The Buying Process
Finding a Home
Making an Offer
Finding a Loan
The Right Price
Getting to Settlement
Historic Real Estate
1st Time Homebuyers
Foreclosures & Short Sales
Any number of inspections can be done on a property. The inspections you choose depend both on the property itself and your comfort level about the condition of that particular property. Some inspections are done at the buyer’s option, a few may be loan requirements; but having at least a General Home Inspection is only prudent and strongly recommended.
Your agent will be pointing out possible issues as we view homes but your agent isn’t a home inspector. You need a good professional to help you evaluate your home.
Noting the overall condition and cleanliness of a property when first viewing it is often an excellent indicator of what to expect in the inspection. A clean, well-kept home where the sellers have taken pride in keeping it at its best will usually hold few surprises in the Home Inspection. By contrast, if the home is dirty and in need of obvious routine maintenance, the inspection may yield a long list.
The seller must agree in writing to any inspections as part of the contract to purchase the property, so a homebuyer must decide which inspections are appropriate before an offer is written. The Maryland Association of Realtors Contract of Sale states that properties are being sold in “as-is” condition, with no warranties by the seller. This is why inspections are so important. What the Home Inspection is NOT is an opportunity for you to come up with a list of everything possibly wrong with the house that the seller has to fix. The seller does not have to fix anything. Some of the inspections will have time limits for the inspection itself and a written response by the buyer to the seller, and for any further negotiations. There is often a fine line to negotiate to try to have a win-win outcome for home inspection results. An inspection typically does not address cosmetic issues.
The purpose of the inspections is to provide you with information about what needs to be fixed in the home now, what to budget for replacement and what to keep an eye on in the next several years. It also gives the sellers information on what needs to be fixed in order for you to be comfortable buying the house. No home is perfect and even though the condition of the house may be reflected in the price, it isn’t unusual for sellers to be unaware of problems with their own home. Inspections often turn out to be reality checks for both buyers and sellers.
A Home Inspection usually takes 2 to 3 hours, and includes a digital report with pictures. If possible, be present at the home inspection since it will be a good introduction and guided tour of the mechanics of your new home. The cost will be anywhere from approximately $300 up, depending on the complexity and condition of the house, and will be paid at the time of the inspection.
GENERAL HOME INSPECTION: This basic inspection will be a thorough assessment of the property, from top to bottom.
*It is NOT a Pass-Fail inspection, nor does the property have to meet current building codes.*
- Exterior, including foundation, grading, paint quality, cracking or splitting of bricks or stones, siding, retaining walls and drainage.
- Roof, including gutters, downspouts and any protrusions such as plumbing stacks (an inspector will usually view the roof carefully from the ground with binoculars and from inside the attic.)
- Attic, which can frequently give excellent information about the condition of the roof. Also checked for insulation and ventilation.
- Chimneys, including condition of the cap and lining.
- Basement, including moisture penetration, foundation or floor cracks.
- Electrical system, including checking all outlets and lights, and conditions inside the panel box.
- Heating and cooling systems.
- Plumbing and all related systems, including the water heater.
- Presence of insulation.
- Kitchen, including appliances.
- Baths, including checking for leaks wherever possible.
- Interior doors, windows, ceilings, floors, walls, etc.
At the completion of the inspection, you and your agent will decide what is reasonable or necessary to ask the sellers to repair and then make a written reply to the sellers. This reply to the sellers must be done within the time frame specified in the Contract of Sale, usually 7 – 10 days, and will specify that the repairs be done by contractors licensed in Maryland. The seller will have five days to respond. The inspector may also recommend further evaluation by a specialist, such as an electrician or mold inspector. We will check the repairs at the pre-settlement walkthrough and will have the reports of any repairs before then so you can talk with the contractors making the repairs.
RADON: Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that rises from the earth and rock under the house and may seep in to residential dwellings and collect there. Chronic exposure to radon increases the risk of lung cancer. Radon has become more of an issue for homebuyers as modern construction techniques make today’s homes more airtight. Radon can also enter a home via the well water, although not normally in high enough concentrations to be a concern. The mid-Maryland area does not normally have really high concentrations of Radon gas, but it is present and you may want to know if your home is affected.
Fortunately, testing the level of Radon is relatively easy and inexpensive ($100 – 150). The test is usually either canisters that absorb Radon or a machine that takes continuous readings. The testing device(s) is typically placed in the lowest living area of the home and left in place for 48 hours before being analyzed. If the measured Radon level is above 4.0 picoCuries/l (the EPA recommended maximum), a specialist can usually remediate the problem by installing a system to vent the Radon outside the home. The cost for this remediation is usually $800 – 1,000 and is paid for by either the seller or buyer or both, depending on what is negotiated.
LEAD: Homes built before 1978 may contain lead paint which can be harmful if ingested (especially to growing children and pregnant women). All offers to purchase in Maryland must contain the Federal and Maryland Lead Paint Addenda if the property was built before 1978. These addenda are disclosures by the sellers that the house may contain lead-based paint, as well as any information the seller may have about the presence of lead paint in their home. In addition, you will be given the results of any testing for lead paint that may have been done by the seller.
You can choose to have the property tested for lead paint, frequently by the same inspector doing the general home inspection. As with Radon, you decide whether or not to continue with the purchase once you have the results of the tests. You can also have the home’s water tested for lead, since many older homes were built with lead pipes or lead solder. Some loan programs require including a lead test as part of the well water test. VA and FHA loans will require as a condition of the appraisal that any peeling or flaking paint be scraped and painted if the home was built before 1978.
Cleaning, common sense, scraping (using EPA guidelines), and painting over the suspect paint can greatly minimize exposure to lead-based paint but if this is going to present a problem for you, then you may want to only consider homes built after 1978. Replacing the windows will often significantly minimize the greatest source of lead since dust from lead-painted windows can be ingested.
MOLD: Mold and mold testing is increasingly becoming yet another potential problem in home ownership and therefore home buying. Toxic molds can cause significant health issues but because mold is a relatively newly discovered environmental hazard, there is not much consensus nor solid evidence of how much of a particular mold constitutes a hazard. There are several different potentially toxic molds that can be detected by testing the air inside the home or by swabbing a solid surface. You can request mold tests as part of your offer to purchase. Even non-toxic molds can pose a hazard for someone with compromised breathing.
Mold has to have moisture and a food source (typically cellulose [paper or wood]) in order to grow. Checking a property for water penetration and dampness will be a part of viewing homes and of your Home Inspection, just as basic maintenance to prevent dampness is an important part of home ownership. It is impossible to tell without testing whether the mold you see is dangerous.
ASBESTOS: Many older homes also contain asbestos, which was frequently used in insulation, hot water pipe insulation, siding, and in tile flooring. Asbestos that is breaking apart and becoming airborne can cause lung damage if inhaled but generally as long as the suspect area(s) is/are in good condition, it is best just left alone or covered in some way. It is recommended that you not try to remove asbestos yourself.
UNDERGROUND STORAGE TANKS: A great many properties in this area have underground storage tanks (USTs) either for heating fuel or gasoline. It is possible to test a UST or the ground under it for leaking fuel or even to have the tank removed and disposed of properly, or emptied and filled with an absorbent, sealing material that will prevent future leaks. There is often concern that fuel could leak into the water supply so the well water can also be tested.
This is a very brief overview of some of the environmental issues you may want to consider as part of purchasing a home.
While this information is deemed reliable, it is not to be considered guaranteed or complete.
It is your responsibility to obtain enough information to make an informed decision about environmental hazards that may be present in your prospective new home, and what to do about them. A good source of information is the EPA website at
WELLS: In buying a property that obtains its water from an on-site well, it is strongly recommended that it be tested. It is the seller’s responsibility to do whatever is necessary to assure safe, clean water, up to an amount specified in the initial contract. Most testing labs offer packages of tests based on loan requirements but you may have additional needs based on the property.
The different types of loans have different requirements for well-water tests and what can be done (if anything) to correct any contamination found. It is not unusual to find some initial slight bacterial contamination in the well water, but this usually is easily remedied.
SEPTIC SYSTEMS: Homes with septic systems are very common on larger lots, usually over one acre, and are quite satisfactory when properly maintained. The simple dye test where a dye packet and quantity of water are run into the septic system and then the area of the drain field is checked for evidence of the dye is basically worthless. There are other tests that can be done at the buyer’s option and expense to ensure a functioning septic system. These include digging down to the tank, visually inspecting the inside, and running water in to the tank from the house, then pumping the tank. Health Department records will be reviewed if available and the current residents interviewed. It is not uncommon for the current residents to have no idea where the septic system is or whether it has ever been pumped.
Depending on the age of the property, we can frequently get information from the Health Department on the output and depth of the well, along with the specifications and location of the septic system. With older homes, there often are no records available but the septic inspector can usually locate the components of the septic system.
The local Health Department is an excellent source of information on wells and septic systems.
We have information in the office and you can also visit the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) website at:
Sand mounds and seepage pits (dry wells) are not uncommon in this area depending on the soil conditions or age of the house. The MDE or Health Department sites have good information on these systems.
The new BAT Systems (Best Available Technology), which are an effort to reduce nitrogen runoff in the Chesapeake Bay, are expensive and may be required if a repair is necessary on a septic system. This makes it critical to ensure a functioning septic system. Spending $500 now for an evaluation to avoid $15 – 20,000 in the future is just a good investment.
TERMITES: or more specifically, “wood-destroying insects”. Although not always required by the lender, it is highly recommended that the property be checked by a licensed inspector, any infestation treated and any damage repaired. As with the home inspection, the termite inspector can only check areas that can be seen so it is a good idea to get an annual inspection and contract.
The initial inspection is at the Buyers’ expense (except with a VA loan) and will be about $35-50.00 (paid at settlement as part of your closing costs). Any treatment or repair is the sellers’ responsibility up to 2% of the purchase price. Your agent will order the termite inspection within 30 days of settlement and will take care of getting the bill to the settlement company and the report to you and your lender.
It’s a good idea to discuss all these inspections with your agent during the process of finding a home. Which inspections will be needed depends on many different factors such as:
- The type of loan you will be getting.
- The circumstances of a particular house.
- The age of the home you are purchasing.
- The condition of the home you are purchasing.
- The level of protection you need to be comfortable in that house.
- The Real Estate market in the area at the time and the existence of any other offers that might be presented on your chosen property.
Remember that throughout this process, you do have built-in protections in the Contract of Sale, as well as in each of the individual inspections and within certain parameters, it is your choice whether to continue with the purchase if any results are not satisfactory.