Your quest for the perfect home includes searching through apps and listings, looking for the right combination of cute and affordable. You finally find one you love and it seems like you have a deal. You still have one more hurdle - The Home Inspection.
Yes, you want the inspection to go well and you have been through this house a bunch of times. But be honest, you were focused on where the furniture will go. And, as you search your memory, you remember seeing a tiny crack in the foundation. And, was it your imagination but the back door seemed to stick a little the last time you tried to open it? You're close to owning your dream home, yet in the back of your mind you wonder, “Surely the home inspector would tell me if there were any structural issues, right?”
The surprising answer is, “Maybe?”
Will Our Home Inspector Miss Structural Issues?
Nobody wants any surprises after they become a homeowner. Just because a problem seems to suddenly reveal itself, it doesn't mean that the inspector didn't do their job. “An inspector is trained to look at the home at a high level, and to report whether or not the home is in 'saleable condition,'” says Ren Flickinger, a Sales Manager at Thrasher Foundation Repair. He cautions that they are not “professional foundation experts.”
Maybe the first place to start is to ensure that you have a reasonable expectation about what a home inspection is and, what it isn't. According to the American Society of Home Inspectors, “a home inspection is a limited, non-invasive examination of the condition of a home, often in connection with the sale of that home. It includes an in-field, primarily visual evaluation and professional opinion of the performance of the readily accessible installed systems in a home.” It's not meant to be a deep dive into any one aspect of the home. If you are a first-time homebuyer, it might help to Google “home inspection reports” to familiarize yourself with what kinds of things you can expect your inspector to include in their report.
What You Can Expect of Your Home Inspection
As the buyer, you can help make the inspection process work for you. The first step is to do your homework. Make notes about things you noticed that you want to bring attention to and want the inspector to have a closer look at. “Homeowners can “request” that the Inspector take a closer look at something that looks like it might be a problem, like cracks in the wall. They will then most likely note it in their report,” says Flickinger.
That doesn't mean it will get addressed beyond a notation. Thrasher Director of Operations, Aaron Ruskamp says it isn't that the inspector misses the problem. “They'll say it's not bad enough to warrant a fix yet. The problem is that the issues never get better they only get worse. And, the time it takes to get worse varies by home. So, the inspector should instead say, 'This will likely need to be fixed at some point.'”
This lines up with research by the National Association of Home Builders. In 2017, the average owner-occupied house in America was 37 years old. As these homes age, many things can begin to fail and shift, including the soil around the home's foundation thus creating a higher risk for problems. Many of these are structural issues and would likely be missed during a cursory examination. “To correctly identify an issue, especially with settled homes, you need to look at multiple signs of settlement and put the puzzle together. Most commonly you need to look for drywall cracks, foundation cracks, sticking doors/windows, etc. to get a clear picture of what might be happening,” says Ruskamp.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Home Inspection
Most experts agree that a buyer can get more from the inspection process if they come prepared. In addition to bringing a list of questions or concerns you'd like addressed by the inspector, some recommend attending the walk-through during the inspection process. Zillow, an online real estate database company, suggests that this is a great way to learn about your home. The reason being that it's easier to understand by being there, with the inspector when he points something out rather than hearing about it afterward.
In the article, Zillow also recommends bringing along any seller-provided property disclosures you've received to the inspection. The inspector likely will start with a discussion about what they want to accomplish and will ask what questions or concerns you have. Voice your concerns at the beginning so that the inspector can keep them in mind as he goes through the home. Disclosure is something given to the buyer by the seller documenting their knowledge of the property. Flickinger says those “disclosures” are something to pay attention to as they represent most of the liability by the sellers and answer big questions like, “has there been any water in the basement, flooding, etc.”
Beyond the Inspection Process
So, while it's likely that your Home Inspector will not find hidden structural issues in your new home, here are some things to keep in mind as you walk the property.
- Look for cracks or signs of crumbling concrete along foundation walls inside and out. Learn more here about what to look for.
- Look for more obvious indications of foundation settlement like bowing walls, separating siding or long cracks in the paint throughout the house.
- You might find telltale hints in cracked tiles and flooring, or doors and window, not opening/ closing smoothly.
Any of these clues by themselves may not indicate a larger problem, but all together, may be a warning sign. When Thrasher inspects a foundation, we go through the steps to determine if a problem exists. “Thrasher will look at a specific issue the customer calls us out for, then we do a whole home inspection to identify any other potential signs of structural issues. Once we identify all issues we piece everything together to determine if there is an issue or not. If there is an issue, we determine the extent of the issue and educate the customer on how to fix it,” says Ruskamp.
Want to know even more about the signs of foundation problems?
Check out our eBook “Homeowners Guide to Foundation Problems” that will give you more information about potential issues, what causes them and common symptoms to look for.
Download our free Homeowners Guide