Have you found the townhouse of your dreams? Congratulations! But before getting too attached, now is the time to find out if there are any hidden (and potentially costly) issues to the place you could soon call home. Closing on a house can be expensive, and you might be tempted to save some cash wherever you can, like forfeiting the home inspection. You may have even heard from many people, including real estate agents, that townhouses do not need full inspections. After all, common areas are typically owned by the homeowners’ association.
Nothing could be further from the truth and saving some money upfront could quickly turn into an expensive mistake in the long run. Like any other properties, condos and townhouses should be inspected inside and out.
Home inspectors offer “interior only” inspections for townhouses at a slightly discounted rate. They exclude attics, crawl spaces, exteriors, roofs, parking garages or other common areas. Unless you are planning to move in a big tower where utilities and elements like exterior and the roof would be extremely difficult for the inspector to access, a “full inspection” is the way to go.
Common elements that absolutely should be examined closely include:
- The roofs: roofs in townhouses are often overlooked, but they can be a costly repair and cause significant damages. Things a home inspector should look for include damages due to ice dams, shingles reaching the end of their lifespan, etc.
- Exterior maintenance, including the condition of the retaining walls, guardrails and handrails, siding, ducts, etc. Stucco covered walls need particular attention and may require an invasive moisture testing, especially if the townhouses were built before 1980.
- Decks: unlike common areas, decks and balcony are considered exclusive enjoyment areas and repairs and maintenance are often at the sole charge of the owner. Improperly attached decks are relatively common and can be extremely dangerous.
- HVAC and electric systems: to make sure that the home inspector can have access to the utilities, contact the building superintendent before the inspection.
All the end, a townhouse home inspection should take about the same length of time than a regular single-family home inspection and include much of the same elements.
A townhouse inspector should give particular attention to repairs that have not been adequately made and other “temporary solutions”: it is a sign that the townhouse association does not give maintenance the care it deserves. Another thing to take into account when purchasing a townhouse is to examine the financial health of the townhouse association closely. Since it is the entity which is likely responsible for the most expensive repairs, it should have enough reserves to cover any significant damages.
Special assessments, required by the association to remediate to issues due to one element (the roof, for example), can be extremely expensive. One thing to keep in mind at all times when purchasing a townhouse is that, although the townhouse association may handle common area maintenance, condo owners still pay for it and you should be prepared for any surprise. A full inspection is the only way you will have a clearer idea about what kind of association you will have to live with.