When you buy a property in California, you’re buying it “as-is” unless you negotiate a different agreement pertaining to a specific item with the seller. Without that special agreement, you’re accepting the property in its current condition.
This is not to suggest that sellers can announce they are selling their property as-is, and then skip required disclosures. Regardless of whether they intend to address problems with the property, sellers are legally obligated to share known material facts and defects with buyers.
However, to protect yourself as a buyer, it is imperative to get as many inspections as you can. First and foremost, you’ll want to inspect the structure. The first inspection is often the pest and fungus inspection, which discloses any problems related to dry rot, termites, powder post beetles, earth-to-wood contact, or other issues related to pests and fungus. It is an inspection of all that’s visible, so any problems that exist inside the walls or under the tile in the subfloor will not be identified.
The next inspection is often the home inspection, which reveals structural issues resulting from substandard workmanship or deferred maintenance, as well as any safety hazards, including faulty electrical connections caused by an inexperienced electrician or old technology/building standards. A roof inspection is sometimes included as part of the home inspection, but not usually—and it’s really important, as is the heating and air conditioning inspection. The inspection that evaluates the condition of heating and air conditioning equipment can save your life. If a heater has a cracked heat exchanger, for example, it can pump deadly carbon monoxide into your house.
The last thing to consider with respect to the structure is whether it is standing on solid ground. When a house is located near a cliff, most people can see it’s worth an inspection to make sure the land won’t slide out from under the house. However, when a structure is sitting on a flat lot, problems can still arise.
In years past, building requirements for testing soil were quite different. Depending on the type of soil (and what’s buried in it), the weight of a house can cause the earth to compress, leading to cracks in a house’s foundation. If you’re considering a property on a hillside, hire an engineer to inspect the integrity of the land. If you’re interested in buying a house on a flat lot, you probably don’t need to hire an engineer unless you see red flags like damage to a foundation, floors, or walls—specifically, cracks that seem to indicate the house is settling more than it should. As with all inspections, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Sure, inspections can be expensive, but not nearly as expensive as purchasing a property that slides down a hill or becomes an unstable mess.
In addition to structural inspections, you’ll want to evaluate specific functions like a pool, well, or septic system. Some problems are obvious; others are not. A pool inspection will not only note the crack in the bottom of the pool, but also the condition of the pumps, filters, heater, and piping. Well and septic system inspections are important because they can identify problems that the current use may not have triggered. A well or septic system may work beautifully for a retired couple, but when you and your spouse and your four kids and your in-laws move in, the well and/or septic system may not be equipped to handle the volume. Be sure to test the well for both quantity and quality of water.
Next week, I’ll review inspections done for natural hazard disclosures and title insurance, so you’re sure you are, in fact, buying the property you intend to buy—and no one else can lay claim to that property.
If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.