Home Appraisals vs. Home Inspections

When you buy a used car, do you take it for a test drive around town? Do you ask about maintenance and any recall notices? Of course you do! You may even take it to your mechanic for a once-over, to make sure the vehicle is in good shape and safe to drive.

So, who do you call when you’re buying a “used house”?

Think about it like this: you are getting a home that has been lived in, and possibly modified, by one or more families over the years. Most buyers ask about basic things, like the age of the roof and the appliances, but what about the things you can’t see? Electrical wiring, and plumbing are hidden in the walls. You can usually see the HVAC system, but what about the ductwork? Are there any additions or remodels, and were they done by a licensed contractor, or a by handy spouse or neighbor? All of these may have hidden issues that could lead to expensive repairs.

“But I have an appraisal. Isn’t that good enough?”

The appraiser works for the bank to determine the value of the house and property on which it sits. They look at the “features” of the house – things like the size and number of rooms, and cosmetic updates in the kitchen and bathrooms. Is there a detached or attached garage? Are there outdoor living spaces like decks or pools? They take this information and compare it to the other houses in the neighborhood, to generate a fair market price. They may note obvious things that would detract from the value, but they don’t look for those hidden conditions that may exist. Their report often reads like the real estate listing – “4 bedrooms, 2 baths, updated kitchen and bathrooms with granite countertops, 2-car garage” – and will include measurements or square footage, and photos of each room.

A licensed home inspector works for you, the buyer. They have been trained and certified on the systems of the house, and they know how to look for potential problems. While the appraiser may view the roof from the street, an inspector is going to check the roof thoroughly, from above and below. (Many inspectors even use drones to take pictures or video of the roof.) They will start with the outside, checking things like the condition of the foundation, windows, siding, exterior lighting and outlets, etc. Inside, they inspect the conditions of each room, looking for any damage to the walls or floors. Do the windows function properly? Are the outlets and lights in good working order? Does the heat or air conditioning function well? They check the plumbing in the kitchen and bathrooms, flushing toilets and running water at each tap. They may use an infrared camera or other device to check for water damage in the walls. In the attic, they may inspect ductwork or look for signs of water damage to the underside of the roof decking. In the crawlspace, they’ll check plumbing, ductwork, floor joists and systems.

This type of thorough inspection generates a detailed report, usually broken out by room or area, of what’s okay, what is recommended for further review by a licensed contractor, and what needs to be repaired immediately. While some of the recommended items may not be a deal-breaker, it is very important to know about issues that could hit you hard in the wallet once you own the home.

While placing a section of gutter under a leaking drain is certainly inventive, it’s not a solution to the problem.

Checking moisture levels in the attic.

Water damaged wood in the crawlspace.

Water damaged insulation in the crawlspace.

If you have any concerns about the property you’re considering, hire a certified home inspector. The peace of mind is invaluable. Ask us for a referral!

Photos courtesy of Chris Polantz, Redtail Building Services