The Sleuth’s Guide to Home Inspections

Look ahead in your home purchase or sale


So you’re a smart buyer and know your written offer to buy should be conditional on a home inspection.  Smart sellers may even arrange a home inspection prior to listing a property to identify and/or fix deficiencies to limit price negotiations. Good move on both sides - but what if the inspector missed something and you’ve signed off on the final deal? Check the fine print on the inspection report and you will see a disclaimer absolving the inspector of any liability for his omissions.  Now you’re pulling more pesos out of your wallet to fix it.

What could you have done differently?

Before rushing into ‘let’s make a deal’, take a second look past the wall colours, past the stone countertop and the nice furniture and check for clues on potential home inspection outcomes. I’ve reduced my initial offer price significantly by finding deficiencies on my own, before the professional home inspection and still  had the offer accepted.

Face it, once you make an offer you are emotionally invested in getting the deal done. You will likely accept certain deficiencies after seeing the formal inspection report with less vigorous negotiation. Your best position is to consider which deficiencies are deal breakers and which you use to justify your initial offer price.

Deficiencies fall into degrees of severity from ‘walk away now’ to ‘I can get that fixed’. The two most critical deficiencies are cracks in walls and ceilings and water damage. Next on the list are slow drains, the slope of balconies and shower floors and termites; then it’s the condition of appliances and window coverings. 

Let’s start at the top.  Cracks mean the building is moving and that’s never good. Buildings in Mexico are usually made from cinder block and if done properly steel rod (rebar) and concrete are put in the vertical channels of the blocks to fortify them. Roofs are corrugated steel decking with poured concrete containing rebar or steel mesh for strength with some type of sealing product or terracotta tile to finish it off. Given cement is hard there is a degree of brittleness which means small cracks from settling are normal. Large cracks on the other hand are problematic. Even with older buildings, which should be fully settled look for cracks that have been patched and reopened signalling a building in motion.  Newer buildings have yet to prove the workmanship trustworthy so it can be a gamble. Look at the site –a flat property suggests a sand base and a sloped lot or rocky outcroppings is apt to be on bedrock.

Cracks and settling naturally lead to big problem #2 which is water leaks. In years gone by Cabo was in a 10 year drought but that’s ended and tropical storms have exposed major deficiencies in a lot of complexes. Ideally, seeing a location during or just after several inches of rainfall will reveal any sins of construction that worsen over time. However, given more sunny days than rainy (that’s why you’re here, right?) look for water marks around ceiling lights or rust on ceiling fittings implying they have been wet. Ceiling leaks are the worst but also look for peeling paint, paint bubbles and even a lot of fresh paint as potential clues the underlying walls have been wet in the past. Check carpets and furniture feet for water marking or mold.  Does it literally pass the “sniff” test? Mold and mildew have a musty smell which is not consistent with a desert location.

Cracks and leaks justify an expert inspection and I would probably walk away and look for something better despite a nice ocean view and good price.  Besides, don’t be fooled by price, expensive places can crack and leak as well, especially if that nice view was created by building on packed sand.

Next on the problem list are slopes of drain pipes, balconies and shower floors. Turn on taps wherever there is a drain and see how fast the water drains away. It’s a surprisingly common problem with new construction in Mexico as the installers typically don’t have a chance to test their work before the sinks and tubs are installed. I know three condo complexes where walls had to be jackhammered open and the pipes reinstalled so the drains could work. Same thing for balconies -  I’ve deliberately poured a pail of water on the balcony with the developer present and watched as the water flowed back into the living room instead of out the drain pipe. It was just a little awkward for him.

And then there’s termites! They’re a fact of life in Mexico and you don’t want these little guys in your home. There are several kinds here including wood and cement burrowing. Any wood with small holes, the telltale termite “dust” on the floor or crumbling sections of window frames, furniture or cabinets will require immediate addressing. If you suspect wood termites push on the potentially affected areas with a car key and see if the key penetrates the wood.  Since many occupied homes are sold furnished, turn over upholstered furniture if you can for a good close look at the wooden framing.

Subterranean termites leave a small brown or grey trail up a wall in which they are burrowing. If subterranean termites are present, intervention means having exterminators drill holes in the cement to pressure fumigate inside the walls. Note to self for termites in cabinets or walls:  BIG price adjustment.

Lastly, have a good look at the appliances. Older appliances aren’t necessarily bad but expect to be replacing them in the next few years. Hot water tanks fail regularly (5-7 years) due to the “hardness” or calcium content of the water. Icemakers in fridges are a perennial problem as the plastic water lines disintegrate in the summer heat after just a couple of years and burst (seemingly always when the home is unoccupied). That leads to an even bigger problem especially if you’re in a condo with units below as you will be responsible for their damage too.

Once again informed buying decisions can avoid buyer regrets and paying twice for the home you purchase.