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Why Hire a Home Inspector Before Renting or Buying a House

Why Hire a Home Inspector

To inspect or not to inspect is always a valid question. You should always hire a professional home inspector to examine any property you intend to purchase, whether to occupy or rent out. Today, we will cover why a quality home inspection is so important and why not having one can be so costly in the short and long term!

A Home Inspector Is Part of the Transaction

In most residential real estate transactions, the buyer can conduct a third-party inspection of the property they intend to buy. This opportunity to inspect is essential for several reasons.

First, whether you want to occupy or rent the house, you must be aware of any existing or potential problems with the property as the owner. As discussed later, these problems can affect your cash flow or profit.

Second, in Idaho, as in most states, it is a contingency of the sale. If you find anything wrong with the house you are unwilling to accept, you can cancel the contract and usually walk away with your earnest money intact.

Third, even if you don’t use it as a contingency, it is also an excellent negotiation piece. When you make an offer on a property, it is based on what you see when you first walk through it. If your home inspector uncovers many problematic issues you were unaware of, your offer price might be one you are no longer comfortable paying.

Reasons Given for Not Inspecting

Unfortunately, not everyone wields the power of a home inspection in every case. Here are some of the flimsy excuses I have heard from those who don’t want to get a professional home inspection:

  • It’s too much money and frankly a waste of money!
  • This isn’t my first home purchase; I know what I want.
  • My dad/friend/other is handy or a contractor, and they will do the inspection for me.
  • The house is brand new; no need for an inspection. The builder is already doing that.

The list goes on.

Listen, I am not doubting your capabilities as a contractor or handyman or that of your dad, friend, or significant other. Your skills are OK for fixing most things around the house. But let’s get honest about the required in-depth inspections and why these five items are some of the most overlooked problems when you do it yourself.

Crawl Space Under the Home

The first is the crawl space, the area under the house that rarely gets visitors but causes some significant problems if left to its own devices. Due to freezing temperatures, most Idaho homes are built with a crawl space instead of on a concrete slab.

Builders typically install a vapor barrier over the dirt to keep things dry. Of course, this vapor barrier deteriorates over time or tears and is moved out of place by people crawling down there.

You want to be aware of things that can get into that crawl space, and I am not talking about the spiders. The number one crawl space offender is water or moisture. Water can come from several places: the overspray of sprinklers through an open vent, snow melting up against the outer foundation wall, or even a burst or cracked water pipe under the house. Water is a powerful foe when it’s not kept in check.

Earlier, I mentioned that not inspecting properly would impact your rental profitability. A leak will cost you money to repair; you must pay your water bill if it is not discovered. Anytime you have dampness in a closed-up area, you risk having mold.

Mold, especially black mold, is one of the leading reasons that buyers back out of a deal. If not discovered and rectified, it can be expensive to remediate and seriously affect the health of those living in the home.

I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that I have never had a client agree to go down into the crawl space for an inspection themselves. I can also tell you that even in new construction, a professional inspection discovers a high of 70% of issues.

Attic Area of the House

Most attics are small, and many aren’t ones you will be standing in. You might have an attic that you throw the occasional box into and usually, these boxes are put right around the access area. In other words, you only wander around the attic occasionally. But what evil can lurk in an attic?

As the barrier between your roof and your living space, any leaks from your roof would first damage your attic boards. A good home inspector is looking for any sign of water intrusion, past or present.

Also, the attic is another area that should stay well-ventilated. I have seen instances when vents were disconnected when the roof was replaced and never reconnected. I have also seen homes where the bathroom vents were never connected through the roof, so all the hot, moist air from that hot shower was vented right into the attic space. Can you say mold?!

When choosing between a well-insulated property and one that is not, please choose the former. How do you know if it’s well-insulated? Well, an inspector would know.

A poorly insulated house can also cost you money in the long run. If you are buying a home to rent out, you might think that if the power or gas bill is high, that’s a renter problem.

It probably is. However, as we have covered before, you will get the opportunity to pay the bill when the property is vacant. A short month in the middle of winter might be an expensive one. If you ever have to move into the house, that insulation is important.

Of course, if you are planning to Airbnb this place, you will likely want to use the house as efficiently as possible, as you will be paying for the utility bills.

The Roof

Now, I have had clients bring a ladder and go up to the very top of the ladder and look at the roof. Usually, I only let my clients up on the roof with signed waivers from them and the seller. But you need to walk on the roof to assess the issues.

Most of the time, you can’t see the exposed nails that haven’t been properly hammered in, ensuring that your shingles won’t fly off in the next windstorm or that the vents have not been adequately sealed, which would allow water intrusion. Or maybe you can’t see the granular loss or the chipped shingles from when the homeowner shoveled off the snow last winter.

You might also fail to see the missing shingles that blew off in the last storm. Of course, can you tell how long that roof will last or whether it is the first layer?

Sometimes, your lender and insurance company will have something to say about the roof. Some types of financing, such as FHA, require a certification that the roof has at least two years of life left on it.

My insurance carrier recently informed me that my policy no longer covered my 20-year-old roof. Not because it was damaged, but strictly because of age. So, considering your capital expenditure fund, you should consider when you need a new roof.

A complete tear-off and roof replacement cost about $100 for every 100 sq ft versus adding another layer. It is not enough to look at it from below or take the seller’s memory of when it was last replaced as your only gauge. I suggest you have your home inspector look at it and let them recommend that you have a roofer go up if they see any issues.

Irrigation and Sprinkler System

Moving on to your irrigation system and explicitly having it adequately winterized. As you can see, water is plentiful in Idaho but has problems. For those of you living in southern California, my previous home state, abundant water is a foreign concept. It was for us in San Diego. But the idea that you must winterize anything in SoCal is absurd.

Now, in Idaho, it’s an entirely different ball game. Winter and tons of water are a thing here. Water left to freeze in pipes or irrigation valves over winter is not a good idea. The water will expand as it freezes and can crack the pipe or damage the valve. Come springtime, when irrigation water is turned on, you might have a huge mess on your hands or lawn.

Finding a leaky pipe underground can be challenging. So what should you do? If you purchase a home in the fall or winter, when irrigation is turned off, ensure the seller has had the sprinklers blown out and get a receipt from the company that did it. Watch your yard for muddy or sopping wet puddles when irrigation is on.

If you are buying when the water is on, you should have that system checked. You can inspect the sprinklers themselves or hire a landscaper to do it for you. And when irrigation is shut off, get that guy out there to blow all the water out of the system.

Unfortunately, if water is left in the pipes and it’s enough to crack the pipe, you may not know for a while if it’s a slow leak. You will see if you pay attention if it’s a significant break. I had one client who was never in the backyard, and let’s say his lawn service company wasn’t very discerning. Unfortunately, we found out about the leak when we listed his home for sale, and the buyer’s kids returned to the house completely drenched.

Heating and Air Conditioner

Your furnace and air conditioning units should be examined closely during inspection. They can be pretty costly to replace, and even if the system is not that old, if it has not been adequately serviced, it could have a shorter life span.

Home Inspectors will check the heating and cooling functions to ensure they work. They will usually make note of the type of unit in there and how old it is if it is documented. They will also look for service stickers on the unit to ensure that it has been serviced. If it has been serviced, ask for the receipts. This is not only to verify that a reputable company did it but also to have in case there are issues with the unit down the road that would require the company to come back to take another look.

If it has not been serviced, I would have your agent request this to be done by the seller and receipts provided. HVAC is one of those items that you want to save up for in your capex fund. If you know it’s old and has not been serviced regularly, consider buying a home warranty with the HVAC option. They can run anywhere from $550 and up for a year.

I have heard mixed reviews from past clients on these. Most will never use it and don’t usually renew it. Those who have used it saved a significant amount of money. I had one guy who got a brand-new furnace covered by the warranty company. Others have been denied coverage based on something or other. Either way, knowing what you are up against is the most important.

You should have a good idea of the house’s condition and what it will mean to repair and maintain it as you live in or rent it out. The better the condition, the less disruption there will be for your tenant and the less money you will spend later on repairing it.

Important Note on Home Inspectors

Here is a quick note on home inspectors. In Idaho, a home inspector can be someone other than a contractor and have a special license or training. No real regulatory entity runs the show.

Although there are opportunities for someone to seek out organizations that offer certifications or join one of the more prominent inspection companies that provide on-the-job training, be mindful of this when looking for a home inspector. I have seen a few people get burned by an inspector who printed out a few business cards and started marketing himself as a bonafide tradesman with no training or background in the industry.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking to buy, sell, or invest in real estate in the Nampa, Idaho area, I’d love to be your go-to resource for professionals who will get you a quality inspection. Contact us for more details.

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