Anyone who’s been a homeowner for 5 minutes can attest that there’s always something to fix around the house. That’s why it’s recommended to set aside 1%-4% of your home’s value (depending on how old it is) for maintenance every year.
Maintenance budgeting will help you take a “these things happen” attitude every time you write a check to a repair service. But natural wear and tear on a house can sneak up on you—even if you’re regularly responding to “fires” like a noticeable plumbing leak or appliance breakdown.
“A house doesn’t have a ‘check engine’ light,” says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors. “So oftentimes, people just don’t know what’s wrong with their home”—a scary thought considering early detection is your best defense against costly surprises as a homeowner.
There is, however, a reliable way to test your home’s health, if you’re willing to be proactive: They’re called home maintenance inspections, and you can think of them like routine doctor’s appointments that help you catch the high cholesterol long before the risk of heart attack.
Sound like a smart move? There’s more where that came from—let’s dig in!
First, what is a home maintenance inspection?
“Homes need periodic maintenance,” says Brent Crum, a team leader at the award-winning home inspection company Pillar to Post.
“Especially with older houses, systems become obsolete—plumbing and electrical have come a long way in the past 20 years. Homes settle. Things break. Rodents can get inside and cause problems.”
Similar to a home inspection that a buyer orders before closing, home maintenance inspections are a thorough examination of every major system and component of your house performed by a licensed home inspector with advanced technical knowledge in residential properties.
Maintenance inspections can also be tailored to focus on any particular problems you’ve noticed as a homeowner or would like the inspector to pay special attention to.
For clarity’s sake, it’s helpful to define the three types of inspections you could encounter as a homeowner:
Home maintenance inspection:
Inspections ordered by a current homeowner for their own home, with the intent of discovering any major problems or repairs they need to guarantee the safety and value of their home.
Pre-listing home inspection:
Inspections ordered by a current homeowner for their own home, but with the intent of preparing their home to list for sale.
Buyer’s home inspection:
Inspections ordered by a potential home buyer with the intent of uncovering any defects or necessary repairs to the house and obtain an examination of the home’s overall condition prior to purchase.
During a home maintenance inspection, a licensed inspector will spend two to three hours (depending on the size of your home) to perform a visual inspection of a property’s main components, including:
- HVAC system
- Attic and/or basement
- Crawl space
- Windows and doors
- Walls, ceiling, and floors
- Deck and/or patio, porches, and railings
- Exterior of the home
The inspector will take photographs throughout the process, as well as make written notes.
Within a few days, you’ll receive a full inspection report with the inspector’s professional findings laid out. The report will note of problems they identified and list recommendations for any further work. It’s recommended to obtain a home maintenance inspection about once every five years.
How can you find a qualified home maintenance inspector?
Many licensed home inspectors who perform buyer’s inspections also provide home maintenance inspections. To find someone qualified, seek out a referral from your local real estate agent if you’ve started working with one, ask your neighbors on Nextdoor for a recommendation, or use a site like Thumbtack to get matched with professionals in your area before you pick the first name that appears on Google.
It’s especially useful to seek out a referral when you hire a home inspector because 18 states as well as Washington, D.C. do not require that home inspectors be licensed, and not all home inspectors will do a thorough job.
Hiring an inexperienced, sloppy inspector can lead to costly problems down the road, especially when you decide to sell and your buyer’s inspector turns up a problem that ought to have come up in your home maintenance inspections.
How much do home maintenance inspections cost?
The price for your home maintenance inspection will vary depending on the size of your home, but HomeAdvisor reports that the typical range is between $278 and $389 and the national average cost of a home inspection is $315. However, homes over 2,000 square feet will run more in the $400 range.
If your inspector is also doing additional specialized testing, like radon or mold testing, or checking for termites, you should expect to pay additional fees.
Most home inspectors do not cover these specialized areas, however, your inspector should note if he or she notices any signs of mold or termites (radon requires specialized equipment to detect) in their report.
If so, they can most likely recommend a professional who can help you with those specialized needs.
How is a home maintenance inspection different from a pre-listing inspection?
From the inspector’s perspective, there are no notable differences between a home maintenance inspection and a pre-listing inspection. The inspector will still look at all the major systems of the home, as well as the exterior, deck, porch, patio, etc.
The one thing that might differ is that in a home maintenance inspection? The inspector probably will not test your appliances.
Homeowners already know whether or not their burners on the stove work, and whether the dishwasher runs, explains the Minneapolis-based home inspection company Structure Tech. The inspector should inspect the appliance installation, though, during a home maintenance inspection.
No matter what kind of inspection a homeowner or buyer is getting, the goal is always to learn about the state of the home, and especially to uncover any “invisible” issues that may be developing.
What’s the benefit to getting regular home maintenance inspections, rather than waiting until your home is under contract?
Regular home maintenance inspections offer several major benefits, including:
- A reduction in surprises for the home seller and the home buyer during closing.
- The ability for the homeowner to get their house in the best possible condition, far in advance of a sale.
- Prevention of potentially disastrous or dangerous problems, like a deck collapse or serious roof leak.
- Opportunity to check out particular maintenance issues of concern and ask an unbiased professional for their recommended course of action.
- Peace of mind for the homeowner.
Without a regular maintenance inspection or a pre-listing inspection, most homeowners who’ve owned their home for more than a decade wouldn’t even know they had polybutylene pipes.
However, this is one of those invisible issues that could create real problems with a home sale. “If the home is over 30 years old and you go to sell, the buyer’s going to have a very hard time insuring it,” Weinstein says. “Insurance companies are really tightening that up.”
That issue could result in serious delays during the closing process—not to mention an unpleasant surprise in the form of an extremely expensive repair for the home seller.
It’s much safer to know these issues before you put your house on the market, so you can either take your time replacing the plumbing, or work with your agent to find an insurance company that will insure the property, despite the polybutylene pipes, after it’s purchased.
Another example is an exterior crack on the side of your house. “Sometimes, that’s just a settling crack that has to be filled in, and it’s not a big deal,” Weinstein says. “But it could also mean that the foundation has shifted. In that case, a structural engineer has to come in and make sure everything is sound.”
Now, if that shifting foundation showed up on a regular home maintenance inspection that you got as a homeowner, you could bring in the specialists required to fix it and be done with the issue.
Imagine, however, if that problem showed up on the buyer’s pre-purchase inspection. You’re either going to have to make the repair before the closing process can continue (whether or not you were prepared to spend that kind of money), give the buyer a credit, or allow the buyers to walk away altogether.
None of those are particularly great options. This is why regular home maintenance inspections can be so helpful when it comes to keeping your home in good condition and making sure an eventual sale goes smoothly.
What should you do after you receive your home maintenance inspection report?
Once you get your report with the results of your home inspection, it’s time to decide what you’re going to fix right away, and what you’re going to wait on.
While small issues, like a window that isn’t insulating well, can usually be put on hold, there are types of problems that should be addressed as soon as possible:
- Safety hazards, like faulty wiring or structural damage
- Leaks in plumbing or the roof
- Termite damage
This is especially true if you’re planning on selling your house some time in the near future. “You definitely want to fix anything that might scare a buyer off,” says Weinstein. “Structural cracks, water intrusion, the possibility of mold, if the roof is near the end of its life—these are all things that can delay a sale.”
How can home maintenance inspections benefit an eventual home sale?
Regular home maintenance inspections can be of great benefit to homeowners when the time comes to put their house on the market.
In addition to preventing unpleasant surprises that could delay or derail the closing process, these regular inspections can help you maintain your home’s value by keeping it in top condition. “Your home is probably the biggest investment of your whole life,” Crum says. “It’s a good idea to have regular inspections done so you can catch those maintenance issues that need attention.”
If you think about it, waiting until your home is under contract to have a home inspection done is a reactionary approach to upkeep. Scheduling a home maintenance inspection now, before you decide to list your house, is an investment not only in your home’s value, but in your peace of mind until that moment comes.
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