Ask An Agent: What Are Serious Red Flags During Home Inspection?

by Mark Wellborn


In this week’s installment of Ask An Agent, a reader inquires about what findings from a home inspection should prove to be deal-breakers for the buyer. Coldwell Banker’s David Bediz offers up some insight.

Question: What findings from a home inspection should raise serious red flags? I am looking to buy a fixer-upper, so I expect that there will be a number of issues with the house. What are the things that, if they come up, I should run from the deal because they are going to be too much hassle to fix or are indicative of larger issues with the home?

Answer: Home inspections can be extremely important, especially in the purchase of a single family home where, frankly, a lot can go wrong. However, it’s important to realize that any home inspection is the result of opinion, speculation and obviously some facts. Most home inspection items can be remedied easily and cheaply, so it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker to have a laundry list of items to repair. However, it is important to know the gravity of any specific findings.

I usually advise my clients that the biggest unknown items in terms of the extent of the defect and the costs of remediation are the following:

  • Structural damage (usually determined by noting cracks in plaster, visibly shifted floors, doors, or windows; visibly shifted brick on the exterior, etc.) may require underpinning to the tune of $25,000-250,000;
  • Water intrusion and grading problems (usually noted with visible water stains, visible presence or odor of mold or mildew, measurable dampness on walls or floors, evidence of rot, insect damage, etc.) can be especially worrisome because water is very hard to control and a sump pump or other remedy is never guaranteed to resolve the issue;
  • Insect infestation or damage (noted by visible trails in joists or floors, weak wooden members or even visible insects) is problematic because preventative treatment may not remedy significant structural damage that may be hidden behind walls or under floors;
  • Roof issues (noted by visible water or stains present, visibly old and decaying shingles, visibly rotted rafters etc.) can result in high replacement costs;
  • Windows (visibly old and/or non-functional, not double-paned or double-paned but with condensation visible trapped in panes, etc.) can be very expensive to replace (think at least $500 per window, in some cases up to $5000);

There are many other items that can be expensive but those listed above tend to have the biggest potential for high repair costs, and often require a second, specialized inspection to completely assess the cost of remediation. Again, the presence of an inspection issue like those listed above is not necessarily a deal-breaker (it just could be a big problem), so it’s important to try to get the whole picture before deciding to move forward.

In a condo or cooperative unit, a home inspection is mainly for the appliances and HVAC system (if present) since the condo/co-op board is responsible for most of the bigger ticket items like those above. It’s still important to gauge the overall health of any building you’re buying into because even if the board pays for a repair, you’ll end up paying part of it yourself in the end.

See other articles related to: dclofts, ask an agent

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/ask_an_agent_what_are_serious_red_flags_during_home_inspection/1227


  1. Brandon Green said at 4:42 pm on Wednesday August 12, 2009:

    Roofs definitely—those can be costly problems.

  1. Jim Reppond said at 9:25 am on Thursday August 13, 2009:

    Hi David! I hope Mark and Malcolm are getting settled back in DC. They are great clients, BTW.

    As you might imagine, we have lots of water and moisture related issues in older homes here in Seattle. grin

    I just got through an inspection last week where my Buyer client did an inspection of an older home here in Seattle where there had been water and mold damage in the basement. The listing agent said “We’ve taken care of this issue”. But upon further inspection, all they did was remove and replace the rotting carpet and wood. Without some kind of abatement or waterproofing it’s likely that it will just happen again. My buyers ended up walking away from the home.

    There are waterproofing companies that offer warranties and do a great job of creating proper drainage and sealing basements, but it’s pricey. Owners should make sure any warranty transferable.


  1. miriam said at 9:51 am on Thursday August 13, 2009:

    This is very helpful. I am currently in the process of diving into the home search, so knowing what to look out for during inspections is crucial.

  1. pat said at 10:55 am on Thursday August 13, 2009:

    Not all condos take care of some of those big ticket items. My unit needs new windows because the seller didn’t replace them like my inspector suggested but the seller did put new windows in my neighbor’s unit across the hall.  I have to purchase the new windows for my unit not the condo association.

  1. John said at 11:30 am on Thursday August 13, 2009:

    My wife and I recently had a home inspected in Takoma Park, MD.  The house had many problems but our inspector was excellent in finding, and explaining, all of the problems.  We highly recommend him.  Glen Blanc of http://www.pro-spex.com is absolutely excellent!

  1. Katie Wethman said at 2:40 pm on Tuesday August 18, 2009:

    This is an excellent list.  If it were to be expanded, I would throw HVAC issues/age on there,too. Replacement cost can easily run into the thousands of dollars and the remaining useful life can vary widely depending on how well the system was maintained. Even if the system is working fine, you may wish to negotiate a credit towards future replacement if it’s a very old system or has not been serviced.

  1. home inspection sparta said at 3:12 pm on Monday September 28, 2009:

    Excellent list. I will bookmark your site.

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