Once you have a property under contract, meaning that you and the seller have agreed to the price and terms and have a signed agreement, your next step will be performing inspections to thoroughly evaluate the property prior to closing (ideally well ahead of the Due Diligence deadline).
The following list of inspections would adequately protect you in most residential transactions in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Apex, Wake Forest, Holly Springs, Clayton, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Knightdale, Wendell, Zebulon and Chapel Hill). While there are exceptions, you’re real estate agent will be most qualified to recommend anything that is beyond the scope of this article.
Let’s begin with the basics. Every buyer should consider a home inspection as a good starting point for inspections. A qualified home inspector will be able to advise you on the general condition of most elements of a home. From roof to foundation, HVAC to plumbing (except septic), a good inspector is invaluable in getting a big picture view of the condition of the home you are buying. Notice I say ‘big picture’. If you want to know more details on a specific item, it is often best to hire someone specializing in that field. For example, a home inspector can tell you that the HVAC system is generating adequate heat or cold but they can’t tell you whether the compressor is about to fail or if the heat exchanger as a hole in it (very dangerous!). That’s not to say that you don’t get your money’s worth with a home inspector, because you do. In a typical inspection, a home inspector evaluates and comments on more than 100 different items. Not bad for a generalist! Home inspection prices vary with the size and age of the home, but you can budget around $500 for most inspections.
The HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system is one of the most ignored, yet critical, systems in a home. Although replacing filters on a regular basis is about the extent of most maintenance required, many home owners fail to do this simple task. This oversight leads to overstressing the fan motor, and compressor, and can ultimately shorten the life of your unit. Did you know that it can cost $6,000, or more, to replace a system? And that a basic repair can easily run you $450? For these reasons alone it pays to have a specialist examine the heating and cooling system of your potential new (to you) home. While this may not be as critical with a new construction home, we have witnessed errors in installation that were only discovered with an HVAC inspection. HVAC inspections typically cost less than $150 per unit, so it’s really cheap insurance when you consider the price of a replacement.
Radon? What’s that? That’s what most home buyers ask when we ask whether they want to test for Radon. Radon is an invisible, odorless and tasteless gas that is released from certain types of subterranean rock. Radon is heavier than air, so when it breaches the surface it tends to collect in the lowest point. It can enter a home thru cracks in the foundation or gaps around plumbing pipes. It certainly exists in the Triangle, so if you buy a home in this area, whether it is resale or brand new, you are well advised to discuss Radon with your agent. Experts say that Radon can exist in any structure. While this may be true, our experience has shown that certain types of homes are more susceptible than others. Radon tests can cost from $100-175 and typically take 3-4 days to get results.
If you buy a home outside of the city limits, you may be buying one with an onsite waste water treatment system, otherwise known as a septic system. Septic systems do a great job of making a home that is not situated near a sewer system habitable. Without septic systems, we would be limited to living inside the city limits or having temporary waste storage tanks like an RV. Although septic systems require minimal maintenance, they do require you to observe some basic rules. Namely, don’t ever flush or drain anything other than waste and toilet paper into your system. Don’t pour paint down the drain and definitely definitely don’t dispose of cooking oil down the drain. The reason is simple, a septic system works by having bacteria break down the human waste products and having the soil absorb the resulting effluent (sewage water). Chemicals can be harmful to bacteria and oil can wreak havoc on the septic drain field soil’s ability to absorb liquids. And when buying a home, you essentially inherit the potential sins of the prior owner, so better to check the health of the system before you get the keys.
A septic system inspection can take one to two hours and typically costs around $300. With a septic replacement costing upwards of $10,000, this, too, is cheap insurance against a formidable expense.
Although less common these days, a fireplace inspection is always a good idea. Many home buyers feel that the factory-built models don’t need inspections. Nothing could be further from the truth! Did you know that many factory-built or pre-built fireplaces were only designed to last 20 years? A fireplace inspection can literally save your bacon by catching a potential fire hazard before you light your first match. If you buy a home with a fireplace, you should carefully consider getting it inspected. A typical fireplace inspection costs around a $100.
Water Quality Test
Water quality tests are used to determine if harmful bacteria or contaminants exist in well water. If you buy a home that uses a private well on the property, you are a great candidate for a water quality test. It is surprising how many private wells have been exposed to ecoli or fecal bacteria, but all it not lost. A simple test can determine whether they exist and an even simpler treatment can eliminate the problem. If your home is served by a private well, this is one test that you should definitely consider. In fact, VA loan borrowers are required to test for water quality before their loan can even be approved. Water quality tests can run from $25-$150, depending on the provider and extent of the tests.
If all else fails, you need a structural engineer. Or maybe that should be, before all else fails! Your home inspector is a generalist, and as such they are limited by the opinion they can share on a matter involving more complicated matters, such as structural integrity, etc. On those occasions, you will be best served hiring a structural engineer with experience in residential construction. Structural engineers earn their keep by assessing potential problems and either dispelling misunderstandings or identifying solutions. Unlike a home inspector, however, don’t expect an engineer to evaluate the entire home. They mostly focus on one or a few specific items and then draw their conclusive report on those items. Engineers are worth their weight in gold when you need them, but they rarely actually cost more than a few hundred dollars.