7 Home Inspection Red Flags You Need to Look Out For

Kenneth Wilson

When you're in the process of buying a property, home inspection is a critical element. That being said, some people chose to forego the process to save money, given that the average price of home inspection in the US is around $300. 

But having a home inspected before you move in is extremely important. While the property might appear in front of your eyes as the dream home you've been searching for, a thorough, professional home inspection can save your dream from turning into a nightmare. 

In this article, we introduce seven red flags that may appear during a home inspection that will either influence the price you pay for your property or might even encourage you to look elsewhere. 

But first, let's begin by looking at what a home inspection consists of and why it's an essential step before completing a property purchase. 

What is included in a home inspection?

Conducting a home inspection before buying a property is a vital part of your due diligence. A survey found that 88% of homebuyers in 48 states admitted to employing a home inspector before moving into their home. What's more, the same survey states that 86% of the buyers were informed of at least one issue with the house they were planning to buy, which enabled them to negotiate with the seller or Realtor. 

Performed by a certified and accredited independent inspector, an inspection is an objective visual examination of a house's physical structure and systems. Following their assessment, the inspector will compile a detailed report that includes their findings, as well as their recommendations. 

A home inspector's report usually contains the condition of the following aspects of a house: 

  • The roof & attic space, including the state of insulation. 
  • All walls, floors, ceilings, windows, and doors. 
  • Plumbing and electrical fixtures and fittings. 
  • The heating system. 
  • Any HVAC or air conditioning system installed. 
  • The foundation of the house, including the basement and all structural components. 

Essentially, an inspector will inform you whether the house is structurally sound or not and will identify areas that require work and improvement. For more information about what to expect in a home inspection report, visit the Standard of Practice issued by the American Society of Home Inspectors.

Seven common red flags identified by home inspection reports 

While we all hope to receive a favorable report about the condition of a property we want to buy, it's equally important to learn of any issues with the property before committing to a sale. And although some problems identified within a home inspection report will be minor and can easily be put right, some will be much more substantial and may even make you think twice about purchasing the house. Here are seven potential home inspection red flags to be aware of: 

Structural issues

The most critical aspect of a home inspector's report is the section that refers to the property's structural integrity. The structure of a property relates to its foundations, walls, floors, and ceilings. An inspection will reveal whether the home is structurally safe and indicates factors that could influence the integrity of the property in the future. Commonly, a home inspection report flags the following structural issues: 

  • Cracks in the walls. 
  • Uneven floors with ridges or bumps. 
  • Gaps in the brickwork. 
  • Poorly aligned porch leading to the property. 
  • Doors and windows that don't shut properly. 

The above issues should be treated with concern. If a home inspector flags any of these issues in the report, you may need to consult the services of a structural engineer to rectify the problems, which will be costly. You should report these issues to the Realtor and negotiate with the buyer to resolve them before completing the purchase. If they're unwilling to negotiate, you're better served looking elsewhere for your home instead of taking a risk on the structural integrity of a property.

Water damage

According to Home Advisor, the average homeowner spends $2,930 every year to repair water damage in their homes. Water damage is such a significant problem because when water seeps into your home's foundations, it has no way of getting out. Excess water in your foundation means your home is rested upon weak support, which would have a knock-on effect right the way through the property. 

In other areas of your house, water damage can cause dampness, mold, and rot, which all negatively impact the home's internal structures. Water damage is often invisible to the untrained eye and tends to lurk underneath the floors and in the walls, meaning you probably wouldn't spot it yourself during a quick viewing of the property. If a home inspection report reveals significant water damage in the property you hope to buy, it's a red flag you can't afford to ignore. 

Roofing cracks or damage

The roof of a property is subjected to the elements year-round and is the ideal nesting place for birds and rodents looking to shelter from adverse weather conditions. A cursory glance at the roof may not reveal any notable concerns, which is why a thorough inspection is required. Approximately one in five home inspections reveal problems with the roof that may otherwise have been missed by potential buyers. Particular red flags relating to damage to your property's roof include: 

  • Water stains presented as dark streaks on the roof indicate that your tiles (or any other roofing material) are old and may need to be replaced. 
  • A drooping section in the roof or ceiling may indicate a significant structural problem with the whole house. 
  • Cracks or leaks that allow water to seep through to the attic space. 
  • Damaged, cracked, or debris-laden gutters that affect the drainage of your property. 

Even relatively new properties can have issues with the roof, particularly if you're moving into an area that suffers from adverse weather conditions such as high winds and heavy rains. If any roofing repairs are required, you should request that they're done prior to the completion of the sale, or a significant reduction is made to the asking price to cover the costs. According to Roofing Calc, the cost of replacing a roof can be anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000, so ignore the advice of your home inspector at your peril! 

Electrical faults

Electrical faults tend to be a problem reserved for older homes on the market, but it's important to discover them before completing your purchase. Some people opt to rewire their homes soon after moving in, particularly if they're planning to invest in the renovation of the whole house. But repairing electrical faults is expensive, as you often have to pay for aesthetic repairs caused by the process of identifying and fixing the fault. But electrical issues are common, as around 19% of homeowners found at least one issue with their home's electrical system after hiring a home inspector. 

What's more, electrical faults are highly hazardous, with more than 50,000 house fires annually in the US attributed to faulty electrics. A home inspector will reveal any underlying issues pertaining to the faulty wiring of a property, including: 

  • Damaged or exposed wiring on both interior and exterior walls. 
  • Faulty switches and sockets. 
  • Multiple electrical panels. 
  • Short-circuits caused by water damage, pests, or poor wiring. 

If your home inspector identifies electrical faults as a red flag, you need to act. Unless you already have plans to rewire your property, you will need to budget for the repairs if your heart is set on the house. Rewiring a house can cost up to $9,000, depending on the size of your home. Like the other red flags we've introduced, it's a good idea to consult with the seller and Realtor to come to a suitable arrangement. It's unfair to be burdened with the cost of rewiring the house or fixing pre-existing electrical faults.  

Plumbing issues

While fixing a leaking faucet is straightforward, significant plumbing issues will cause you a headache over time. And because the vast majority of pipework is housed under the floorboards, problems with a property's plumbing are not always easy to identify. Poor plumbing, however, is a big red flag when conducting a home inspection, as leaky pipes and other connection issues can lead to water damage throughout your home, as well as structural damage to the ceilings, walls, and floors, often in the form of mold and rot. Your home inspector will identify issues with a home's plumbing in the following ways: 

  • More than one dripping faucet in multiple rooms. 
  • Insufficient water pressure (either too high or too low). 
  • The presence of mold, rust, or rot.
  • Evidence of cracks or leaks in exposed pipework. 

Calling a plumber to fix even the most minor jobs is expensive and costs American homeowners anywhere between $350 and $1,850 every year. Moving into a home with pre-existing plumbing issues will result in costly and continual repair bills and is another red flag you should seek to address before you agree to a sale.

Insufficient heating and HVAC systems

A home inspector is tasked with checking the quality of your heating and HVAC systems. The average cost of a new HVAC system is in the region of $5,000 - $10,000, whereas gas furnaces used for heating can cost somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000. It stands to reason, then, that you don't want to be burdened with the cost of replacing a heating or HVAC system soon after moving into your new home! A faulty or insufficient system can be identified in the following ways: 

  • Rust or damage to the external system. 
  • Dirty, damaged, or moldy ducts that need to be replaced. 
  • An unpleasant smell or sound emanating from the system once it is initiated. 
  • General wear and tear to the system, showing its age or the fact it hasn't been well maintained. 

Whether you require a heating or air conditioning unit largely depends on where you live. But if the property you're moving into has a flawed system, you will ultimately be tasked with replacing it. Depending on the age and condition of the system, you may be able to repair instead of replacing it. But again, these costs should be negotiable with the seller. 

Inadequate insulation

Unless you're an extremely thorough buyer, the chances are that you haven't crawled into the attic space to check the insulation of your potential new home! Insulation is super important as it helps to regulate the temperature of your property all year round. What's more, adequately insulated homes can save an average of 15% on heating and cooling costs, which helps you to keep your energy bills low. Depending on the age of your property, insulation is likely to have deteriorated over time and may need to be replaced. A home inspection report will flag insufficient insulation and advise on the best course of action. 

It tends to cost several hundred dollars to re-insulate a property, and it's a job that can be easily overlooked when settling into a house. While inadequate insulation is certainly not as big a red flag as structural issues or water damage, it's still something that you should seek to address before you move in, as it can drastically affect the comfort and value of the property and prove costly when it comes to your monthly utility bills. 

The importance of booking a home inspection. 

Although a home inspection is likely to cost several hundred dollars, it pails into insignificance compared to the exorbitant costs associated with addressing the plethora of red flags that an inspection can identify. The seven common red flags that we've identified in this article will cost thousands of dollars to rectify, and that cost will be solely on you if you don't identify the issues before you agree to a sale. 

What's more, all of the red flags we've introduced render your property unsafe, or at least unfit, for occupation and could result in health complications if you don't put them right. Hiring a home inspector, then, is a vital step to take before completing the purchase of your new home, as it enables you to negotiate with the Realtor and seller and will undoubtedly save you money and stress in the long run. 

For more information about home inspection in the US or to find a certified inspector in your local area, visit the website of the American Society of Home Inspectors. 

Kenneth Wilson
September 8, 2021

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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