Most of us have a rudimentary-at-best understanding of how all the structural, thermal, and mechanical components of a house operate. So, before making an investment in the hundreds of thousands – or millions – of dollars, many of us hire a home inspector for a professional opinion before making or finalizing an offer on a house. Yet Ontario is only now getting ready to join Alberta and British Columbia as the only Canadian provinces to regulate the home inspection industry.
Want to learn more about making an offer? Read the First Time Home Buyer’s Guide>
Scratching the Surface
Currently, anyone east of the Saskatchewan–Alberta border can call themselves a home inspector without any qualifications or certification. And there are countless stories circulating about inspectors who missed major issues, some of them in relatively plain site. A realtor friend of mine once told me the story of an inspector he’d hired to do a pre-sale inspection for a house he was listing. The inspection report initially said that there was no cold-air return on the main floor. The agent had to point out to the inspector that he should have crouched down and looked under the sofa.
There are some industry organizations, such as the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors, that do provide training and certification, giving homeowners a degree of confidence.
But keep in mind that home inspections only provide a service-level assessment. Inspectors will not poke holes in walls or move heavy furniture to see what lies behind. And the finished report you receive is full of qualifiers and clauses that state the inspector makes no claim to responsibility for anything they may have missed.
Before hiring an inspector, be sure to read Home Inspections 101>
Be a DIY Home Inspector
If you’re on the hunt for a house, here are some tips to help you weed out potential money pits before calling in a professional inspector.
- Start with an exterior inspection. If you have a pair of binoculars, bring them along so you can get a good look at the condition of the roofing shingles and chimney. Are the eavestroughs sagging? Is the parging along the foundation or mortar between the bricks crumbling? Is the paint on the wooden window frames flaked away? Are there a lot of rotted, squishy boards on the deck? All are repairable, but the cost for numerous fixes can add up.
- Most insurance providers will not cover homes with knob-and-tube wiring. The easiest place to spot knob-and-tube wiring is in unfinished basements. If you see old wiring running through ceramic insulators, follow the wires to see if they’re still connected to the electrical panel. Replacing the wiring in an entire two-storey house can cost you $10,000 or more.
- You can pick up a $10 electrical outlet tester at any hardware store. Plug it into a few receptacles to make sure the wiring is properly grounded.
- Turn on the bathroom faucet, then flush the toilet. If the water flow in the sink slows considerably you’ll probably need to upgrade the water supply lines, which can cost anywhere from $2,000 and up.
- Use your nose. A musty-smelling basement can indicate that there may have been flooding or poor air circulation. If there’s a lot of moisture behind the walls and below the flooring in a finished basement, you could be looking at a lot of costly remediation work.
- A forced-air furnace has a typical lifespan of about 20 years. Check the installation date (it will be on a sticker somewhere on the unit) to determine if you’ll need to budget for a replacement in the near future.