Buyer Beware – Learn to Recognize Common Problems in Single Family Homes

Buying a home in Greater Vancouver’s competitive real estate market is not for the faint of heart. Until recently demand has far exceeded housing supply often leading to intense bidding wars, and typically resulting in offers at or above asking price, and sometimes with no subjects conditional to the sale! Frequently too, buyers have only the briefest of opportunities to view the home. The pressure to make a major financial decision within a very short time frame and often without adequate objective information can expose home buyers to risks that may be overwhelming.

While the following information should not be considered a substitute for a professional home inspection, it is intended to help you recognize some common and potentially expensive problem conditions that may affect your purchase and planning decisions.

First, know what you can manage. Are you looking to buy a home in move-in condition; or do you have the time and skills to devote to a fixer-upper, or the resources to hire professionals to do the work for you? The answer to this question will help fine-tune your search.

What is your initial impression of the home’s condition? Has it been well maintained? This will give you a general idea of the overall level of upkeep. Ask the realtors, and the vendor if available, questions about the home’s history including any recent repair work, upgrades and renovations, and whether work was done with a permit or not.

Some common problems found during a home inspections are costly to repair and relatively easy for the untrained eye to see.

Roof: On average, most roofs will require replacing every 20 years. Prices range from $5000 to $25,000 depending on the material used and the size and pitch of the roof.

Roof conditions to look for:

1) Overhanging trees dropping debris onto the roof will contribute to wear, as will moss growing on the surface. Look especially on the north facing slope, but look at the roof from all directions.
2) Note the condition of the roofing material; is it curled, stained or visibly damaged?
3) Throughout the home, look for any stains on ceilings, walls and floors; moisture penetrating from the exterior or problems from internal plumbing could be the cause.


Drainage: Drainage systems located around the perimeter of the home direct roof and ground water away from the foundation. Over time these can become clogged with debris, causing water to collect at the foundation and often leading to dampness and mold growth or even water ingress to the basement. Replacement of the drain tiles can cost $10,000 to $15,000.

Drainage items to look for:

1) When walking around the exterior of the house note whether water collected from the roof flows through the downspouts into a closed pipe located along the exterior walls of the house. If the downspouts are disconnected from the closed pipes at surface level and are draining directly onto the ground away from the house it could indicate a problem with the drainage system.
2) Notice whether lot grading slopes towards the house or away from it. Water directed towards the foundation wall will add an extra load on the draintiles.
3) Soil levels higher than the concrete foundation wall can cause water damage to siding and house walls. Soil contact with siding promotes rot and creates an ideal environment for pests. Ideally, soil surfaces should be kept 6 to 8 inches below siding.
4) In the basement or crawlspace areas look for the formation of a white crystalline deposit on exposed foundation walls or concrete floor. This could be efflorescence; an indicator of potential drainage problems.
5) While you’re looking at the foundation walls notice any larger-than-hairline cracks in the concrete. Cracks larger than 1/8” should be investigated further and monitored over time.


Electrical System: Requirements for electrical capacity in homes today are much higher than when many older homes were constructed. Older systems that have not been upgraded are not necessarily dangerous; however temporary modifications, such as the long term use of extension cords or using the wrong size fuse or breaker in an electrical panel can be a fire hazard.

Electrical safety items to look for:

1) Check electrical outlets to make sure they are 3-pronged. 2-pronged outlets indicate an older system.
2) Note whether the Electrical panel is a breaker or fuse type. Again, fuses indicate an out-dated system.
3) Look at outdoor and bathroom outlets to make sure they have a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter).
Wherever water and electricity are in close proximity, GFCI’s are installed to prevent electrocution should someone accidentally make contact with water while using an electrical appliance.
4) Look for smoke detectors. There should be one installed per floor.


Ventilation: A good ventilation system will make the interior living space healthier, more comfortable, and will increase the life of various components in the home such as windows and walls.

Ventilation items to look for:

1) Test exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms to make sure they are functioning. An adequately functioning fan should be able to hold a piece of toilet tissue in place. The presence of exhaust fans may not necessarily mean that they are being used by the current occupants, but we stress their use in maintaining your home and your health.
2) Note the condition of window interiors, particularly if curtains are frequently left closed. Temperature differences between interior room temperature and window surface temperature will lead to mold growth.
3) Look in closets or any rooms that have an outside wall and which are typically kept closed; they are subject to temperature variations and are more susceptible to mold growth.
4) Use your nose to detect any musty smells, especially in bathrooms and at lower levels of the home. Note any blistered or peeling paint, water damaged drywall or musty smells.


New Homes: Building practices and the materials used will greatly impact the overall condition of a home during the course of its life. A professional home inspection will assess visible construction details and finishing, and will determine whether building components, such as the plumbing, heating and electrical systems, if operational, are installed and functioning properly. Outstanding deficiencies are identified and provide a basis for determining final completion with the builder. It should be noted however, that some deficiencies will not become evident until several years after completion. For example, wood framing that was wet during construction will dry out and shrink somewhat causing cracking to drywall finishes.

Things to look for in a new home:

1) Windows and doors should be caulked on the exterior and have adequate overhangs or drip flashings to direct water away.
2) Test hot and cold water taps to make sure they are not reversed.
3) Run bathroom and kitchen fans to make sure they are functioning properly and, if possible, note if they are vented to the exterior.


There are many items that are visible to the lay person and which can help narrow down your choices to a property that you want to seriously consider. A professional home inspection is also limited to a visual investigation but with training, experience and specialized equipment the home inspector is able to give you a much more in-depth analysis of the home’s condition. On average, the fee will be $400 to $600 and will cover thousands of items, many of which are not visible to the untrained eye. Most home inspectors will welcome your attendance throughout the 2 to 4 hours they will be on-site. The knowledge, skills and experience that a professional brings to the work will give you confidence knowing you have the information needed to make purchase and planning decisions best suited to your needs, budget and capabilities.

Contact our Vancouver home inspection company today to make it easier to choose the house that is right for you with the least amount of problems.