Tuesday, March 27, 2018


Let’s face it – in the context of all the hopes, aspirations and emotion that goes into buying a new home, there’s one day that has the potential to undermine the whole thing.    

Inspection day.

Not always, but often enough that it is worthwhile to psychologically prepare for the ups and downs that emanate from inspection day.

Here’s the backstory.  After weeks, months or years of discussion, you’ve decided you want to buy a new home.  Then, after weeks, months or (sometimes in the current Denver market) years of looking at homes and writing offers, you found “the one”.  And then even managed to get your offer accepted.

There’s joy.  There’s excitement.  And there might even by that nervous niggle known as buyer’s remorse.  Should you really have outbid (insert number here) other buyers to get this home under contract?  It’s one bedroom short of what you wanted.  It’s on a busy corner.  It’s too far from work.  There could have been a past water leak which might have resulted in a deadly mold colony forming on the backside of the basement walls which will trigger respiratory issues in your pets and eventual death for your children. 

Deep breath.

We get it.  There’s a lot that goes into buying a home.  And part of this process, like life itself, requires that you eventually master your own emotions.

So inspection day arrives.  You show up at the home and meet the inspector.  Perhaps you’re testing for radon as well.  Or getting the sewer line scoped.  Or checking to see if there’s asbestos in the popcorn ceiling.

There’s a lot riding on the inspection, and it is important. 

But know this… in 23 years and more than 500 inspections, I’ve never had a home without at least a few inspection issues.  In fact, the most “perfect” home I ever sold came with three correctable items.  (Back in the foreclosure era, for comparison, I’ve had homes with as many as 70 items called out on an inspection report - gulp.) 

Every home is different.  Some have a history of being extremely well cared for.  Some, unfortunately, have a history of being neglected.  But in all this history of building homes, the “perfect” home has yet to be built.

There are some common, basic items that come up on almost every resale home.  Here’s a quick summary of what to expect when you're inspecting: 

HVAC – It’s never a bad idea to have the furnace and AC units cleaned, serviced and certified, especially if they are more than five years old. 

ROOF – If a roof is more than 10 years old, it’s common to have a few torn shingles or other minor maintenance items.  If the roof is older, ask for a certification.  If it’s more than 20 years old, it needs to be replaced. 

SEWER LINE – Prior to the late 1980s, sewer lines were almost always clay pipe laid in 3 to 5 foot segments, sleeved together with rubber joints.  These lines were designed to shift and move with routine ground settlement.  Root intrusion is not uncommon, nor is it the end of the world if your line has a hairline crack (or two). But if the line has a significant break or bellies where it is supposed to be flowing, you’ve got a legitimate concern.

FOUNDATION – Basement slabs are usually independent from a foundation.  The foundation is the square that the home rests upon.  The slab that makes up the basement floor is simply concrete poured over dirt.  Cracks in the basement slab are usually not a big deal, as long as they are less than one-quarter inch and there’s no evidence of water penetration.  Cracks in the foundation wall can be a bigger concern, and evidence of water coming in through the walls can be a significant warning sign.  Again, most home inspectors will consider cracks of less than one-quarter inch to be normal.  Cracks larger than this warrant further investigation and evaluation.

ELECTRICAL – For newer homes, the questions around electrical usually center around whether or not the builder (or original owner) installed an electric panel sized sufficiently for the home.  In older homes, there can be a host of electrical concerns, including whether the panel is sufficiently sized, whether outlets are grounded and whether or not the original manufacturer is still in business.  Federal Pacific, Zinsco and Stab-Lok are all manufacturers who were sued out of existence for faulty panels.  If your breakers don’t trip when they are overloaded, you have a problem. 

DRAINAGE – As my primary home inspector has me saying in my sleep, “water is the enemy of houses”.  You don’t want water running toward the foundation, or pooling against it.  Grading is usually an easy fix, as long as there is not existing damage that has already occurred.

PLUMBING – Polybutylene plumbing was manufactured for a short period of time by the Shell Oil company in the late 1980s.  Branded as “the pluming of the future”, it was significantly cheaper than copper and used by builders all over the country… until it was discovered that this plumbing material reacts badly with the mineral content in tap water and literally corrodes from the inside out.  There are only a small handful of subdivisions in Denver where polybutylene is known to exist (Powderhorn, we’re calling you out), but homeowners need to think twice about buying a home with plumbing that is pretty much guaranteed to fail at some point.

SMOKE/CO DETECTORS – These should be on every level of your home, and they should work.  Having said that, about half of the homes I have inspected have faulty or failing smoke detectors or lack CO detectors altogether.  Easy to fix, but commonly ignored. 

BROKEN WINDOW SEALS – For windows manufactured more than 10 years ago, and especially those that are south or west facing, clouding and broken seals are extremely common.  In simplest terms, these windows have two panes of glass, separated by a thin rubber seal around the perimeter.  Over time, and especially when exposed to intense sun, these rubber seals can deteriorate.  At that point, moisture gets in, the glass fogs, and the window has effectively “lost its seal”.  This is generally a cosmetic issue.  Sometimes we simply tolerate it, but other times you may have to have one or both panes of glass replaced to fix the issue.

CRACKED CONCRETE – Again, wisdom from my longtime home inspector.  “There are only two kinds of concrete in Colorado.  Cracked concrete, and concrete that is going to crack.”  Cold weather, moisture and 100 “freeze-thaw” cycles per year pretty much guarantee that a crack or two is inevitable.  Again, is the concrete cracking (relatively easy to repair by caulking and monitoring) or heaving?  Heaving is the more serious issue, and when you find heaving, often there is an underlying water issue that must be addressed. 

RADON – Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that is caused by the breakdown of uranium in the soil.  Unfortunately for us, in Colorado, radon is a common occurrence.  Radon is almost always concentrated in “below grade” areas like basements, in part because it is heavier than air and sinks to the lowest point in a home.  As uranium breaks down in the soil around the foundation, the gas that is released works its way through cracks, windows and other openings where it accumulates and sinks.  When testing for radon, inspectors will leave monitoring equipment in the basement (or lowest living area of a home) and results will be calibrated over 48 – 72 hours.  If the reading comes back at 4.0 pCi/L, the EPA recommends that the radon be mitigated.  Fortunately, if your home does test high for radon, mitigation is fairly easy.  A certified radon mitigation company can either modify the sump or drill a separate collection chamber underneath the floor, which is then sealed off with a vent pipe extending from the collection pit to the exterior of the home.  There is a fan inside the pipe that pulls air and gas from underneath the floor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and these systems have proven to be about 98% effective in reducing radon levels down below the EPA threshold of 4.0 pCi/L.

This is not a comprehensive list of all inspection items you may run across.  But it touches on most of the common ones.  The important thing to keep in mind is that some issues are cosmetic, some can be corrected with proactive measures, and some are flashing red warning lights that should not be ignored. 

The job of your home inspector is not to tell you whether or not to buy a home.  That decision is yours.  The home inspector’s job is to find and identify every potential concern that could affect the health, safety, livability or resale value of your home.  We then work together to make sure you have enough information to make an informed decision. 

As I said at the start of this post, inspection day can be a day of emotional swings.  If you know this before your inspection begins, you’ll be better prepared to think logically and rationally through the process. 

The good news is… inspections are done for your benefit, not your detriment.  Hiring a qualified, competent home inspector is a good use of time and resources.

And who knows?  Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be that first client who finds and buys a truly flawless home!