What happens at a home inspection

Home Inspection Day is the day where you as the buyer will evaluate the house from a structural, legal and health standpoint. A lot of what is mentioned here, in terms of checking with Town Hall and some of the basic condition of the house should be done prior placing an offer on the property. If you are going to hire a home inspector and you decide not to move forward with the house because of something you could have seen before the offer was placed you might not think that is a wise way of spending money.

Structural evaluation

The home you are purchasing needs to be structurally sound and in the Anatomy of the House diagram there are some terms you may want to know. The home inspector will look at these areas of the home and look for deficiencies. Most common issues that compromise structures include water, pests, fire and contractor/homeowner damage.

The home inspector is going to poke and prod every inch of your new home, take a ton of pictures documenting what he/she sees and evaluate the condition (typically from A – D).

Structural issues can be very expensive so, it is very important to realize what the repair will cost. Real Estate professionals help guide in this area but if permits are required then a contractor, licensed electrician or plumber may need to be contacted.

With the open concepts, you may want to understand what walls are load bearing. It is pretty easy to figure out if the basement and the attic are not finished. If you have architectural plans available, it’s a breeze. The four exterior walls that make the building envelope are load bearing. Load bearing walls can be removed but in it’s place a support beam needs to replace the wall so the weight of the house can be disbursed. Some load bearing walls too have doorways/pass throughs in them so, this is why you really need a professional to come in and evaluate the house.

Legal evaluation

It is important to stop at Town Hall and pull the Building Permit File. Look at all the permits that have been pulled on the house and either make a copy of the file (good to have since you will be the new owner) or take a picture of the content with your phone. This analysis and information will aid you in understanding the history of the house. If there have been other types of permits issued be sure to ask either the Building Official or the Planner, what other departments would have useful information about the property (Ie if the property is located in a Floodplain). At Town Hall often times you need to ask a lot of questions because not always does the staff know which way to direct someone. Additionally, you want to look at the General Plan and find out the zone of the property. From there you will be able to read the permitted uses and determine the “permitted” building envelope allowed under that particular zoning classification. (Yes, you do need to read the code section).

Look at the adjacent parcels and see what the Zone and General Plan delineates. It is important to understand what can happen around you before you purchase a property. For example, if the land behind your house is open space. Who owns it? Are there wetlands on your property? Would the wetland and wetland buffer zone impede your ability to add a garage or storage shed? There are overlay zones and regulations that determine where you may place the permanent structures on the property. Notice I said permanent because often times if it is a seasonal item, below a certain square footage, or not on a permanent foundation it is not regulated.

Most of the time, especially in Massachusetts there are questions about “grandfathered rights” which is not the legal term – the correct term is “non-conforming” but, this topic is very important to understand and a conversation with the town officials is GOLD!

Other Legal Issues

Other “legal” issues. You need to ask the Town officials if you need permits for things like backyard chickens if you want them (Typically you would ask the Health Department). If you need a business licence or additional approvals if you operate a business from home (Town Clerk is a good place to start).

Health evaluation

Below are some areas of known health hazards prevalent in Massachusetts homes. Not every home has these issues but understanding if the home you are thinking of purchasing has them will equip you better to resolve the issues.

  • Lead Paint – could be in paint applied to structures prior to 1978
  • Radon – in the air and in the water – The element moves and should be tested regularly
  • Asbestos – in insulation, flooring tile, other home products – the product must be tested to know if there is asbestos.
  • Mold – anywhere water is present – this can happen anywhere in the house but most often in the attic, under sinks, in bathrooms and in the basement
  • Pests – bats, bees, wasps, ants, carpenter ants, termites, squirrels, racoons, birds (especially woodpeckers), termites – the list goes on and on
  • Water – flooding in the basement; notably identified by sump pumps
  • Fire – past fires or potential electrical fires.
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