Do I need a home inspection and when should I have it?
Many apartment buyers in NYC are unclear about whether a home inspection is necessary. While your agent will advise you based on the property, here are some hard and fast tips on when a home inspection worth having before signing a contract. If you're buying a NYC apartment, there are typically three types of situations that warrant a professional home inspection.
The first is if your prospective apartment is in a small building which is technically defined as 40 units or less. If the building is on the larger size of this range and has diligent management, an inspection is more discretionary. The reason an inspection is less important in larger buildings is two-fold: (1) In larger buildings, an inspector often cannot access important common spaces like roof, boiler room, etc., so the inspection is not as useful as it's limited to basic components of the unit only. These larger buildings will have detailed documentation concerning age, condition, and any problems with these major systems and structural components, so this data obtained by your closing attorney may be more useful than any visual inspection the inspector could have provided had he had access. (2) In larger buildings, any need for repairs or maintenance of these major systems is either paid for by the large reserve fund of a building or split among several owners, so new owners need not be as concerned about big potential liabilities if there is an issue.
Second, if there’s a specific condition that could potentially cause hard-to-detect problems —such as an apartment on the top floor or ground floor, or with a roof deck or sub-level that may be more prone to leaks or water damage.
Third, if you see small signs of these sorts of issues, like warped floors or staining on the walls or around windows, or if you’re buying an apartment that needs major renovation or is in “original condition” you might want to get the place inspected.
Home inspections in New York City are done before the contract is signed – this is different than in most other places, where an inspection is generally done after. This means that as soon as you have an accepted offer, you will need to be ready to schedule your inspection. Your agent should help you through this process, and will usually have professionals they have experience working with and can recommend to you.
I always recommend that buyers be present for a home inspection. It helps to see and hear the inspector’s findings directly – some items may be quite minor, while others may be more important, but it can be hard for a lay person to gauge the significance of these findings when reading the inspector’s report after the fact. Below are some of the main things your inspector will be on the lookout look out for:
1. Water infiltration from the outside:
Moisture entering from the roof, terrace, and windows is most common. In below ground level apartments, moisture can enter from ground water or as a result of poor drainage.
2. Plumbing leaks:
All sinks, tubs, showers, toilets, washing machines and dishwashers should be operated and checked for leakage. This includes supply and waste piping as well as faucet valve systems. Dishwasher door seals are prone to leaks and need to be checked, too.
Double hung windows should be examined to make sure that they stay up on their own, including newer replacement windows, which are designed with a “spiral balance system.” This style replaces the old string or chain and weight counter balance systems, but both types of windows can become misaligned, and can cause problems if they are unable to be easily opened or do not close or seal properly.
4. Electric wiring:
Is the electrical capacity of the building/apartment up to the demands of 21st century technology? If the building was built 75 years ago, when most people had a radio and a few light bulbs, probably not, unless it's been rewired by a previous owner. Watch out for do-it-yourself wiring projects in older buildings.
Your inspector will also check the GFI (ground fault interrupter) outlets that are installed in locations where there’s a risk of the power source coming into contact with moisture--something to save you if you drop your hair dryer into a sink full of water. A GFI breaker that will not reset indicates that the protection it is meant to provide has been compromised.
Most older apartments have centrally-controlled steam heat with no thermostat to adjust temperatures in individual apartments. In order to lower the heat, residents may have disabled one or more of their radiators using non-standard means, i.e. turning it off by hand. Over-tightening the radiator supply valve can damage it, as can capping the radiator or baseboard supply pipe. Reversing these issues can sometimes be expensive, depending on the damage.
Your inspector should pay close attention to the flooring -- especially if it’s hardwood --to make sure that there are no excessive gaps and/or buckling and that the installation is in line with industry standards. Areas where the wood flooring has been patched may indicate a leak, such as near a radiator.
7. Installation of appliances:
It’s important to ensure that appliances are correctly installed and anchored. While these issues aren’t typically costly to fix, it’s important to make note of them, so that further down the line, appliances don’t become lose, which can cause damage to them or surrounding kitchen fixtures like countertops and cabinets.
8. Common Areas:
Getting access for your home inspector to inspect at the roof, basement, and building mechanicals can sometimes be tricky. If large buildings don’t let you look, it’s usually not a big worry, but, with smaller buildings, access is far more important.
Access to the common areas should always be sorted out before the inspector arrives on site. Your agent should help coordinate this with the seller’s agent when scheduling the inspection.
For more information, check out one of our go-to inspector's websites, which offers additional information and tips about the home inspection process.