Thanks to the many good questions we get asked regularly on inspections, we've compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to provide useful information.
What if i'm told a home inspection will cause my contract bid to be rejected?
The recent residential real estate environment, where multiple bids were commonplace, resulted in the contract with the highest price and fewest complexities or contingencies to be the one typically selected by the seller's agent and the seller(s). Adding a home inspection contingency, with its potential to complicate a sale with demands of the seller by the buyer, was considered to cause an instant rejection during the multiple contract presentations. Depending on your agent, you may have been advised of certain options to the Home Inspection Contingency. One would be to have a pre-contract "walk-thru inspection". While this was the second most opted choice, the inspection/consultation was limited in scope and time, did not provide a written report, was not an approved or covered service by state licensing boards, and was not recognized by insurance or warranty companies to provide any recourse if a future problem became obvious after the sale. As time went on, more agents would recommend to their buyers that they ask for the home inspection after the contract was signed and before settlement, as that would provide cause to ask the seller any questions if major or hidden defects were found. Really, the only other option recommended to purchasers was to get a full (post-settlement) home inspection after closing. That has tended to be a popular choice, as new purchasers have begun to find issues in their homes once they moved in.
What if I can't or don't want to attend the home inspection?
We can't stress enough, if you're excited about buying your home - which is one of the biggest purchases of your life, you should make every effort to be at the home inspection. If you live out of town or otherwise cannot be there, have a family member, friend, neighbor, or coworker attend to be the eyes and ears for you, and to ask any questions they feel are appropriate for understanding. The home inspection not only provides you a digital report (of varying degrees based on the software used), but you will hear things from the inspector, including maintenance items, locations of service connections, and recommendations, which may not end up in the report. You will also be able to ask the home inspector questions for things you have a concern about or don't understand. So the home inspection is a very interactive service activity.
My agent says there is no need for any radon testing.
There is only one reason not to ask for, or perform a Radon test in a home you are buying, and that is when a Radon test has recently been performed (during cold winter months). The closed house conditions and highest temperature gradient achieved in winter months typically results in the highest Radon values recorded in homes during the winter season. So unless you are buying a home at the beach where rocky substructures have been ground down to sand, you need to know what the Radon amount (number) is in any place where you will be living. Even if the home has an active or passive Radon removal system installed, you need to know if it is working properly and the Radon level has been reduced to a minimal amount. If you don't want to pay for a professional Radon test, most states provide discounted Radon test kits which allow you to perform the test yourself and then send in the test kit to a lab for analysis and results reporting by e-mail. Radon is a gas which can cause damage to lung tissue, so the higher the amount and the longer you are exposed to it, the greater the potential for tissue damage.
My A/C system is old and still works fine, but the service tech says it needs to be replaced/Upgraded.
Up until a few years ago, we would recommend that A/C systems with older refrigerants be replaced, as the older systems were getting highly expensive to repair due to limitations on replacement parts and the cost of replacing older refrigerants. Those days are mostly gone as there are now what's called "drop-in" replacement parts and newer refrigerants which mix well with the older refrigerants. Aside from issues with replacement parts, there are two main reasons we do not recommend replacement of older systems if they are functioning well: 1) The older refrigerants run at lower pressures, and in many cases provide a better transfer of heat energy. Each iteration of upgraded refrigerant runs at higher pressures in order to provide an similarly efficient transfer of heat energy; 2) The older refrigerants have a more significant detrimental ODP and/or GWP effect when released into the environment. Although it is federally mandated that older refrigerants be captured prior to opening a system for repair or replacement, some techs/companies do not comply and the refrigerant gets released upon a system replacement, which is not good for the environment. The only exception to our non-replacement rules is when the efficiency of the older system is so low compared to the high efficiency (SEER) systems currently available, which would result in savings of electricity costs which would pay for the new system over a short period of years.
Should I buy this home?
Nope, sorry we can't tell you if the house your looking at is something you should buy. It's mostly an ethical issue for us, as you are hiring the home inspector to provide information on the condition of the home and its systems. There are also financial and emotional influences which we don't have any insight into. The statement we repeat when asked this common question is: "It depends on your comfort level with the condition of the home. Some folks are comfortable with a fixer-upper while on the other end, some folks want a home in move-in condition which does not need any repairs or upgrades. Where you fall on that scale compared to the condition of the home is the place where you feel you will be comfortable and happy once you move into the home as we have described it to you." We can, however, guide the conversation if you have hesitations based on some of the items or defects we have found and presented to you. We usually have one or two home inspections per year where the buyer becomes so overwhelmed with the condition of the home that they wish to walk away. If that's the case, tell your inspector you want him or her to stop the inspection - it may save you some money as we typically won't need to provide you a report.
Is my deck safe?
While we provide the condition of most of the structural items of the deck (which can be observed), we don't speak specifically about safety for legal reasons. Much of the feeling of safety is based on a sense of comfort in specific locations. By their nature, decks are less safe than being on the ground partying, or entertaining inside your home, as most decks are about nine (9) feet above the ground and are supported by wood, steel brackets, nails, screws, and bolts, all of which deteriorate with the constant effects of rain, wind, and sunlight. We'll tell you what's weak, what needs repair or replacement, or if the deck needs to be torn down. We'll also tell you what no longer meets current deck construction standards, as the standards increase regularly to provide a safer existence in the outdoor environment. It's up to you to provide annual maintenance to your deck, and notice when something feels soft or lose as your deck ages. That's why we recommend and provide detailed deck inspections annually for older decks.
When is the best time to have a home inspection?
We love this question. The best time to inspect a home is either the day it is raining or the day after it has rained. We love rain because if the home has a significant enough leak we may be able to see water dripping, wet material, or wet staining in attic or other wall or floor spaces which are open enough to observe with a flashlight.
When should I get an infrared thermal inspection?
The two seasons which provide extreme differences between indoor and outdoor temperatures - the chilly days of winter and the roasting days of summer - are the best times to have an infrared thermal camera inspection of a flat roof or a structure. Whether we are looking at a building from the outside or inside, the thermal camera does its best work when it shows the extreme variation in adjoining surface temperatures. So on a cold winter day where the interior temperature is 70F and the exterior temp is 30F, an area of missing insulation will show up the brightest with that 40 degree difference (delta) due to the loss of heat to the exterior. Note that infrared cameras only register the surface temperature of the material(s) which are being viewed. They do not see inside walls - only measuring the effect of heat loss or gain at the surface of the material being viewed.
Will you inspect the roof?
MHBI inspects any part of a roof which is no more than one story high, on average. If we can get to a roof surface from a deck or lower safe surface where we can extend a ladder, that is also possible. Many of the flipped flat roof row houses have had their interior ceiling hatches sealed (for cosmetic appearance), so accessing a 2.5 to 3 story high roof from the exterior requires us to bring a significantly larger ladder, at an additional fee. Also, if the roof is steep, can be damaged by walking on it (old, slate, ceramic, etc.), or the outdoor conditions (rain, snow, ice, or wind) create a dangerous safety issue, we will not access the roof. In most cases we can get some good information on the roof surface using the zoom function with our camera. If you or insurance coverage requires a roof inspection, most roofing companies can be hired to perform the inspection (some free and some for a fee). Note that about 50% of home inspectors do not inspect a roof by physically climbing and walking on it. Unfortunately, the DC region is a restricted air flight zone, so using a drone to inspect the exterior of a home is prohibited without the approval of a special flight permit.