- Prospective homeowners should be proactive in ensuring that they know what they’re getting.
- A house that appears newly renovated does not necessarily have an up-to-date electrical system.
- Two home inspectors shared tips with Insider to help homebuyers make informed decisions.
The decision to buy a new home is not one to be taken lightly. Certified financial planner Colin Moynahan told Insider in 2019 that the cost of a home amounts to one of the “top single expenses [a person] will ever pay.”
This has only grown more true over time — according to CBS News, the median cost of a home hit record highs by the middle of 2022, exceeding $400,000. Because of the hefty costs associated with homeownership, it is imperative that prospective homebuyers do their due diligence to ensure that a property is worth the investment.
Insider spoke to Ralph Hassard, founder and owner of Criterion Home Inspections in New York City, and James “Jad” Porter, owner of Access Home Inspections in Indianapolis, Indiana. The two experts shared tips to help prospective homebuyers make informed decisions.
1. Be skeptical of renovations and ask for receipts
Homebuyers shouldn’t be fooled by a property’s glossy, refurbished look.
“What I try to look out for and protect people from is if they think the house is one thing and it’s really another,” Hassard said, explaining that developers often simply “fluff up the house,” presenting it as fully renovated when the changes are purely cosmetic
“Some of [the wiring] can be 50, 60 years old,” he said, “but they’ll have new appliances, new fixtures, and new finishes everywhere.”
“If possible, see any kind of receipts of any work that’s been done,” which can include past invoices, Hassard said. “Because a lot of the time people will say, ‘We did all these things,’ and as an inspector I can’t really tell what’s inside the walls.”
2. Ask about the legality of renovations
When it comes to a newly renovated home, Hassard said prospective buyers should be asking sellers about the status of the permits.
“There are a lot of houses that have a lot of violations, construction work that was never authorized,” he told Insider. Because of this, “[buyers can end up] buying a house that may have an illegal bedroom or an illegal addition that can cause a lot of trouble.”
A homeowner assumes all liability for unauthorized refurbishments, according to Rocket Mortgage. Depending on the issue and your location, owners of a property with illegal renovations may have to make additional renovations to fix the issue, can face fines of up to $5,000, or could be sued by their city.
3. When it comes to electricity, think about safety
It is important that homebuyers make certain that their home inspector checks for signs of unsafe living conditions, especially as it relates to the home’s mechanical system.
“I’ve seen families come in all ready to pick out paint colors and move in with their kids,” he said, “and I’m looking around and I just see that the whole mechanical system is outdated.”
Specifically, Hassard warns of knob-and-tube wiring, an old wiring system that runs copper wiring through porcelain cylinders, which are often attached to a home’s wooden beams. It does not have a ground wire, and it can become dangerous if not properly maintained.
“There are a lot of older homes in [the US] that were electrified back in the ’30s and ’40s when something called knob-and-tube wiring was still used. Talk to any fireman and they’ll tell you that if there’s knob-and-tube wiring in the house, it’s just waiting to burn down,” Hassard said.
4. Look for water damage
The biggest problems James Porter finds are structural issues caused by water.
“Water is the home’s enemy,” he told Insider.
“If there’s water and moisture [in your crawl space], there’s a good chance there’s mold down there, there’s a good chance you’re going to find rot in the structure of your building,” he said, “and there’s a good chance the foundation has integrity problems.”
The importance of ensuring that a home has been waterproofed properly cannot be overstated.
5. Even the smallest sighting of bugs is a bad sign
Determining the severity of a bug problem is one of the more difficult processes associated with home inspection.
“It’s hard to tell the extent of [a bug infestation], because you only have limited access to how much of the structure of the house that you can see,” Hassard said.
Therefore, even a seemingly insignificant sign of a bug infestation should be taken seriously.
“If you see a section that has termites, you just don’t really know how long it’s gone on and how much damage it’s done,” Hassard said.