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Ask the Inspector

How to Be Your Own Inspector When Buying a New Home

We get asked frequently if we have any tips for those buying a new home. Well, today's column will help you become your own inspector. These tips are for someone buying an older home, however they can be useful if you're buying something brand new.

  1. Give the good folks at the Development Services Records Section a call at (619) 446-5200 (or the local building department if the address is outside the City of San Diego), and give them the address of your new home. They will then be able to give you all the permit records we have on file. If you like, you can get copies for a small charge. Most or all of this can be done by telephone and mail.
  2. When a trained inspector looks at a structure they often use a ''path of travel'' approach. Simply defined, it means that as you walk up to the structure you observe the condition of the walkway and the path you would travel within the building. Make sure you cover the entire interior of the building, then go outside and complete a circle of the structure. This works whether your buying a free-standing, single-family home, or a condominium.
  3. So, lets take a walk. As you walk the sidewalk and/or driveway, you may notice some cracking of the concrete. Small hairline cracks or fissures in an older home are not necessarily a problem. What is a problem is when is when the cracked areas are not level -- one side is raised above the other. This may indicate expansive soil -- soil that expands when it gets wet. In most areas of the county, the soil is expansive and that can be a problem. Involve a professional (licensed contractor, landscape architect or soils engineer) if this cracking is excessive.
  4. While you are outside, look up at the section of the roof that is visible. Does the roof surface appear to be level, or do you see bows or dips? Are there missing or loose shingles? Does the roof appear to be in generally good condition? You'll need to call a roofing contractor if a repair or replacement is needed here.
  5. A simple circular bubble level will help you see if the floors are level. On carpeted floors, the level is a good indicator of problems. If the floors sag, squeak or groan it may be best to call a licensed contractor to take a second look.
  6. Look under each sink for water damage, patching and the condition of the pipes. These are telltale signs of possible problems.
  7. Look into the attic for insulation and signs of roof leakage.
  8. Check out the walls and ceilings of the rooms for patching and cracks. If they seem excessive, its once again time to have a professional take a look.
  9. Are the exterior walls peeling or cracked? If the cracks and peels seem excessive, put that on the list for your licensed contractor.
  10. Remember the permits you got from the good folks? Do they match what you see in the house? If not, ask questions.

This is a start and we are here to help. You're always welcome to ask questions of our Field Inspection Services staff. Give us a call at (858) 492-5070.

Art Buxbaum is chief of residential inspection for the City of San Diego. Those who do not live in the City of San Diego proper should check with the local city or county jurisdictions before following any advice in this column. For more information on building permits, including when you need a permit and when you don't call Field Inspection Services at (858) 492-5070.