8 Home Inspection Red Flags

Wayne Bonnell, 67, is cleaning out house of Helen Hutchinson, 73, roof gutters at Littleton, Colo., on Thursday, June 7, 2012. A new nonprofit called Village to Village network has sprung up to help older adults age in place. There are two Village nonprofits in the Denver Metro -- one in Wash Park called Washington Park Cares, and one in Jeffco, the Columbine Community Village. Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post
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Our gallery of home inspection nightmares (below) is good for a laugh, but a home inspection is serious business. It's the buyer's opportunity to make sure that the house they're about to purchase doesn't hold any expensive surprises.

A typical home inspection includes a check of a house's structural and mechanical condition, from the roof to the foundation, as well as tests for the presence of radon gas and the detection of wood-destroying insects. Depending on the seriousness of what the inspection uncovers, the buyer can walk away from the deal (most contracts include an inspection contingency in the event of major flaws) or negotiate with the seller for the necessary repairs.

These are the red flags that should send a buyer back to the negotiating table, according to home improvement expert Tom Kraeutler of The Money Pit.

1. Termites and other live-in pests: The home you've fallen in love with may also be adored by the local termite population. The sooner termites are detected, the better. The same goes for other wood-devouring pests like powder-post beetles. Keep in mind that getting rid of the intruders is just the first step. Once the problem has been addressed, have a pest control expert advise you on what needs to be done in order to prevent their return.

2. Drainage issues: Poor drainage can lead to wood rot, wet basements, perennially wet crawlspaces and major mold growth. Problems are usually caused by missing or damaged gutters and downspouts, or improper grading at ground level. Correcting grading and replacing gutters is a lot less costly than undoing damage caused by the accumulation of moisture.

3. Pervasive mold: Where moisture collects, so grows mold, a threat to human health as well as to a home's structure. Improper ventilation can be the culprit in smaller, more contained spaces, such as bathrooms. But think twice about buying a property where mold is pervasive -- that's a sign of long-term moisture issues.

4. Faulty foundation: A cracked or crumbling foundation calls for attention and repair, with costs ranging from moderate to astronomically expensive. The topper of foundation expenses is the foundation that needs to be replaced altogether -- a possibility if you insist on shopping "historic" properties. Be aware that their beautiful details and old-fashioned charms may come with epic underlying expenses.

6. Worn-out roofing: Enter any sale agreement with an awareness of your own cost tolerance for roof repair versus replacement. The age and type of roofing material will figure into your home inspector's findings, as well as the price tag of repair or replacement. An older home still sheltered by asbestos roofing material, for example, requires costly disposal processes to prevent release of and exposure to its dangerous contents.

7. Toxic materials: Asbestos may be elsewhere in a home's finishes, calling for your consideration of containment and replacement costs. Other expensive finish issues include lead paint and, more recently, Chinese drywall, which found its way into homes built during the boom years of 2004 and 2005. This product's sulfur off-gassing leads to illness as well as damage to home systems, so you'll need to have it completely removed and replaced if it's found in the home that you're hoping to buy.

8. Outdated wiring: Home inspectors will typically open and inspect the main electrical panel, looking for overloaded circuits, proper grounding and the presence of any trouble spots like aluminum branch circuit wiring, a serious fire hazard.

Home Inspection Horrors
See Gallery
8 Home Inspection Red Flags

I'm not a fan of this setup.  

David Grudzinski

Advantage Home Inspections

Cranston, R.I.

This is truly a ‘hot seat.’ Notice that there is a fuse panel, a breaker panel and an outlet (not GFCI-protected) within easy reach.

Mike Steinle

HomeCheck Pro LLC

Knoxville, Tenn.

Not just any old shoe will do.  This one was carefully fit to its application. Why bother properly sealing the abandoned vent when this shoe fits so well?

Charles H. Nance

CHN Inspections LLC

Wildwood, Mo.

Whose cable TV belongs to whom?

Mark Lozeron

HouseCall Inspections

Chicago, Ill.

Apparently, the homeowner didn’t want to mess with all that high-tech gadgetry in a humidifier, so he replaced it with a Cool Whip container filled with water!

Brian Mishler

HomeStudy Inc.

Latrobe, Penn.

This takes window air conditioners to the next level, the door fan.

David Rose

Astute Home Inspections LLC

Millburn, N.J.

It works, you just have go fast enough.

Max Curtis


Livermore, Calif.

The plumbing under a kitchen sink. The ‘extra’ supply lines and the flexible drain line are to a clothes washer in another room.  The angled line under the left basin is an open hot water line. It disappears into a wall. Note the S trap and exposed wiring. 

Randy West

Professional Building Consultants

Prescott, Ariz.

This should keep the guests from overstaying their welcome. Notice the toothbrushes and drink cups in the holders next to the far sink.

David Maudlin

Indy Pro Inspection Service Inc.

Carmel, Ind.

Not the safest place to dry off.

Bill Loden

Insight Building Inspection

Madison, Ala

Window treatment stays with the house.

Nate Stitzlein

Crow Home Inspection LLC

Baltimore, Ohio

This photo shows water shooting out of a place where it doesn’t belong. This might be the best ‘action’ photo I’ve ever taken. I don’t think it needs any explanation.

Reuben Saltzman

Structure Tech Home Inspections

Maple Grove, Minn.

The concept got a bit confused here. 

David Grudzinski

Advantage Home Inspections

Cranston, R.I.

“Handyman” wiring! And yes, those leads were hot.

Greg H. Mathias

Catmando Real Estate Services Inc.

Lewisburg, PA

Some people just should not be permitted to shop at the big-box hardware stores.

Matthew Steger

WIN Home Inspection

Elizabethtown, Penn.


More on home inspections:
Home Inspections: It Pays to Know What You're Buying
The Scary Things Home Inspections Turn Up
Guide to Settlement and Escrow

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