Vacant homes can be a buyer’s dream, at least from a purchase price standpoint. From the perspective of value, however, that might be a different story. Vacant homes can suffer a lot of problems, some from outside sources and some from just being unused.
If you’re called on for an inspection of a home that’s been vacant for very long, here are some of the more common defects you’re likely to find:
#1: Plumbing Leaks
If the house was winterized before the last owners or tenants moved out, the plumbing throughout stands a better chance of surviving vacancy intact. But if the house is in a climate where winters are cold enough to freeze, there might be leaks and other damage in various areas.
The freeze and thaw cycles that some climates go through every winter can wreak havoc on water supply lines. If frozen hard enough for long enough, broken lines are a fairly common result.
#2: Water Supply Sediment
Another potential plumbing issue is sediment buildup inside the water supply lines. Although not usually found in newer homes, galvanized steel water supply lines in older homes are common. Pipes left to sit with water inside can create more and more sediment from oxidization.
Sediment is one of those problems that isn’t always obvious from the outside. Corrosion on fittings is one give away. But the easier way to determine whether pipes are in poor condition is by turning on a tap. Sediment impairs the water flow, so lines with sediment buildup inside won’t run freely. The Structuretech home inspection blog says that if the water flows fast at first and then slows to a crawl, there’s probably sediment to blame.
#3: Non-Working Appliances
The longer anything sits unused, the more it can fall into disrepair. Appliances are a perfect example. Director of the Cleveland Plumbing Industry, Jason Shank, tells Realty Today that in dishwashers, for example, valves can stick in the closed position.
Refrigerators can be another problem, especially models with built-in ice makers and water dispensers. Watch for deteriorated door sealing gaskets on refrigerators and dishwashers, too.
#4: Pest and Animal Infestation
A vacant home to one is a haven to another. Critters of all varieties can turn into seasonal squatters in a home where no one is there to keep them away. Raccoons, especially, love to nest in attics where there’s lots of soft insulation to bed down.
Birds can be another problem. So can insects of all varieties, including the wood-boring variety. Watch for bats, squirrels, opossums, rats, mice and stray cats in any vacant home that you inspect.
#5: Broken Windows
Broken windows are practically a plague on many vacant homes. If there’s nobody living inside, windows and not-so-casually thrown objects seem to find each other with an unfortunate amount of regularity.
Beyond intentional damage, storm damage is another problem. A tree branch here and a wind-blown object there, and a vacant house might sit for months before anyone even notices. Broken windows also make perfect front doors for any vermin that you might find living inside.
Inspecting vacant homes poses one more challenge that you’ll want to discuss with the prospective buyer or the entity selling the property. You can inspect the structure, but you won’t have the ability to check the home’s systems without water, electricity, and gas utilities turned on.
Vacant house inspections might not happen often, but you’ll want to know what you could be walking into. Whether it’s litter and bedding from a human squatter or a protective mother raccoon with a nest of babies, the hazards and defects in a vacant house can differ from those you’ll find in occupied homes.
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