulls away from the studs or joists, causing waves in the walls or ceilings. This condition is usually more pronounced in ceilings because the weight of the plaster plus walking on the floor above creates movement. In addition, wood lath is easily affected by any moisture from a roof, plumbing leak or humidity in the attic.
Check to see if wallpaper over wood lath and plaster has been painted. If you try to remove the painted wallpaper, you may damage the plaster. Check for walls and ceilings that are made of rock lath and plaster, which is common in homes built between 1935 and 1950. Typically, these are very high quality. Check the condition of drywall walls and ceilings. Pay particular attention to the condition of taped joints. Windows As you conduct your home inspection, be aware of the many different types of windows in the home and their condition. In some jurisdictions, fire codes require that windows operate and that bedroom windows be large enough to escape through in case of fire.
Steel casement windows, for example, are not generally considered to be quality windows because they become sprung, readily conduct cold air into the home and will only take piggyback type storm windows. Replacement hardware is available but is becoming increasingly expensive. Steel casement windows can easily be replaced with new, doublehung vinyl replacement windows.
Wood doublehung windows are very common, especially in older homes. They're likely to be in good condition and storm windows will usually make them more energy efficient.
Aluminum sliding windows, which were often installed in the 1950s, are inexpensive but serviceable. They are now available with insulated glass, but storm windows are usually less expensive. Jalousie windows do not provide adequate insulation and leak air at a tremendous rate.
Open the windows to ensure that they are not painted shut. Check the casement window to see if the hardware is working properly and whether doublehung windows have broken sash cords.
Doors Exterior doors should be the solid or panel type and should have good weatherstripping and thresholds. Check interior and exterior doors to see if they are level, easy to open and close, and have hardware in good condition. Check aluminum and wood sliding doors to see if they have single pane or insulated glass; the latter is much more energy efficient. Check bifold closet doors throughout the home. They may be steel, wood or masonite. Wood is the best quality. Closets
Note the number of closets, their condition and depth.
Fireplaces and WoodBurning Stoves Fireplaces are a popular selling feature, but you should carefully examine them during your home inspection.
Look up the chimney to see whether the flue is lined with terra cotta. Ordinary brick lining is in violation of most codes. It is usually unsafe. Though rare, a chimney of ordinary brick to a thickness of 12 inches on each side is acceptable. The cost of relining a chimney with terra cotta is about $2,000. Check to see if there is a working damper in the fireplace. If there's not, home heat will escape up the chimney unless the opening is closed and the fireplace is not used. Newer fireplaces may have cap dampers, which are reported to be more energy efficient.
Ask the owners to have the chimneys cleaned before you buy the home. Chimneys should be cleaned annually.
Check to see if the metal flues of woodburning stoves or fireplaces are clean.
Floors If the floors are carpeted, check to see if the carpeting covers hardwood or plywood floors. In newer homes, plywood is typically used. Hardwood floors are better and usually considered to be a distinguishing feature.
Check the condition of the floors or carpet. Ask the seller to
replace the carpet or other floor covering or to refinish wood floors
if necessary. Check for moisture damage to parquet floors. In older homes, the
parquet is made of strips of wood glued into nineinch square blocks.
This flooring is extremely sensitive to moisture and can swell and
buckle when exposed to dampness. A newer type of parquet flooring is
made of onehalfinch or threequarterinch plywood with a hardwood and
laminated finish. This flooring is much less sensitive to moisture and
can be safely installed even below grade at the basement level. Determine if the house has asbestos floor tiles. The asbestos in the
tiles is "cementitious," that means the asbestos fibers are bound in
place within the tiles and probably cannot become airborne, potentially
breathable and therefore a health hazard. If you choose to have
asbestoscontaining tiles removed, be sure the work is done by
qualified, certified professionals.
As fuel costs continue to rise, insulation is an increasingly
important consideration in a home. It's usually difficult to tell
whether insulation exists within the walls of a home. As a rule, if the
home has little or no attic insulation, there is probably none in the
walls. If the attic is well insulated, the walls probably will be too,
depending on the age of the home.
The Rfactor is the unit of measurement of insulating value in
a home. It refers to how well a material resists conductive heat flow.
The higher the Rfactor, the greater the insulating value. The
recommended Rfactors are
R11 to R15, for walls
R19 to R30, for ceilings Ventilation Use the following rule of thumb when inspecting a home's ventilation: adequate ventilation in an attic is one square foot of ventilation for each 150 square feet of floor space. In most homes, you can reach the attic through a ceiling access panel if there is no stairway. Suburban homes built after World War II usually have an attic access in the center hall at top of the stairs or in one of the closets. Older urban row homes have an attic access that may also serve as access to the roof. You will normally find it in the bathroom, hall, closet or on a rear porch.
Back to Top
Once you've completed your consumer home inspection, analyze your findings to identify the positive and negative features of the home.
Then decide how to fit them into your analysis. Pay special attention to the quality of the home's construction, the level of maintenance, the quality of individual parts, replacement cycles and any remodeling or other improvements that have been made.
Consider whether a home is especially well-built and decide which factors are most important to you. If a home has been well-maintained, it can command a price much higher than the same home with fair to poor maintenance. On the other hand, homes with poor maintenance can be bought at favorable prices.
The quality of individual parts of a home is also important and may not be what you expect. For example, a big, old home with modest construction features might have a high quality remodeled kitchen or a home with original casement windows may have upgraded to new, insulated glass replacement windows.
A sound home will last indefinitely, but its integral parts will need replacing on fairly regular cycles. You should know the replacement cycles for these parts and be able to recognize where they are in their estimated life cycle. Hot water heaters, for example, normally last about eight to 12 years. If you're looking at a 10-year-old home with the original hot water heater, the unit probably will need to be replaced soon. For a list of replacement cycles, turn to the Schedule of Normal Life exhibit in this handbook.
It's important for you to be aware of any remodeling or improvements because the value they add to a home can be significant.
In your final analysis, be sure to consider to take note of any additions, an enclosed porch, a finished basement, added bathrooms or a remodeled kitchen.
Costs of Remodeling, Renovation & Repair
As a prospective homebuyer, it's difficult to be an expert in construction and maintenance costs but a working knowledge of these areas can be valuable. You will most likely need information in the following areas
- Value of remodeling and renovation work already done
- Cost comparisons of various materials
- For a list of sample costs of remodeling and repairs, refer to the Schedule of Estimated Remodeling and Repair Costs exhibit in this handbook.
Value of Work Already Completed
When you inspect a home, your ability to detect and price previous remodeling can be valuable. If a home in a standard subdivision has been substantially remodeled, you should determine the approximate cost of the work and, the increased value of the property compared to other homes in the subdivision.
For example, suppose a home had a 300-square-foot addition built within the past five years. If you take the rule-of-thumb cost for additions of $100 per square foot, that addition may translate into a $30,000 improvement to the property. If the home is priced at $15,000 more than similar homes in the subdivision, you would be getting as much as $15,000 additional value by buying the home with the addition.
Consult with a real estate professional to determine whether the home has been over-improved for its neighborhood. If so, it may affect resale of the home.
Cost Comparison of Materials
When you compare one home to another, it's easier to tell the relative value if you know the cost of materials. Keep in mind the following relationships when comparing material costs
A slate roof costs about five to six times as much as an asphalt shingle roof. The cost of masonry or brick facing is about three times as much as the cost of wood, vinyl or aluminum. The cost of hardwood flooring is about twice that of carpeting laid over plywood. An insulated glass window costs about twice as much as a window with single glass. The cost per square foot for plaster walls is about two or three times as much as the cost of drywall.
Estimating Maintenance Costs If a home has been neglected, it's helpful to know the maintenance costs, such as repainting, installing gutters and downspouts, sanding and finishing floors, window repair and minor carpentry. If you can estimate how much it will cost to restore the home to prime condition, you can better judge whether the home is priced properly.
As the homeowner, you will be paying for maintenance. You can estimate the maintenance expenses and replacement costs for a property by using the Maintenance and Replacement Costs Estimator.
Back to Top
We would like to thank Freddie Mac for the above information. Please visit their web site at www.freddiemac.com