New Construction Inspections & Walk-Throughs: what to look for
Going with my clients to a new home construction walkthrough. What should I look for?
What are the items that are typically missed by the builders - - or are problematic right off the bat?
Thanks for any advice – much appreciated.
Reply: what's the difference between a home inspection and a walk-through?
First, let's distinguish between a "walk-through" and a professional home inspection.
A Walk-Through Inspection is an inexpert and often hasty trip through a building made by a prospective new owner, usually 24 hours before going to the closing of a sale. This sort of inspection cannot find every significant defect in the home and probably it cannot even find most of them. What a walkthrough inspection can and should do is look for obvious trouble such as the following:
Is the property still there, intact, and free of some unexpected catastrophe? We don't want to go to a home sale closing, pay off the seller, then drive to the property to discover that it burned down or blew away the night before.
Is there any obvious visible damage: vandalism, something broken, flooded, burned?
How "finished" is the building exterior: are all finish siding, trim, windows, doors, locks, lights, walks, drives, decks, porches installed and complete? Are the roof gutters, downspouts, footing drains complete and visible and taken away from the building?
MISSING GUTTER, DOWNSPOUT.
I inspected a new home in New York. The architect who designed and built the spec home walked around with me (ick). I noticed that there were no gutters installed. "I hate gutters, they are ugly, so I never put them on my homes!" he extolled. "Don't you ever have water entry problems in the homes you build?" I asked. "Nope, I've been building here in the Hudson Valley for twenty three years and none of my homes ever had a wet basement" he explained, smirking at my pettiness. We walked inside and down into the basement where there was an inch of water all over the floor.
Does everything that should work actually work: all appliances start, run through a normal cycle and stop normally without obvious noises, backups or failures?
Do all of the plumbing fixtures work: hot water, cold water, drainage, toilets, tubs, showers? If I fill a bathtub up to its overflow fitting, does the overflow drain or does water fall out of the ceiling below? Does the whirlpool spa motor start when the tub is full?
Does the heat work in response to thermostat settings? Same for air conditioning?
Are there implementation defects that haven't caused trouble yet but surely are going to? For example if building siding has been buried by backfill the home may be an engraved invitation to wood-destroying insects. The home may not even have had a "termite inspection" since it's new, and even if inspected no insect pests may have been observed - but they're coming.
Leave plenty of time: two hours or more: you need time to see that appliances run normally and that every accessible area can be at least entered and examined. Rushing to a final walk-through fifteen minutes before going to the real estate closing is worthless.
If a substantive problem is observed this does not mean that the closing of sale cannot proceed; it may be possible to agree to an escrow fund to protect the parties involved while further expert inspections, tests, or if necessary, repairs are performed.
A professional home inspection is far more thorough than a walkthrough inspection and in most U.S. states and Canadian provinces must be conducted to meet a minimum standard of thoroughness.
All of the substantive physical components of the building and its mechanical systems are usually included, inspected, operated, or where appropriate, tested.
The professional inspector, recognizing the kind of construction (stick framed, modular, panelized) and materials (poured concrete vs. concrete block foundation) knows to look for specific defects or problems associated with those construction methods and materials - or should.
The following are simply examples of how a professional inspector may have an eye for trouble that a normal home buyer or real estate agent will not::
The home inspector, if she or he is awake, might notice that there are no plumbing vents appearing up through the building roof - raising a question about how the building drain waste vent system was installed
PLUMBING VENT PIPING
Included, perhaps by special arrangement, might be a septic test (if the home is not connected to a public sewer - but an astute home inspector might explain why such a test may be bogus - or not. H
OME BUYERS GUIDE to SEPTIC SYSTEMS.
Excluded are usually environmental concerns, legal encumbrances and similar topics beyond a normal home inspection scope.
At HOME INSPECTION, GET THE MOST FROM we describe the typical scope of a professional home inspection.
Inspecting New Construction: where troubles lies in wait
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that would permit a more accurate, complete, and authoritative answer than we can give by email alone. You will find additional depth and detail in articles at our website.
That said I have to explain that the question you asked is a bit broad for a simple email reply. It's as if I wrote to you and said I'm about to enter into a negotiation, could you please tell me everything I need to know?
Some time ago I wrote some material on new home inspections but I couldn't immediately put my hands on it today. I'll look further for that information, format it online if needed, and send you that for guidance and to invite your comment.
A more general answer is that indeed new home concerns are very different from older home inspection concerns in these regards:
There are normally no visual clues of the leak, age, wear and tear, sort to point us to existing problem areas;
Rather, substantive defects or problems tend to be ones of omission (failure to provide working footing drains, improper plumbing pipe installation) or of commission (improper flashing around a chimney or at a roof-wall intersection ROOF-WALL FLASHING SNAFU) that may not be immediately obvious but will show up over time.
Therefore an astute home inspector examining a new home looks closely at building practices, details of execution, for clues that may suggest implementation errors. Some of these can be tricky to spot, in fact most of them are. For example: in a finished basement, is a supporting column omitted?
I'm doubtful that a real estate professional is going to be equipped to spot these issues except for some that may be particularly egregious - early failures for example. Even hiring a home inspector may be of only limited value unless the inspector has experience and expertise in new construction and good building practices across ALL of the trades and specialties involved. Otherwise s/he simply won't recognize evidence of commission or omission errors.
What you can do is make sure that all required permits and building code compliance inspections were obtained and that there are no open issues with the building department (which is useful but is NO assurance that there won't be costly or even dangerous defects).
Knowing who the builder was and his/her track record may also be helpful; When I inspect a new building I check with owners of other new structures put up by the same builder if possible, asking what went well, what went wrong, and how the builder responded when post-sale or new home warranty issues arose.
An example or two: Some more general and very common new construction snafus and defect topics are given below as examples.
Open, close, run and test everything that can be run at your walk-through of a new home or of any home before closing sale.
Appliance, cabinets, doors, window defects: There may also be interior questions about what work remains: fixtures, cabinets, appliances; lesser (in terms of percent of property value) issues may arise and be discovered simply by running every plumbing fixture and appliance, opening and closing every window and door - just to discover what things were not finished, or don't work.
It can be a surprise to discover later that three windows don't stay up or don't latch - a too-late surprise now because nobody looked at them while the home was still under warranty or while the builder or seller was under obligation to deliver what was promised.
Roof & Site Drainage incomplete: often the builder's contract considers a home "complete" with no gutters and leaders installed, or with only rough site grading and no finish grading; a result can be a basement flood - perhaps not immediately, but rather as soon as soil clogs the footing drains (if there are any). I'd look for gutters, leaders, and for footing drains taken to daylight as examples of visual clues that are easy to spot.
Incomplete work: if the inspector sees indications that work at the property appears incomplete, s/he should give a notice similar to the one we quote here:
NOTICE: construction work was incomplete at time of our inspection.
Our assessment of building condition as summarized below presumes that the
builder will complete normal construction tasks such as site work, siding,
mechanical hookups, and interior finishing.
Where we feel it is useful we will
note some of the areas of incomplete work, suggesting finish details to watch
for. But in new, incomplete construction we do not call out such items as
deficiencies. Should the builder fail to complete the project, naturally
such items would then be raised as deficiencies.
Mechanical systems defects: more subtle clues indicating important building defects need an expert: if I look at an oil fired heating appliance and see no test instrument hole in the flue vent connector I know that somebody "hooked it up" but no one has properly set up the system to run safely and economically. (OIL BURNER INSPECTION & REPAIR)
Settlement cracking: It is common for new houses to develop new shrinkage and settlement cracks
in the first one or two years after construction--defects not present at an
intial inspection. Such may raise questions that need review.
If the new homeowner has questions about indications of cracking, movement, or out of level building foundation, walls, ceilings, doors that stick, windows that jam or similar current or future defects or about
maintaining the property s/he should call their home inspector before you commiting funds to a
contractor. There should no additional fee for such follow-up questions and advice from a neutral professional can be invaluable.
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