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Why to Inspect Before You Buy

Don't be blind sided by surface appeal, homebuyers. Get a home inspector to tell you what's beneath the surface.

Buying a home is the experience of a lifetime, especially the first time around. Remember that your anticipation of moving in and anxiety over the contract negotiations can sometimes keep you from paying attention to very important details. What exactly is the home's true condition? Don't be blinded by surface appeal-- those multiple showerheads and granite countertops aren't as important as the home's plumbing, HVAC systems or structural soundness. You need a professional home inspector to give the home a good once over, before you go to closing. 

The Northern Illinois Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors is part of the national industry association devoted to promoting professionalism and strong standards in the home inspection field. Many of the ailments found by inspectors in Illinois are representative of problems found nationwide. This list by NICASHI gives every potential homebuyer a basic lesson on what kinds of systems can fail.

Problems with roofing, due to aging, wear, or improper installation, are likely to be found in the majority of homes. The good news is roof problems are frequently cured with a repair job, not replacement. Roof problems can be accompanied by ceiling stains but it's hard to know if they're caused by current or old roof leaks. If you have the opportunity to inspect or do your walkthrough on a rainy day, do it.

Water or moisture problems in basements or crawlspaces due to ground water conditions or faulty drainage can be pervasive. Don't take this problem lightly. Although the solution can be as straightforward as regrading the exterior grounds or adding roof gutters, the damage if not corrected can be extensive. As a homebuyer or seller, your worst scenario will be major drainage improvements such as installing french drains.

Electrical safety hazards frequently pop up in home inspections due to ungrounded outlets, lack of ground fault interrupters (shock protection devices), and faulty wiring conditions in electrical panels or elsewhere in a building. The cost and work involved depend on the extent of the problems.

Structural damage from rotted wood at building exteriors and at plumbing fixtures can happen in areas where wood remains wet for long periods, e.g. roof eaves, exterior trim, decks, around tubs and showers, or below loose toilets. Again, a pound of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If the former owner let the problem fester, there could be major damage from fungus infection commonly known as dry rot.

Unsafe fireplace and chimney conditions, faulty installation of water heaters, and hazardous conditions involving gas heaters all create serious health and safety problems. Make sure your inspector or chimney sweep gives the chimney and heating systems a thorough look. Firewall violations occur in garages where fire-resistant construction is missing from walls and doors that separate a garage from a dwelling.

Before you hire someone, ask to see a sample copy of the inspection report.  Look for a narrative description that fully explains each problem-- a check-off box with Good, Fair and Poor isn't good enough! Every inspection should cover all the major systems, including plumbing, electrical, heating, and cooling; the structural condition, including the roof; and the electrical system.

The next critical step is making sure you know what's covered by the home inspection. When you receive the report, make sure you actually read it. If you don't understand something, get your inspector to explain it. Don't let unanswered questions come back to haunt you on move-in day.

Sources used to create this article include the Chicago Tribune and Northern Illinois Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors.