Buying a home is the single largest investment most people will make in their lifetimes. So it’s wise to be informed. One of the key steps in the process is a home inspection, which can alert you to potential problems in a property and help you make the best decision.
While contractors and trades people might be able to offer advice on what needs fixing and the best solution, a good home inspector is in the position to offer an unbiased opinion, said Tom Kruse, owner of Professional Home Inspections in Holmen, Wis.
“We tell people … we have the market cornered in objectivity,” said Kruse, a past president of the Wisconsin Association of Home Inspectors. “I’m just selling knowledge.”
When buying an older house, expect to find issues with insulation — or lack thereof — wiring, pipes and lead paint, said Bill Jacques, a home inspector in Charleston, S.C., and president of the American Society of Home Inspectors.
“A lot of your old homes never had any insulation at all,” Jacques said.
Kruse usually advises his clients in Wisconsin to add insulation in the attic — or better yet to get a more detailed Focus On Energy assessment, which can pinpoint the best spots for energy efficiency measures.
But don’t go stuffing insulation into the walls, Jacques warns. Many homes built prior to the 1930s had what’s known as “knob and tube” wiring, which can pose a fire hazard if covered with insulation.
“Even if somebody has updated some areas of the homes, there still may be old wiring in other parts of the house,” Jacques said.
Kruse is also on the lookout for signs of settling and leaking foundations, especially in older homes.
New homes are better insulated and built with stronger lumber, but that doesn’t mean they’re free of pitfalls.
“I’ve seen houses less than five years old with water running through the foundation,” Kruse said.
They can also be susceptible to termite infestation or shoddy craftsmanship. Jacques recently inspected a brand new home where contractors had cut notches into the rafters and floor joists.
If not corrected, those issues become the responsibility of the buyer should they ever decide to sell.
Such problems don’t necessarily mean a house isn’t worth buying; a lot depends on how the sales price compares to the assessed value. But inspectors say an informed buyer is always better off.