5 Things That Immediately Give Home Inspectors “the Ick”

published Jun 15, 2023
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Empty kitchen room with linoleum floor, old storage cabinets and white appliances
Credit: Shutterstock/Artazum

If you’re on TikTok, you likely have your own super-custom algorithm that serves up niche content. Mine is currently a curation of Boston Terrier videos, 20-minute meal ideas, Denver Nugget highlights, and home inspection bloopers. 

As for the latter, my favorite account to follow belongs to Brad Zirlott (@duesouthbrad), a home inspector based in Alabama, who shows all kinds of cringe-worthy problems that pop up during his inspections. I’m talking roofing jobs that look more like papier-mâché projects, loose toilets in new-build homes, and even freshly painted (but rotted) door trim that’s so soft a knife can slide through it like it’s cake.

Naturally, everyone from real estate agents to home stagers to buyers have real estate-related “icks” — sudden and intense turnoffs that change your perception of a place in a matter of seconds. But I’m willing to bet that home inspectors are the professionals most prone to icks. They see fix-and-flip homes and new builds that look shiny and new on the surface, then a home inspection quickly reveals all kinds of problems and shortcuts. It’s the perfect recipe for icks.

“Anything you’ve got to do in here, you can do it with the door open,” quips Zirlott as he shows a newly flipped bathroom with a door that won’t shut all the way in one of his videos.

I asked Zirlott and other home inspectors about their biggest icks. Here are five that get them every time.

DIY Plumbing

If you see funky or ugly plumbing, there’s a very good chance that it was not done by a licensed professional, Zirlott says. 

“Any type of tape or sealant applied to drain piping is usually a good indicator that there are leaks or have been leaks,” he says. 

Stains on plumbing or in vanities and cabinets are also a good indicator that there have been, or still may be, active plumbing leaks, Zirlott explains. Also, loose fixtures and toilets will probably perform poorly over time and could lead to costly plumbing repairs. 

Shoddy Electrical Work

In general, fix-and-flips are one of Certified Master Inspector Hubert Miles’ biggest icks. 

“These horror stories, which I often call ‘lipstick on a pig,’ are often accompanied by concerns about safety, functionality, or overall very poor workmanship,” says Miles, owner of Myrtle Beach-based Patriot Home Inspections and Home Inspection Insider. “There’s no worse feeling than to walk into a cosmetically beautiful home only to kill someone’s dream of homeownership with a laundry list of major issues.” 

Some of the worst shortcuts have to do with electrical work, like improperly installed outlets, exposed wiring, overloaded circuits, and more, Miles says. Not only does it pose a significant safety hazard, but it also reflects a lack of attention to detail and professionalism. 

As an example, he’ll often find two-prong outlets upgraded to three-prong outlets without rewiring. National Electric Codes (NEC) specify that three-plug outlets on only ungrounded wiring must have GFCI protection and be labeled “No Equipment Ground.” However, this rarely happens, Miles says, and often accompanies an outdated breaker box.

Patchy Drywall Work

“One thing that I like to do is take a flashlight and hold it flat against the walls and ceilings,” Zirlott says. “When this is done, you can sometimes spot drywall patches and repairs.” These repairs and patches might indicate that there are still problems behind the walls.

Seeing patchwork repairs and cover-ups is a surefire way to make Miles’ eyes roll. “Whether it’s using excessive layers of paint to hide water damage or covering up cracks in the foundation with cosmetic finishes, these quick fixes only serve to mask underlying issues that sellers are intentionally passing off on homebuyers,” he says.

Old Systems and Appliances

Looking at the serial number for water heaters and HVAC equipment can give you a good idea about the age of the equipment, Zirlott says. 

“In my experience, air conditioning systems over 14 years old and water heaters over 10 years old are nearing the end of their designed service life,” he says.

Websites like building-center.org are a good resource for looking up the age of all different brands and models of equipment, according to Zirlott. It’s not always that simple, though. Zirlott has done an inspection where the homeowner wrapped their appliances in peel and stick wallpaper, making it difficult to glean relevant information or a serial number.

Overgrown Lawns 

Anything that makes it difficult for home inspectors to move about the property with ease can be an “ick.” That includes long grass and weeds, which make it tough to spot things like dog poop, says Mike Powell, a Certified Home Inspector at Red Flag Home Inspection in Tampa, Florida. 

Despite your best efforts, it’s tough to dodge everything in your path — and one bad step can turn into a pretty annoying day, he says.