One of the most compelling reasons to always hire a home inspector before you purchase a home is to have professional help spotting symptoms of structural damage. We say symptoms, as opposed to conclusive evidence, because a home inspector doing a general inspection really has no way of knowing exactly what is going on in hidden parts of the home that are not visible to the naked eye.
To really diagnose a structural problem – such as warped framing or a cracked foundation, for example – you have to do a much more intensive investigation that may be rather invasive. You might have to dig up the ground around the home’s foundation, for instance, or open up walls that are covered with sheetrock.
But that in no way minimizes the value of what your home inspector brings to the table. He or she may spot telltale symptoms that a person without that expertise and knowledge might not even notice – and can alert you within the inspection report. Then you can take steps to have a specialist take a closer look to ascertain what is really going on with the building.
Common Signs that Might Be Flagged in the Report
Some signs are curvatures that are not normal along the walls of the home or ripples and waves in the floors. If you place a golf ball on the floor and it rolls across the room, that might mean that the house is tilted – which may be symptomatic of a shifted foundation. If the inspector mentions seeing spider web shaped cracking around window frames or doorways, that is another common symptom of a structurally unstable building.
The inspector may see visible cracks in the walls or the foundation, or could notice that an inadequate number of properly-spaced piers are holding up the house. A tree could even be growing next to the house and its roots might be pushing the slab the house sits upon up and making it buckle.
Those are just an example of some of the common signs that may be flagged in a report, and you should always ask your inspector for specific clarification if you need to know more.
Why It’s a Red Flag Issue
When a home’s skeletal system or basic architectural support system is weakened or damaged, it can be a catastrophic issue. Think of it almost in the same way that you think of an automobile with a bent frame. That’s damage that results in insurance companies considering the car “totaled.” Why? The car is basically damaged in such a fundamental way that it won’t ever drive in a straight line again. The good news for homeowners, though, is that homes, unlike vehicles, can be successfully repaired even when they have pretty serious structural issues. But that remedy may wind up costing a substantial amount of money, time, and expert labor.
What to Do Next
Review the inspection report. If there are recommendations for repairs or for a contractor to do a closer evaluation regarding issues the inspector observed, pay close attention to those. If you have questions, talk to the inspector to get clarification. Depending upon what kinds of issues were raised in the report, you should then contact the appropriate kind of qualified contractor and have them give you an estimate for remedying the situation. In some cases, if the problems are particularly serious, your inspector may recommend that you have a specially trained foundation repair contractor or a licensed building engineer diagnose the source of any possible problems.
After Receiving Repair Estimates
When selling a home you can refuse to do the repairs, which may cause the sale to fall apart when the potential buyer backs out of the deal. Or you can pay to have the repairs done to the buyer’s satisfaction and complete the transaction. The third option is to negotiate with the buyer regarding the cost of repairs and who will pay for them. Then, for example, you might deduct those costs from the sales price.
With the third option the buyer usually agrees to do the repairs themselves after they buy the home. In that case the new buyer may also want to hire a home inspector to check the work after it is done and ensure that it meets health, safety, and professional construction and repair standards. It is always prudent to have your inspector return for a follow-up inspection after you have completed any required repairs, to ensure they were done correctly.