The average American will move 11 times in their lifetime according to the Census Bureau. Whether it’s in the same geographic location or across a continent, we are faced with serious decisions when it comes to buying another home. Heard the stories about moving into a home that turns out to not be what you thought it was? These homes will suck up your hard earned savings. Here are five important questions to ask before you make that big commitment.
Structural integrity. This refers to the home’s foundation and resistance to deformation, settlement, and leaks. You can determine soundness by going into (or hiring a specialized to go into) the attic, the crawlspace or basement, and walking the exterior. You should look for differential cracking, improper attachments, and moisture. A problem with any of these three things should prompt you to pause and probe further. The roof structure and covering should be included in this examination.
Termite Damage. If you do not acquire a thorough pest inspection from a qualified company, you could move in and discover that hidden wood structure is literally gone in multiple areas of the home. I inspected one home where the new owner found his arm disappearing into the wall cavity as he tried to hang a picture, finding that the wall interior had turned to dust from a termite colony.
Aluminum wire. From the mid 1960’s to the early 1970’s, aluminum branch wiring was used in homes because of a shortage of copper. Over time we discovered that aluminum gets brittle and oxidizes. This can rule to fires in walls at switch boxes and outlets, and at breaker panels, where the connections loosen. I’ve inspected homes where the wiring appeared fine, but I told the owners that there is always a possible for fire, and to consider switching out the ends of the wire to copper, and get an electrical inspection. The real estate folks will not like what I have to say here, but it’s my opinion that if you have a choice, do not buy a home that has aluminum branch wiring. Don’t confuse this with aluminum incoming wiring (the wiring to your electrical panel from the outside), which is trouble free when hooked up correctly.
Polybutylene water pipes. Between 1978 and 1995 contractors began using a kind of plastic water piping called “poly” or “PB”. Plumbers loved the new material, which was easy to work with and less expensive than copper. However, over time homeowners discovered that this new material deteriorated from the inside out. These pipes also leaked at the connections. Manufacturers then improved the pipe joints, but plumbers will nevertheless tell you today that they are making repairs on these systems. Many homeowners had to retrofit complete systems in the early days of “poly”. Don’t confuse poly, or PB, with CPVC plastic pipe which is a very lasting material used extensively in homes today.
Major systems condition/lifespan. Find out how old the major systems are since new or since they were replaced. This includes the heating and cooling system, the hot water tank, septic system, and the well. These are expensive items that you do not want to discover are not working the week after you move in.
Unless you are an inspector or builder yourself, I definitely recommend going by the due diligence to make sure your next home is your dream and not your nightmare.