What is A Home Inspection

Adam Grate from Enlighten Home Inspections emerges from a tight crawl space. Inspectors examine even hard-to-access places, gauging the current state and future maintenance needs of a home. Courtesy: Enlighten Home Inspections

In March, my husband and I bought a house. Though it was sparkling clean, and looked to be in great shape, it was more than a hundred years old. So, before we laid down hundreds of thousands of dollars, we wanted to know: what lies beneath the skin of this 100-year-old blue monster?

What is a Home Inspection
Home inspections are generally conducted by people preparing to buy —and sometimes, to sell— their homes. In a housing inspection, a trained person will look at the elements of your home, from the big components: the structure, the brick, the roof and systems like electrical and plumbing —all the way to smaller details like the faucets and loose tile.

The typical cost for home inspection is anywhere from $200 to $630 in DC, depending on factors like the age and size of your home. Depending on the size of the property, a good inspector can take from a couple of hours to an entire day. You can pay less if you follow the inspector and take your own notes; for a fee, they will create a full report with photos illustrating the issues outlined.

Nearly every realtor will recommend that if you want to buy a home, you get an inspection; some lenders may require it. The only exception to that requirement might be a well-maintained condo, because the risk is lower: big ticket items like windows are the responsibility of the collective.

Inspections and Offers
Heather Schoell (heatherschoell.penfedrealty.com) has been a realtor on the Hill for more than ten years. She has seen offers made quickly, sometimes far over the asking price by people fearful of losing out on their dream house if their offer is not attractive enough. A pre-offer inspection can reassure the seller, removing one reason why a buyer might back out of the deal or renegotiate a price, Schoell said.

But in a seller’s market, it might not be enough to tip the scales. You can spend hundreds on an inspection and still not get the house. That can add up, Schoell said. ”That money is just gone,” Schoell said.

A post-offer inspection can be used as a negotiating tool, Schoell adds. Sometimes prospective buyers will ask the seller to make repairs or to “credit” the cost of repairs against the purchase price, up to three percent of the value of the loan.

No Such Thing As Perfect
Schoell has attended hundreds of inspections and she has never seen a perfect report, she said. ”There’s always something to be improved upon.” Even in new builds, a good inspector will point to places where standards are not quite met: a water heater expander is missing a clamp; a drainage pipe is a bit shorter than recommended; caulking shows wear and should be redone.

Either way, Schoell is clear with her buyers: don’t skip the inspection. “You have to know what could be wrong with the property before you make the biggest investment you’re ever going to make,” Schoell said. “And the cost of not having an inspection could be so great,” she added.

Trusting Your Inspector
For a pre-offer inspection, you want your inspector to come quickly. Realtors often have a go-to inspection company that they trust. Most inspectors are specially trained to look out for things that other people would not think about or would not be able to identify. But general home inspectors do not require licensing in the District of Columbia. In DC, unlike Virginia and Maryland, home inspectors do not require licensing, so you will want to check if your inspector is certified, either by a state organization, or by a national organization such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).

Adam Grate has been working with Ensign Home Inspection for four years, coming off a career that started in the family construction business. He was a contractor for 15 years and said that gives him confidence that he understands the various facets of a property. He knows from experience when something was poorly built (as a teenager, he said, “I made every mistake you can make in building.”)

Water near live wires! Ensign home inspector Adam Gates crawled under the author’s kitchen sink and flagged these improperly terminated “live” wires underneath as a safety concern, recommending a licensed electrician cap the exposed wires and install a cover plate. Photo: Ensign

He also knows what it will take—and cost— to fix problems. While he’s in a home, Grate will look at the big-ticket problems for you down the road. Maybe he notices there is latex paint that’s been applied over oil without a layer of primer in between. He’ll let you know that’s going to peel as a result so you’re aware you’ll need to repaint sooner rather than later.

But he also helps people understand their home. As a former contractor, the language of home maintenance is second nature to him. He’ll translate for homeowners, not only explaining the problem with your P-valve but also defining what it is (it’s the “U” shape under your sink that traps water so sewer gases don’t escape out into your home).

Regular Home Inspection
While most people contact a home inspector as they prepare to buy, Grate said that they also do inspections for homeowners who, five or ten years after purchase, are considering doing renovations or simply want to check up on the condition of their home. An inspection of a home’s structure prior to a renovation can point to issues that might need to be dealt with, helping to set a realistic budget for a project. Similarly, Gates said, a regular inspection can point to developing concerns in a home, which will help you prioritize and save money down the line.

New and old homeowners need to balance the cost of doing a home inspection with the potential consequences of not doing it. Grate remembers the time he was hired to inspect a remodeled $4 million home in Northwest. Bending his tall frame into the back of the utility room, he found the flue had been disconnected. The furnace was pumping carbon monoxide into the house.

“That’s the kind of thing no-one is going to notice until the mail starts piling up outside,” Grate ruefully remembered.

A home inspection helps you to identify things you wouldn’t have seen, helps to prioritize your home maintenance schedule and budget, and gives you a sense of confidence about the biggest purchase you’ll likely ever make—and then, to plan for resale. It’s one way of giving your home a regular check up that won’t break the bank—but the information is invaluable.

Learn more about Enlighten Home Inspections by visiting www.enlighteninspections.com