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In addition to a general once-over home inspection, there are other look sees that could be necessary before you buy or sell your home. Some may be required by lenders, others are not but they can help you with disclosure issues or other concerns you might have about the condition of a home or its site.
In most cases the inspections are conducted at the buyer's expense. Remember, hire only licensed, certified or otherwise proven professionals.
Structural pest control
Most lenders require a termite clearance and most buyers want to be assured that the house they purchase is going to be free of infestation.
A structural pest control report generally covers two areas of concern. One (called Section I in California) is concerned with actual termite or pest infestation and dry-rot, caused by moisture. Examples are termites in joists and studs or dry rot (spongy floor) around the base of a toilet. The second (Section II in California) is concerned with preventive measures that could lead to the first type of condition. Examples are dirt or wood in contact with wooden structures of the house, allowing termites access or a slow plumbing leak that could lead to dry-rot.
With growing concerns about toxic chemicals, the popularity of alternative pesticides have gained momentum. Along with chemicals, pest control companies use microwave zapping, thermal eradication, electrocution, freeze drying with liquid nitrogen, even insect predators, including nematodes or some combination of all the methods in their arsenal.
Many real estate professionals suggest that a buyer have a roof inspection, especially on older homes, because the life of most roofs last from 20 to 50 years. Any roof that has been on a home for a period of time and has been exposed to the elements should be inspected, regardless of whether the roof is shake, shingle, tar and gravel, tile, composite or metal. The inspection is limited to the roof's surface and not gutters and downspouts or what's below in the attic.
While it's a good idea for the buyer to be present for most inspections, the roof inspection is one he or she can skip. A seller, concerned about his or her liability isn't likely to allow anyone but a professional up on the roof. A roof inspector's report should note the general condition of the roof's surface, and if there is heavy shake and mineral surface build-up; the condition of the various sides of the roof whether north, south, east or west; the condition of the chimney above the roof line, including saddles, step shingles, and flashings; the condition of the hip and ridge; watertight conditions and leakage problems; what general repairs may be required and any building code violations.
Plumbers investigate the type of piping material used. Galvanized steel usually corrodes within 10 years. Copper lasts much longer. Faucets, toilets, sinks and plumbing connections to major appliances such as water heaters, garbage disposals and washing machines are checked for leakage. The system is also pressure checked for leaks in the pipe connections and valves.
Electricians make visual inspections of all wiring for fraying or excessive wear. They remove the circuit breaker or fuse box cover to examine circuit breakers, fuses and fuse housings. They check to see that receptacles and switches work, and look for electrical modifications or additions that do not comply with building codes.
In California, and other quake prone areas, a structural engineer's inspection is designed to determine how well a home carries its weight and its capacity to resist earthquake forces. The structural engineer inspector looks for signs of uneven settlement, such as cracks in stucco or foundation, doors and windows out of alignment and a sagging floor. The inspector also makes sure load bearing walls have not been removed, that shear walls and the frame are properly bolted to the foundation and the roof, and that plywood is properly fastened to the walls.
Site and soils inspection
Soil engineers (also called geotechnical engineers) or engineering geologists, determine whether a particular site will continue to support the structure and, if not, what might have to be done. They also check fault and flood zone maps to determine a home's proximity to quake faults, land slide activity and flood plains. The soil may be lab tested for its degree of expansiveness and water conditions.
Environmental and health hazard inspections
The true levels of lead-based paint, asbestos, radon, chemical contamination and other environmental health hazards are generally invisible to the naked eye. Seek technically trained specialists regulated by the health services or environmental health departments in your area. Buyers have the right to have a property inspected for these hazards and they may be done separately or together. As a general rule, it is the seller's responsibility to mitigate any problems.