How to Spend Money Wisely » Real Estate

What to look for with a home inspection

I have a guilty habit – I love watching HGTV. It doesn’t matter if it is Kitchen Cousins or PropertyVirgins if I happen to come across a show on HGTV, I’m going to get stuck watching it. One of the first shows that I started to love was Holmes on Homes. It was incredibly amusing to watch a big burly guy get so upset at jobs done incorrectly, and then do everything that he could in order to make it right for the customer. I don’t always agree with his design choices, but at least you know that what he builds will last forever. Holmes then, of course, has expanded to Holmes Inspection, where the client did get a house inspection but the inspector missed major issues that caused the family grief. Even with the risk of getting a crappy inspector, when my wife and I started to house hunt we knew we would end up paying for a home inspection.
Home inspections can cost quite a bit of money. Ours cost just over $400, which isn’t something I’d like to throw around at multiple houses. However, home inspections will provide you with the knowledge of the potential issues your home could have. Looking at some of the potential downfalls from missing a major issue as portrayed on TV, I don’t think it would be a wise idea to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home that you weren’t willing to pay a couple hundred bucks to check out in advance. Of course, wait until you have an accepted offer on the home before you hire a home inspector (make the offer subject to the home inspection). You wouldn’t want to pay for a home inspection on a house you may not get a chance to purchase.
Here are three things to bring up with your home inspector when you’re buying a home.

Structural issues

Go over with the home inspector as much of the home’s structure as possible. Start with the exterior walls and check for water damage or anything that looks “odd”. Check on any cracks or breaks in the walls to see if there’s something above the crack that is causing it to start to fail. On our home inspection, the basement back door has too much weight of the deck on it, and it has started to crack around the frame. We’ll need to address that issue once we move into the home. Then start with the basement and go over where all the walls are in the home and whether they are supported. If you notice any bumps in the floor, ask what might have caused that, and if there is anything that needs to be done to address it.

Proper airflow

One of the most common issues a home can have is improper venting. Starting in the attic, the house needs to have venting to the outside – the insulation should not be covering up those airways to the outside of the home. Anything that is attempting to exhaust – bathroom fan, clothes dryer, range hood, etc, needs to have a direct path outside. Make sure you can find those exits on the outside of the home for every device – you wouldn’t want your clothes dryer to start exhausting lint into the walls of your house. Ask the inspector if there is proper venting in the home, and check for signs of mold,condensation, and water, as those will give you an idea as to whether you may have an airflow issue.

Renovation permits

Every home will eventually need updating. The house that we want to purchase appears to have been part of a time warp right back to the late 70s, so we know that there will need to be some work put into the house. Partially we want to do some work to make it more functional for how we will use the space, and the other part is that it is just plain ugly. If the home that you are looking to purchase appears to has been updated significantly since it was built, you may want to confirm that the work done was done properly. Ask your home inspector if the work that was done would have required a building permit. Painting and trim work most likely would not need one, but if layout, structure, or electrical was touched, a permit should have been pulled. One way to check for that is by asking your city to see if the work done was registered with them. It will tell you a lot about the work that was put into the house.
As you go through the home inspection, ask tons of questions about things you see, things you don’t understand, and things you want to know more about. Your home inspector will either be able to answer your question, or direct you to where you need to go in order to learn about that issue. Even if you are in a crazy market where there are multiple offers for a home, don’t give up the ability to get a home inspector to walk through the home – it may be one of the most costly mistakes of your life.


  1. Glenn Cooke

    Mike Holmes is right though. Lots of home inspectors don’t know what they’re doing. We had a home inspector screw up a deal on family member’s house. They pointed out scary but non-existent problems, and completely missed obvious but large problems.

    They wrote up the furnace as having problems. We had a furnace inspector come in and tell us there weren’t any problems other than a bit of surface rust on one component which was normal and didn’t affect performance. The inspector was basically wrong – but they scared the purchaser away.

    On the other hand, the house had a maze of bizarre electrical rigging. For example, an electrical cord plugged into an outlet in one room, run through a wall powering a light switch to run a light in another room. The inspector didn’t even mention that one. How can you miss an electrical cord disappearing into the wall in one room, and an electrical cord poking out of the wall in another room?

    Home inspections are nice, but IMO only as a second opinion. take them with a grain of salt.

  2. Money Beagle

    Two things that you didn’t mention that can have huge financial impacts are pests and water. Any signs of current or past damaged should be looked for and pointed out by the inspector.

  3. krantcents

    t is real simple, you are trying to uncover the expensive surprises. It may be the AC/heating unit that is on its last legs or a dishwasher.

  4. Buy Baby Girls Layette

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  5. Cliff Stevenson

    I like this article because it is touching on major issues – and not focusing on the minor issues that may come up. I’ve been through hundreds of inspections, and always communicate to my clients that they should be looking for the ‘show-stopping’ issues. Structural issues, improper airflow, and lack of permits for development could indicate serious issues (or at least expensive ones). The door sticking or the dented downspout are not going to prevent you from buying a home.

  6. NSDaddy

    We bought our first home in Feb. of this year. Our “home inspector” was my father-in-law. He’s been a carpenter/contractor for over 30 years, so he was cheaper and more thorough than any “professional” we could have found.

    I don’t know about other provinces, but in Nova Scotia anyone can call themselves a “home inspector” with zero training.

    My advice would be to hire an experienced contractor who you’ve worked with before and can trust. Pay him his hourly rate to go through the home with you. They know far more about houses than any “home inspector” around here ever will.

  7. Craig Adams

    Great article Alan. Some good comments too.

    I am a home inspector for St. Catharines, Ontario based Maple Trust Inspections.

    You are absolutely right about structural defects and airflow being very important factors in a home inspection.

    And the comment about the extension cord running through the wall…definitely a sign of a DIY job.

    While I don’t have the ability to tell if a home renovation project was done without a permit, I often call out work that appears amateur. Buyers don’t often check with the city for past permits, and it’s amazing how much amateur work is out there.

    I love how you added this home inspection blog entry to your Canadian Finance blog. While paying off debt needs to rank highly in every Canadian’s financial plan, maintaining their home’s infrastructure, can help them avoid unnecessary costs.

    Craig Adams
    InterNACHI Certified Home Inspector
    Maple Trust Inspections

  8. Enrique Adame | Downspout Extensions

    This is a very good article for people looking into buying a new house. It’s very logical to make sure you have an accepted offer before spending money for a home inspection otherwise you’re just throwing away money. Definitely a good read and very helpful.

  9. Jennifer

    After 2 home purchases, on my third, I decided that I was not wasting my money on a home inspector again. That time, I brought in an electrician, a carpenter, a plumber, and a roofer, all with decades of experience, and asked them to go through the house with a fine tooth comb. Then I asked them to answer my question: “would you buy this home?” Only with confidence from all 4 did I move forward with the purchase. Unfortunately here in Nova Scotia the standards for becoming a home inspector are not high enough and I had substandard results in the past. My “new” approach costs less and gets way better results.

    • Dave G

      Jennifer – Fantastic idea and way to think outside of normal, accepted house buying box. I am all for saving money where you can, especially when you get a better result. I wonder if it makes sense to add a structural engineer or may be license contractor to your dream team, to look at the foundation and structure.

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