You should hire a qualified professional home inspector when buying a home; however, it’s useful to learn the basics of home inspection yourself. Being able to see a house though an inspector’s eyes allows you to get a general assessment of a home in a short amount of time, helps you know how to prepare for an inspection, and provides guidelines for giving your home an occasional checkup.
Although this list isn’t a substitute for a professional home inspection, here are some things to look for when assessing a house.
Assess the outside
Look at the house as a whole and make sure it’s not leaning and the roof is unbowed. Walk around the house, checking for large cracks in the foundation (small cracks are ok.) Look at the roof for broken, missing, or curling shingles. Check the gutters and downspouts to make sure they aren’t clogged, broken or detached. Make sure the chimney looks straight and doesn’t have cracks or loose bricks or mortar. Look to see if the exterior surface of the house is in good condition, checking for peeling paint, missing siding, exposed wood, or cracked stucco. Check for an acceptable clearance between the ground and siding material—there should be at least six inches. The yard should be sloped away from the house allowing for proper drainage. Look for standing water or evidence of flooding. Check for termite tunnels and other evidence of infestation.
Check the hardscape
Look at driveways, sidewalks, and steps to make sure they are properly sealed and don’t present tripping hazards. Check that hand railings are securely attached. Look at decks and porches to make sure they’re structurally sound and in good condition. Check wood fences and decks for rot or termite damage and make sure gates open and lock properly. Check the outdoor lights and outlets to make sure they’re working. Make sure the automatic garage door functions properly and that it will stop for an obstacle.
Start at the top of the house
Go into the attic, if there is one, and make sure that there is enough insulation and that it’s in good shape. Look for proper venting and no water damage. Check ceilings and walls throughout the house for water marks, soft spots, or other signs of leaking. Don’t forget to check around skylights for evidence of leaks.
Check windows, doors and floors
Inspect windows and doors looking for gaps, improper sealing, and dry rot. Check to see that they sit square in their frames (misaligned frames can indicate a shifting foundation.) Open and close doors and windows to make sure they fit properly and don’t stick. Check that locks and latches work, sliding doors slide smoothly, and that windows aren’t painted shut. Look for broken windows or missing or damaged screens. Check to see that floors appear level and are in good condition without missing tiles, bowed wood or torn carpeting.
Assess the bathrooms
Turn on the water and let it run for a few minutes to make sure the drains are working properly in sinks, showers and tubs. Flush toilets to see if the water pressure changes or there are unusual noises. Make sure toilet and sinks are securely fastened. Open the cabinetry under sinks, checking for water damage and making sure doors work properly. Check the condition of the grout and caulking. Turn on the fan, making sure it works and vents outside. Check for signs of a poor ventilation like mildew, mold, peeling paint or wallpaper or a musty smell.
Look at the electrical system
Check the electrical system for obvious problems like frayed wires, overloaded outlets, and exposed wiring. Take the cover plate off the service panel and check for burned wiring, wiring that is too large or too small, improperly connected or spliced wires, or wiring that was not professionally installed. Make sure Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) are installed near wet or damp locations. Check to make sure that outlets are working and updated, they have coverplates and that there are enough of them in each room. Make sure lights and fans work.
Check the kitchen and laundry areas
Make sure the cabinet doors and drawers work and that they’re in good condition. Run water in the sink for a few minutes to make sure it drains properly. Look under the sink for evidence of leaky pipes. Run all the appliances, including garbage disposals, trash compactors, built-in ovens, ice makers and microwaves, to make sure they work. Make sure the kitchen exhaust fan works and vents to the outside. Run the dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer for a cycle, checking to see that they work, that doors seal properly and there are no leaks or strange noises. Check to make sure that dryer vents outside and that the vent isn’t blocked.
Look at the heating and cooling system
Turn on the units to make sure they’re working properly and that there’s good airflow. Check for dirty or missing filters and whether the ducts are in good shape. Check for problems like odd noises, rusty parts, a gas odor, worn wiring or blocked coils.
Give the house a final walkthrough
Check stairs to make sure they’re level and safe and that railings are securely attached. Look inside the fireplace for cracks and make sure the damper is working. Check the water heater to make sure it’s functioning properly, anchored and free of rusted or broken parts. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they’re working and not painted over.