What Do Home Inspectors Look For? Expert Realtors Weigh In

Posted on Jan 20, 2023


Home inspections are an integral part of the homebuying process. Hundreds of buyers opted out of the inspection contingency during the low-interest rate, hyper-competitive market of 2021 - and many have since regretted their decision due to pricey, undisclosed issues that arose.

Ditching the home inspection is a huge risk for buyers, because sellers aren’t always aware of the issues with their homes. If your roof needs to be replaced, or your foundation has shifted and needs to be stabilized, these are problems that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on severity.

Still not convinced?

We’ve talked to several experienced Realtors about the worst and most surprising things they’ve encountered in home inspections. Here’s what they had to say.

The most common home inspection issues

As we’ve covered in Things That Fail a Home Inspection, some of the major issues that come up in home inspections involve roofing, plumbing, windows, electrical wiring, and air conditioning/HVAC.

Here’s what two expert agents experienced firsthand.

Plumbing Fiasco

One thing you don't want connected right to your toilet? Your bathtub.

“An inspector flushed the toilet that contained the blue tab in the tank - the water in the toilet turned blue - and then the blue water immediately came up in the basin of the shower next to it,” recalls Maryland-based Realtor Paul Johnson. "This, needless to say, dissuaded the buyers from putting an offer on the property."

Missing Roof

If you see that a house has new appliances, new roof, new HVAC, you might assume everything is good to go. But mistakes happen...

"The sellers replaced the roof 6 months prior to us putting an offer on the house [so it should have been new]. But when the inspector went inside the attic, the sheeting underneath the shingles was  discontinued and withering away," recalls North Virginia-based Realtor Artie Korangy. "That roof was not stable. When we brought that up, the roofing contractor admitted to the seller that they never went in the attic; they just replaced the shingles. The seller replaced not only the shingles but the sheeting. It was a huge cost to the seller, but I don’t think they had much of a choice."

When home inspections reveal expensive problems

Sometimes the home inspection can feel like a burdensome fee when there’s already so much else to pay for. This feels especially true if you’re considering whether or not to add on chimney, insect, sewer, and/or radon testing, which can increase the cost of the overall inspection.

So exactly how much is a home inspection? According to Bankrate, an average home inspection for a single family home will cost between $300 and $500 — the current national average is $341. It’s usually less expensive to add on other services - a termite inspection, for example, will probably add about $100 to your total.

However, an inspection helps uncover problems that could cost you way more money down the line. Here’s a few examples of what our agents have encountered:

“A tile roof replacement for $65,000 was the worst thing I’ve encountered,” says Tampa-based Realtor Daniel Robinson. (Related: roofs in Florida wear down more quickly due to constant precipitation)

“One of the most expensive problems was the lack of heating vents put into a basement, while other vents throughout the basement didn't work. The whole venting system had to be re-assessed by taking down the ceiling and adding a new vent and ensuring sufficient air was being pumped throughout the system,” remembers Paul. “The upgraded system was anticipated to cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.”

“One of the worst homes had termites…. they touched the ceiling and sawdust started falling. It was really, really bad and they were active, they were flying around. The client walked away from that deal,” recalls Philadelphia-based Realtor Chad Eason. 

The problem was severe enough that the buyer didn’t bother requesting an estimate for repairs, but Angi estimates the average cost of repairing severe termite damage is from $3,000 to $6,000. However, Mike Dukes of TermiteMD says that he’s “seen repair of termite damage bills as high as $125,000” in extreme cases.

The hidden problems home inspectors look for

Home inspectors are focused on identifying issues in visible, accessible parts of the home. These issues can impact livability (such as nonfunctional electrical outlets) as well as safety (like an improperly installed stair banister).

Home inspectors often notice things that potential home buyers are completely unaware of. And this applies to new builds as well as existing homes. Errors during the building process can lead to leaks, miswirings, and more. 

Here’s a few examples of problems clients may have missed, but inspectors noticed immediately.

Shifty Business

Most buyers look to avoid homes with foundation issues.

“Somebody bought a house that had moved - it had settled, the foundation broke because of where they built it and how it was built. It had been on the market for 2-3 years. The buyers loved this house and where it was - I tried to convince them not to buy it,” remembers Chad. “None of the doors shut properly, none of the windows closed completely - in the whole house.” (improperly closing doors and windows are a classic sign of major foundation problems)

Ultimately, the clients did end up buying the home due to its ideal location. Regardless of how extreme the issues are that the inspection uncovers, it's the buyer's choice as to what they can or cannot handle - and that can be subjective. 

Flipping Nightmare

Flipped homes often have a glossy, catalogue-esque look to them that can be catnip to buyers. Some home flippers, though, are more concerned with making money than ensuring a home's stability.

"A recently flipped house had been completely renovated with a new kitchen, new bathrooms, new floors, etc. - it looked like a really nice house. However, after the home inspector started looking deeper into the workmanship of the contractors, they found that the workmanship was done very poorly or incorrectly, as if the contractors were not licensed and did not know what they were doing," recalls Paul. 

"The kitchen faucet, when turned on, had a running waterfall leading from the faucet down into the basement, leaving a puddle in the basement and wet walls with water coming out of outlets. Very dangerous situation. Other issues included windows that fell down when opened or were cracked... the deck had joist beams that were completely compromised (cut rending them very weak) and never reinforced properly; the chimney had a huge hole in it and was at risk of falling down; the hot water heater was not installed correctly; and the roof had several questionable patches placed on it throughout. Needless to say, the flippers cut as many corners as they could and were not qualified contractors."

Don't look in the crawl space

DIY projects are fun, but not when they're projects that you're required to have a permit for and don't.

"I had a client walk away because a home where the original owner dug out a crawl space without a permit (back in the 50s) where the water heater was installed incorrectly and was a major fire hazard," says North Virginia-based Realtor Muoki Musau. "The current owner also built a carport by himself without a permit during the pandemic shutdown because he had nothing else to do and was bored."

Having an experienced agent on your side is key for avoiding homes with DIY disasters.

Get in touch with one today

Expect to encounter common home inspection issues with every home inspection

Reading through the list of things that can go wrong with an inspection can feel alarm. However, there is no such thing as a perfect inspection. Every inspection will turn up issues - some inspection reports will be several pages long, while others will be dozens of pages long. This is true for old homes and new builds alike.

"Every time I get a client under agreement and we order the inspection, I tell them: Hey, entropy is real and things are breaking down. You’re getting an inspection to see which things are breaking down and/or if it’s too much. Can you manage it? If you can't, we can walk away. If you can, let’s try and get something from the seller," explains Chad. "But keep in mind, you are paying to find problems so do not be surprised when you find problems. This is when you take the rose-colored glasses off."

When asked about what sort of problems are most likely to tank a deal, the Realtors agreed that structural issues and "water in the wrong places" issues tend to be the top reasons for buyers pulling out, but ultimately it depends on the buyer. Some buyers are fine with taking on a major roof issue so long as it's getting repaired; other buyers balk at having to re-paint the downstairs.

"Usually, it's not just one issue that tanks a deal. It's either that the buyer gets cold feet, or the home simply has too many issues and the buyers get spooked and decide to walk away," notes Daniel. "The only other issue that really comes to mind is when the seller feels they don't need to entertain the buyer's requests to fix or replace anything, so the buyer backs out because they feel they can't work with, or no longer want to work with the seller."  

So sellers, listen up: sometimes it truly pays to be a little flexible!

Further Resources:

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