Real Estate Inspections
Today it is routine to have various inspections performed when purchasing real estate. In Massachusetts, one inspection is mandatory and others may be a requirement to obtaining a mortgage. The types and extent of inspections vary with the type of real estate such as land, home, commercial property and the specific circumstances.
We'll focus primarily on a single family residential transaction and just touch on a few other types. These are typical but other inspections may be advised and they are not listed in any order suggesting priority.
• Structural or whole house: these are performed by someone licensed by the state (no license required as of yet in Vermont) who will check all visible aspects of the structure, the systems (electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation), both inside and outside, the foundation, drainage, insulation, in short, everything to do with the house other than cosmetic. Some inspectors will also inspect the appliances, water softeners, filters, AC and other components.
• Water: If the property is served by a private source such as a well then it is advised a water test be taken to check for bacteria, contaminants and even the ph of the water.
• Radon: This is available by the home inspector or by purchasing a simple kit to do it yourself for air testing however testing for radon in the water is also available if on a well.
• Septic System: In Mass., this is referred to as a Title V inspection and must be conducted by a person with the approved state licensing credentials. This particular inspection and certification is required under state law whereas the above three areas of testing are not mandatory though highly recommended.
• Percolation Testing: this testing is done when purchasing vacant land to determine the suitability of the site for a septic system. All states in our region require this to be performed in order to obtain a building permit.
• Soil testing: in any case where contamination from a hazardous spill or leak is suspected then soil evaluations are done to determine the level of contamination, the type of contaminants and the necessary remediation procedure. It is routine to perform initial site history review on any commercial real estate but buyers should be cautious to consider the fuel type history of other properties such as agricultural or even homes to determine if there may have been spills or buried fuel tanks.
• Asbestos: Asbestos may be present in a variety of building materials and as such if demolition or remodeling is under consideration testing should be conducted to determine if there is asbestos containing material present from shingles, to flooring to popcorn type paints and insulation and the process of removal.
• Lead Paint: this is of particular concern in residential dwellings and it is illegal to have children under the age of six occupying full time a dwelling where this is known to be present. A licensed lead inspector is required to perform lead tests although there are very inexpensive self-test kits available at hardware stores. Keep in mind that even if you do the self-testing, if lead paint is discovered under the law de-leading would be mandatory if young children occupy the house or apartment, owned or rented.
• UFFI: Ureaformaldehyde foam was a very popular form of insulation in the 1970s and very effective as an insulator but often the installations gave off excessive formaldehyde fumes which were a troublesome health hazard and thus the foam was banned. There are new foams on the market today that are highly effective insulation materials and non-hazardous. Existing older foams no longer pose a health risk from fumes but information should be obtained about any concerns there may be such as toxic fumes that can be given off when burned.
Paul Harsch, president and founder of Harsch Associates, a Berkshire County based real estate brokerage firm, is a licensed real estate broker in Massachusetts, New York and Vermont, serving a diverse residential, business, commercial and land client base for 40 years.