A home inspector will point out obvious concerns to a prospective buyer, such as how well the furnace performs.
But it’s up to the wise shopper to take into consideration many intangibles – such as how quickly snow is removed from the street – when buying a home at this time of year.
Atlanta broker Rhonda Duffy considers winter a great time to shop for a new home, since a prospective buyer can “see how the home holds up in extreme weather situations,” she says. Here are eight inspection points to keep in mind:
Driveways, Walks, Stairs
The driveway, walks and stairs pose challenges and expenses come winter. How much are you willing to plow, shovel and de-ice, or can you afford to pay a professional? It’s critical to remove snow before ice builds up, says Lou Manfredini, a home improvement guru and contributor to the “Today” show. Some caveats: A north-facing driveway or walk is more likely to freeze, since it won’t receive much sun. Check out driveway and walks without snow since they may require work like resurfacing, says Ken Pozek, with Keller Williams Realty in Detroit.
Neighborhood Snow Removal
Find out how well a community removes snow from main streets and who’s responsible for clearing sidewalks. It could be homeowners or it could be a neighborhood association. Sheila Salvitti, with Coldwell Banker Premier Properties in the Philadelphia area, suggests taking a drive around a potential new neighborhood several hours after a big storm to see how removal has come along.
Insulated Windows and Doors
Touch a windowsill and see how cold it is or walk around, carry a lighter and see if it flickers near windows and doors, another sign of draftiness, says Manfredini. Robert Young, a manager with Terminix, which manufactures pest control and insulation services, recommends checking downspouts to be sure they drain away from a home; if left against a foundation they may bring moisture and pests inside.
Roofs and Gutters
Down spouts near an entry or garage may spill water onto the ground, turning it to treacherous ice, says Manfredini. Look for ice dams on roofs, which prevent melting snow from draining and can cause backed-up water to leak inside. Good insulation can prevent this, says Young. An inspector should go up on a roof if weather permits and, if not, cross the street with binoculars and visually inspect the roof.
Furnace and Heating System
Manfredini advises buyers to request a history of service on a furnace 15 years and older and have an inspector check it before the sale. Ductwork should have been cleaned within five years.
Basement pipes should be insulated or wrapped, especially those on outside walls, to avoid freezing. Be sure joints are sound so they won’t leak. An unheated basement or crawl space makes a home colder. Hoses should have been drained and outside water turned off to avoid freezing, says Kathleen A. Kuhn, president of HouseMaster, home inspection franchisor.
While they help create a warm mood indoors and heat the hearth area nicely, they may cool off other parts of the house. An outside air intake and vent on the outside wall and glass doors in front of the fireplace will improve this, says Manfredini. Be sure a flue is in proper working and a chimney has a cap.
Because winter means snow and ice trekked indoors, floors should be easy to clean and not slippery. Tile, vinyl and hardwood are best; carpet worst, Pozvek says.
Finally, consider an energy audit, which many utility companies perform for free; it may include a thermographic inspection using infrared scans to detect air leakage; see the U.S. Department of Energy’s site, energysavers.gov.