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10 Things That Fail a Home Inspection And How to Prevent Them

Couple reading paperwork in new house
Roberto Westbrook / Getty

A home inspection is a top-to-bottom evaluation of a home, completed by a licensed inspector. Home inspections are usually paid for by the buyer when purchasing a home. The role of the home inspector is to provide the buyer with a comprehensive report detailing problems with the home — both big and small. A buyer typically reserves the right to back out of the transaction if the home inspection fails, or they can attempt to renegotiate the price based on the cost of repairs.

A home inspector will evaluate each part of a subject property looking for electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and structural issues. Some things that fail a home inspection include anything from drainage issues in the yard to cracks in the foundation. For sellers, preparing for a home inspection can help you address some of the most common home inspection problems ahead of time.

The 10 most-common home inspection problems

Cosmetic flaws and minor repairs, like a broken window pane, for example, might come up in an inspection report. However, these small items will rarely cause a deal to unravel. It’s the costly and often hidden problems that can cause a buyer to back out or ask for money off of the contract price. Here are some of the most common things that fail a home inspection.

Problem #1: Rundown roofing

Asphalt shingle roofs last 15 to 20 years. If yours is nearing the end of its life, don’t be surprised to see it come up in the inspection report. Inspectors will call out brittle, curled, or broken shingles, and any loose flashing or leaky spots. A severely neglected roof could cost $10,000 or more to replace.

How to prevent this home inspection fail: 

Replace damaged shingles and flashing. Recaulk areas where ventilation pipes penetrate the roof.

Problem #2: Drainage issues

Surface grading around a home can cause serious drainage issues and foundation damage. Improper grading can lead to leaky basements, causing mildew and other problems. It can also create spongy soil that causes foundations to shift.

How to prevent this home inspection fail:

Add topsoil to grade the ground and create a slight 10-foot-long slope around the home. For every foot you move away from the home, the ground should slope down one inch. You should also repair or add gutters and downspouts to direct rainwater away from the foundation.

Problem #3: Faulty foundation

Foundation problems are one of the most costly issues to fix, in some cases in excess of $10,000. Signs of foundation issues include doors and windows that stick, cracks in walls above doorways, sloping floors, and L-shaped or horizontal cracks in the visible parts of the exterior foundation.

How to prevent this home inspection fail:

If you know your home has serious foundation issues, it might be best to take care of them before you sell the house, as few buyers will want to deal with the hassle of fixing a foundation. As far as minor foundation repairs go, fill any cracks with epoxy or silicone caulk. Seal the exterior foundation with a waterproof coating. Adjust doors and windows to make sure they all open and close without sticking.

Problem #4: Plumbing problems

Damaged pipes, malfunctioning water heaters, and backed-up sewage systems are costly to fix and common things that fail a home inspection. Some types of plumbing pipes found in older homes, such as those made from polybutylene, have been discontinued and are prone to failure. Home inspectors will report these incompatible plumbing materials.

How to prevent this home inspection fail:

Consider upgrading your plumbing with modern piping. At a minimum, repair any visible leaks. Unclog and clean out drains. It can also help to reseat any toilets and install new wax rings.

Problem #5: Pest infestations

There is nothing that will send some homebuyers running quite like an infestation of pests, especially termites. Termites and other wood-eating insects can cause significant structural damage if left untreated. A home inspector is trained to identify signs of termites, however, your buyer might also want to perform a separate termite inspection with a pest control company for additional peace of mind.

How to prevent this home inspection fail:

Hire a professional pest control company to inspect and treat your home before a home inspection. If termites are found, you’ll need to disclose it. Treat the termites and get a termite bond that will protect the buyer from re-infestation.

Problem #6: Hidden mold

Discovering mold during inspection can spell (and smell) trouble. Extensive mold infestations can be costly to remediate. But if you don’t detect musty odors in your home then you probably don’t have to worry. Mold is caused by excessive moisture and is usually a sign of a leak or drainage issue.

How to prevent this home inspection fail:

Repair any obvious leaks or malfunctioning gutters. Make sure the ground around the home is properly graded. Maintain proper humidity levels inside the house. That may mean running the A/C in the summer even if your house is unoccupied.

Problem #7: Failing heating systems

A near-death furnace can turn off buyers due to the $5,000 to $8,000 replacement cost. Other issues include non-working controls, blocked chimneys, damaged heat exchangers, and exhaust flues that are not up to code.

How to prevent this home inspection fail:

Having your furnace inspected annually can help extend its life. If it’s too late for that, consider replacing your furnace to keep buyers from walking.

Problem#8: Electrical wiring

Home inspectors commonly encounter problems with electrical wiring such as reverse polarity, missing junction boxes, and damaged receptacles. Homes built between 1965 and 1973 may have inferior aluminum wiring, a concern that a home inspector will also identify.

How to prevent this home inspection fail:

Have a licensed electrician inspect and upgrade any faulty outlets and junction boxes. Make sure that your breaker box is correctly labeled as well.

Problem #9: Structural damage

Older homes are prone to structural issues such as sagging floor joists, rafters, and door headers. It may not be immediately apparent if a structural issue is major or minor, and many home inspectors will advise buyers to have the home inspected by an engineer if that is the case.

How to prevent this home inspection fail:

Structural repairs are among the most costly and can turn buyers off. If your home shows signs of structural flaws, hire a structural engineer to assess the extent of the problems and the potential repair costs.

Problem #10: Poorly maintained condition

While cosmetic issues like peeling paint and cracked caulk aren’t major problems on their own, an accumulation of small problems could be a big turn-off for some buyers. Having numerous problems can signal to an inspector, and the buyer, that the home has been poorly maintained.

How to prevent this home inspection fail:

A fresh coat of paint inside and out can go a long way toward improving the visible condition of a home. Replace or repair broken light fixtures and appliances, as well.

What home inspectors look for

Home inspections are a critical part of the home-buying process. As the buyer, you can find yourself in an expensive pickle if the inspector fails to notice a crack in a foundation or a potential hazard. If the inspector finds issues with the property, you can always renegotiate the price to take into consideration the cost of the repairs or even walk away from the deal.

It’s extremely important that you use a certified home inspector as well. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI®) provides a searchable database to help you find the right inspector in your area.

So, what is an inspector looking for exactly? The leader of InterNACHI®, Claude McGavic, told that there is a list of 1,600 items inspectors look for.

Some of those items include heating and cooling systems, plumbing and electrical systems, structural components, foundations, and insulation. Those are just a few of the items an inspector will check. They also look at the basics of a home: walls, floors, ceilings, windows, etc.

Home inspection tips

  • Tip #1: Remember that sellers are required to disclose known defects to the buyer in advance.
  • Tip #2: Keep your home clean and clear of clutter.
  • Tip #3: Sellers should not attend the inspection so the buyer, agent, and inspector can speak freely.

The bottom line

Inspections can be stressful for sellers, but knowing what inspectors look for can help you anticipate things that fail a home inspection. Minor tweaks here and there can improve the overall report. Repair major issues in advance or disclose them to the seller.

Frequently asked questions

What happens if a house fails inspection? 

After the inspection report, a buyer has the option to back out of the contract without penalty. They can also renegotiate the sale price or request that the seller make specific repairs.

Do I have to fix everything on a home inspection? 

No. Sellers are generally not required to fix anything uncovered during inspection. But they have a strong incentive to consider making reasonable repairs because the buyer can back out.

What should I be worried about during a home inspection? 

Home inspections can reveal unknown issues like mold, termites, and foundation problems. These issues are often costly to fix and can scare off buyers.

Can I back out of buying a house after the inspection? 

Most real estate contracts today have an option period, during which buyers have a limited window of time to back out of a contract for any reason.

How much does a home inspection cost?

“Home inspections generally cost between $300 and $450,” says Angie Hicks, co-founder of the home services website Angie’s List, as reported to Bankrate.

How long does a home inspection take?

According to Chase, “an average inspection takes about 2-2½ hours (1-1½ hours for a condo). The time is well-spent considering there are more than 500 components in the average home.”

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