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To hear some professional home inspectors tell it, Canadians often take better care of their automobiles than their homes. Consequently, every home buyer should plan to spend the $400 to $600 necessary to have the house they like best thoroughly examined by an independent third party before closing.
But wait: Before you’ve made your final choice and order a home inspector to take a look, you should do some preliminary investigating of your own. That way, you can protect yourself from picking the wrong house and allowing a better maintained property to slip away.
Even rookie buyers can get a good idea of just how well-kept a house has been. Even when the seller has given the place a fresh coat of paint and trimmed the lawn, there still are often telltale signs that the owner may not have been as diligent as he could have.
But keep it mind, it would be counterproductive to put every house under this kind of microscope. Once you narrow your choices down to two or three homes, it’s time to take a closer, harder look. Then, after you make your final decision, call in the experts.
Go Through the Motions as an Owner
Don’t be afraid to kick the tires and act like you’re already living there when viewing a home. It’s OK to open closets, flush toilets, run the dishwasher through a full cycle, turn on all the stove-top burners, check the refrigerator and open the windows. The owner shouldn’t object – not if they really want to sell. And if you are viewing a property via a virtual viewing or open house, ask the Realtor to do the same.
Water Damage to Look for
Some owners will try to hide water damage in their bathrooms by re-caulking and grouting tiles. But you can beat them at their own game by tapping on the tile where it hits the tub or shower floor. The tile should sound and feel solid. If it sounds hollow, give it a nudge to see if there is any give to the wall. If there is, something’s going on behind there that isn’t good.
Electrical Inspections that are Amateur-friendly
After water issues, improper electrical wiring is the second most common defect found by home inspectors. It is difficult for an amateur to determine if the electrical system is adequate, but there are clues. If you see a lot of fuses lying around, especially burnt-out ones, it’s a dead giveaway that the wiring is probably undersized.
Another sure-fire indication that the wiring is insufficient: A bunch of extension cords snaking around, indicating that there simply are not enough outlets to accommodate a modern household’s needs.
Always Check the Roof
Roofing problems also are fairly common, so look for shingles that are cupping at the corners. They may have to be replaced. If the roof appears to be sagging between the joists, the entire thing may have to be removed. And if there are already are two layers of shingles, the cost could be 20% higher or more.
If the house has been well maintained, the owner will know exactly how many layers are on the roof, the age of the top layer and if new sheathing has been put down between the two layers.
Tips for Inspecting Basements
If the house has a basement, follow your nose. If there is a damp, musty smell, there’s usually an issue. A dehumidifier is another tip-off to a wet basement. They aren’t part of the decor. Also, look for stains or rot where the stringers, or side pieces, on the basement steps touch the floor.
If there is a water problem, the moisture will wick into the wood. If there is nothing on the basement floor, that could be a sign of water problems. Inspectors love to see stacks of old magazines in the corner with spider webs. That means they have been there a long time and there is no water problem.