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Photos: James Bombales

When you’re in the market for a new home, there’s no better feeling than finding that one perfect place for you and your family after browsing through pages of MLS listings and viewing countless properties. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of finding and putting an offer on a home but there’s one vital step that shouldn’t be overlooked — the home inspection. The home inspection is your best defence against unexpected and expensive problems that could arise in the future. We’ve compiled a list of what you need to know about home inspections, the common misconceptions and a few tips on how to find a qualified inspector for you.

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Why should homebuyers get a home inspection?

“The main goal of a home inspection is to get a better understanding of the current condition of the house and to reduce your risk of costly repairs,” Vahn Balabanian, President and Registered Home Inspector at Solex Group Professional Home Inspection, tells Livabl. “You’ll want to know that all the main systems — HVAC, plumbing etc… — and components are in good working order.”

How to find a qualified home inspector

The home inspection industry is unregulated, making it difficult to find a qualified professional. The level of education and experience varies greatly from one inspector to the next, even if they say they’re certified.

“One place to start would be making sure they’re part of a well-known, reputable association,” says Mark Diplock, Senior Inspections Manager at Mike Holmes Inspections. “In Ontario, there’s the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors (OAHI). We’re not licensed at this point in time but the training and the education levels in order to reach that Registered Home Inspector (RHI) standard are higher than in other associations.”

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When calling companies, most buyers simply ask about pricing and availability. According to Diplock, home buyers should find out how long an inspector has been in business and what kind of experience and background they have.

“Here at Mike Holmes Inspections we make sure all our inspectors have a construction background,” Diplock tells Livabl. “We also require them to have some building code certifications.”

The types of tools and equipment a company uses can also be a telltale sign of the quality you can expect. “If someone says I have a flashlight and a ladder, well you might want to move on,” suggests Diplock.

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Don’t forgo a home inspection even in a bidding war

Purchasing a home is the biggest investment most people will make in their lives. However, with crowded housing markets in major cities throughout North America, it’s not uncommon for homebuyers to skip the home inspection in order to make a more competitive offer. While this strategy may help you get the house, it might also come with a host of hidden repairs and major headaches.

“This has been the norm in a lot of areas [in Toronto] in the past year or so and unfortunately a lot of people got hurt because of that,” says Diplock. “I’ve had some clients who still wanted to have an inspection so they hired us after they bought the house and it was amazing some of the things that were found. Damages that were covered up by homeowners or items that you just wouldn’t see during a walk-through like rotting windows or even a buried oil tank in the backyard.”

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Home inspectors can help identify warranty items on new construction homes

Some people believe that buying a brand new home means you won’t encounter any problems. While you’re less likely to find issues like knob-and-tube wiring and asbestos, there are plenty of other things to look out for.

“A new home in Ontario is covered by the Tarion warranty so our focus when it comes to new builds is to find potential warranty items,” says Balabanian. “The 30-day and one-year inspections are very important milestones. We’ll look for things like incorrectly installed items such as Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRVs), defects in hardwood floors, plumbing problems, GFCI outlets not working, or on the rare occasion a leak or minor roofing issues.”

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Condominiums should be inspected too

Purchasing a condominium is a little different than a townhome or single family home since exterior elements are maintained by the condominium corporation. However, interiors, plumbing fixtures and mechanical components should still be checked.

“Every unit has its own circuit board and breakers so we’re checking all the electrical to make sure it’s in proper working order and hasn’t been tampered with,” says Diplock. “It’s also amazing how often we’ll find a little drip in the bathroom that could indicate larger problems like water leakage.”

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Buyers of older condominiums should also be wary of Kitec plumbing, a system that was used in new or renovated condos and houses between 1995 and 2007.

“The product was recalled due to its tendency to prematurely deteriorate or fail causing burst pipes and flooding which led to a class action lawsuit,” explains Balabanian. “So that could be an unexpected cost and an example of something that may have to get replaced prematurely.”

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Pay careful attention to new additions or major renovations

Any part of a house that has been renovated or altered should be carefully examined. This could be something as large as an addition or renovated basement, or even things like newly installed pot lights.

“A lot of people are quick to trash new home builders but then they go out and do it themselves and do a poor job.” says Balabanian. “You’ll see a house fully renovated on the main floor but you look at the attic and you’ll find minimal insulation, pot lights without vapour barriers etc… When you start looking at things closer, that’s when you find issues.”

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The ultimate decision to buy is up to you

The role of a home inspector is to conduct a visual inspection and provide you with information to help you decide whether or not to purchase a home.

“People often think home inspectors will tell them the house is good or bad; buy the house, don’t buy the house, but we’re not there to make that call,” explains Balabanian. “Everyone has a different comfort level and the bottom line is you need to be comfortable with the issues that a home inspector is going to bring forward and educate you on.”

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