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10 Common Things That Fail a Home Inspection

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, and is usually paid for by the buyer when purchasing a home. So what does a home inspector look for?  A home inspector mainly looks for electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and structural issues. For sellers, preparing for a home inspection can help you address some of the most common home inspection problems ahead of time.

10 common issues home inspectors look for

Cosmetic flaws and minor repairs, like a broken window pane, might come up in an inspection report. However, these small items will rarely cause a deal to unravel. It’s the Costly repairs 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.

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. 

According to J & M roofing, “A new asphalt shingles roof for a typical 2,000 sq. ft. single-story ranch house can range in price from $8,500 to $16,500 fully installed.” For context, the average size house in the United States is around 2,000 square feet. 

How to fix: 

Replace damaged shingles and flashing, and recaulk areas where ventilation pipes penetrate the roof. If you’re not handy, consider hiring a contractor or roofing company to assist.

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 fix:

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.

3. Faulty foundation

Foundation problems are one of the most costly issues to fix. In some serious cases, up to $25,000. 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.

“Several things can lead to foundation issues, but most commonly they’ll start with the dirt and soil underneath and surrounding the building,” says Bay Crawl Space.

“As the soil collects water, it acts like a sponge and expands. Expansion doesn’t have to be a big deal, but too much expansion can put pressure on your home. That pressure can lead to minor structural damage, which can then lead to leaks, which can then lead to mold or greater structural damage.”

How to fix:

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. 

This is best left to professionals, but 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.

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 fix:

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

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 fix:

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 warranty that will protect the buyer from re-infestation.

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. If the home has any mold issues, you’ll want to get it taken care of as soon as possible. 

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Molds have the potential to cause health problems. Molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins). Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.” 

How to fix:

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

7. Failing heating systems

A near-death furnace can turn off buyers due to the $4,000 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 fix:

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

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 fix:

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

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 a major or minor issue, and many home inspectors will advise buyers to have the home inspected by an engineer if that is the case.

How to fix:

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

“A building’s foundation is critical for its stability and longevity, and it determines numerous issues the structure might face in the future,” says AEI Inspections.

“Because of this, it’s crucial to conduct a structural analysis of the construction site. By doing so, you’ll be able to identify problem points and correct them right away, saving you time, labor, and thousands of dollars along the way.” 

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 fix:

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.

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. And remember to 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 an 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 $279 and $399

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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