What do you do now?
The typical, but frustrating, answer is it depends. It depends on where the issue is, how severe it is, what the seller wants to do about it, etc. Some of this is outside your control. But there are actions you can take and we’re going to help you determine what those are.
Acculevel has been repairing foundations and waterproofing homes since 1996. Founded by Andy Beery, we are a family owned and operated business. We are often asked by home buyers or their realtors to help respond to home inspections.
Each home and its situation is unique, and it can be difficult to determine who you should call first to evaluate the problem. There are times when you need a contractor, and we are happy to help!
But there are also circumstances that require a different type of expertise, and we want to review the situations with you. A well-informed buyer is a successful buyer; and we want you to have the best possible experience.
Let’s begin with a brief look at the types of inspections you might need or encounter during your home buying experience.
Two Primary Types of Inspection
The most common inspection is done by a licensed home inspector. These are an essential part of the home buying/selling process. Home inspections are different from home appraisals; appraisals are required by a financial institution, to assess the market value of a property.
A home inspector conducts an examination of the house in its current state, from top to bottom. Once the full examination is done, they generate a report which itemizes each area and any concerns. A home cannot “fail” an inspection, but rather the inspector will describe its physical condition and indicate what may need major repair or replacement.
Most inspection reports list potential concerns and rate them, based on the severity of the issue. You’ll need to review these issues and determine how you want to proceed with the home purchase: negotiate for the seller to repair them, reduce the selling price to include repairs, etc.
This picture was taken by an Acculevel project manager during a routine appointment. A basement wall crack like this would be flagged by a home inspection report.
Home inspectors have their limitations, especially in bad weather or in small crawl spaces. We have more details about what home inspectors look for in this article.
Some cities now require municipal inspections in addition to a home inspection. These review different types of home concerns and vary depending on your city.
In Acculevel’s coverage area of Indiana and the surrounding states, this is not common practice. However, there can be circumstances where such an inspection is needed.
This most often occurs when a homeowner (the seller) has built an addition onto the home or completed certain upgrades. The home inspector will generally use language like, “this (item) appears to be recent. You may need to verify it meets code.”
A municipal inspector will review the permits for the property, and hopefully verify the changes or additions were approved through the appropriate channel. For example, if the improvement was adding a new septic system, this should have been inspected and approved by the municipality before use. If this is not the case, the inspector will conduct an inspection and report their findings.
Now that you know the difference between these two inspection reports, let’s talk about how to respond to them. Your realtor and the home inspector can often help direct you, but in general, you will either need an engineer or a contractor.
When Do You Need a Structural Engineer?
A structural engineer evaluates a home based on different criteria than either inspector. They evaluate if the home was properly designed, and if it was built to be structurally sound.
So you will want to consult an engineer if there is concern the home’s structure has been compromised. Examples would be if the area has experienced tornado damage, an earthquake, major flooding, or if the house has been hit by a car. (And yes, that last one is a real-life example!)
You should consult a structural engineer when you need:
- To verify the stability or the structural integrity of the home.
- A report that determines if the structure is stable.
- A statement that no repair work is needed.
This picture was taken by an Acculevel crew member before work began. This type of damage could be something a structural engineer evaluated. Helical Piers were installed to repair the foundation.
A structural engineer has formal training that allows them to assess an entire home and its surroundings. Their knowledge does come at a price, as you’ll pay for their assessment. But if there is a structural component being questioned, there is no substitute for their expertise.
When Do You Need a Contractor?
You need a contractor for repairing a specific issue. Some examples may include if the home inspection noted hail damage on the roof, there is insect damage on the floor joists, or signs of water damage.
Most contractors provide free estimates. They will meet with you, examine the affected section of your home, then recommend repairs and provide costs. They are experts in their specific fields- but only in those arenas. A roofing company is not qualified to assess floor joists; likewise, a basement repair company can’t help you with attic insulation.
You should consult a contractor when you need:
- Additional information about issues noted by the home inspector.
- To better understand the potential impact of a problem: is this crack cosmetic? Is it a sign of a larger issue, like a settling foundation?
- An estimate on repairs needed to fix an issue.
We strongly urge you to only use contractors that are reputable and accredited by the Better Business Bureau. We have an article that guides you through a checklist of questions you should ask a contractor. This is applicable to any type of contractor.
Answers to Commonly Asked Questions That You Need to Hear
Buying a home is not a quick and easy process, and a qualified realtor can be an invaluable resource. There are multiple reports, multiple stages of review, and a seemingly-endless number of people to meet or speak with about the process.
This can be overwhelming, especially for first time home buyers. We don’t want you to become frustrated, incur unforeseen costs, or feel out of the loop. That’s why it’s important to address these questions that we get all the time.
The two questions we hear the most are:
- Do I Need to Meet in Person with the Engineer, Inspector, or Contractor?
- Why Can’t You Diagnose the Issue through Photos?
We know your time is limited and valuable. It can be tempting to use a few shortcuts, but we urge you not to go that route.
Do I Need to Meet in Person with the Engineer, Inspector, or Contractor?
One thing all of these service providers agree on is this: yes, please meet us for the initial appointment.
While it’s not required that you be present for the inspection, it is highly recommended. You will have greater confidence in the inspector if you see them in action, and know they’ve assessed the entire home. They will also be available to answer questions you may have, as you learn about the condition of the home and how to maintain it.
Likewise, your contractor wants to meet with you on site. They don’t expect you to follow them on the roof, or down into the crawlspace. But they do want to clearly explain their findings, the impact the issues may have, and why they recommend a specific repair method.
When you don’t attend the appointment, you have to rely on a written statement or a second-hand account of the conversation with the expert. This limits the information available to you, which is not the best footing for making a major investment decision like buying a home.
Why Can’t You Diagnose the Issue Through Photos?
Both engineers and contractors, generally speaking, review a home as a collection of integrated systems. If you take pictures of the water in the crawl space, but only the puddles, that doesn’t give them sufficient information.
For example, if a home has water in the crawl space, that’s clearly a drainage problem. But this may not be the only problem. You may have other consequences that need to be reviewed: the source of the water, if there’s mold developing, have the floor joists or sill plates been damaged, etc. To accurately gauge and diagnose the full scope of repairs, the contractor has to go into the crawl space, outside reviewing the guttering and downspouts, and inside the house looking at how the floor may be sagging.
This goes back to the question about meeting in person. Buying a home is a major financial investment, and not being fully aware of the potential problems can be a frustrating and expensive mistake. You want to be well-informed and forewarned of any issues with the property before you sign on the dotted line.
Do You Need A Contractor to Evaluate Your Foundation?
We recommend that you only work with reputable service providers: you can verify them with their appropriate organizations.
- Real estate agents at realtor.com.
- Home inspectors at ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors).
- Engineers at your state’s chapter of the Structural Engineer’s Association.
- Contractors at the Better Business Bureau.
At Acculevel, we frequently contribute to the home buying process. We work with realtors, home inspectors, structural engineers, homeowners, and other contractors as needed.
If you live in our service area and your project involves waterproofing or foundation repairs, we are here to help! You can request a free estimate, or call us at 866-669-3349. Our friendly office staff will make an appointment for you with one of our local project managers. He or she will evaluate your dream home, address your concerns, and recommend the best course of action for you.