Advice for First-Time Home Buyers: Keep Calm and Carry on an Inspection
By Fiona Dogan
So, you’ve found the home of your dreams and your offer has been accepted. Congratulations! Now the hard work starts.
You would be well advised to carry out a full engineering inspection to identify any significant issues in the house before you sign a binding sales contract. An engineering inspection is also a valuable opportunity to follow the inspector around for a few hours and understand exactly how the house works — a great education for a first-time homeowner.
Some issues that come up in an inspection are deal-breakers; some are so severe that the seller must remedy them in order to sell the house; some are simply commonplace issues that are cosmetic or easy to address, and sometimes it just comes down to a matter of “how much?” and “who pays?”
Remember also that the inspector is obliged to note exactly what he sees. An inspection report can sound extremely alarming, as it will reflect everything that is older or damaged or deteriorating. Unless the home is brand-new or unless the seller has addressed everything before they list their home, a first-time home buyer can be totally upended by an inspection report. Some hot-button findings that can put off a buyer are: finding a buried oil tank in the front yard; the presence of asbestos; and a high radon reading.
Buried oil tanks are frequently found in the yards of older homes and merit careful attention as they present the possibility — but not the certainty — of soil contamination if they leak, and significant future costs if they need to be removed. However, a buyer or seller can carry out an oil tank test to determine if the tank is secure and get a cost estimate for removal so this potential issue should not be an insurmountable obstacle.
The use of asbestos in construction was banned in 1977 but up until then was commonplace. Asbestos is only considered dangerous if the fibers are inhaled, so the mere presence of sealed asbestos in an older home is less problematic than the potential cost of removing it according to state and environmental regulations. A seller could remove any such asbestos before they list the house, or a buyer can get a quote for the cost of removal and negotiate the cost with the seller. Either way, this issue can be managed and should not stop the buyer from moving forward with the purchase of the home.
Many new home buyers are very concerned about the presence of radon in the lower levels of a home. Radon gas is present in nearly all soils and very low levels of radon gas are found in the air we breathe every day, so a slightly elevated radon reading is no reason to walk away from the deal. In most cases there is a simple and relatively economical ventilation solution that can be quickly and effectively installed to take care of the problem.
Issues that come up at inspection really can stop a buyer in their tracks, but if they are working with a highly experienced realtor and are able to discuss any concerns calmly and rationally with the appropriate construction professionals, these issues need not be deal-breakers.
< Fiona Dogan is a realtor with Julia B Fee Sotheby’s International Realty, www.fionadogan.com.>