New Construction Home Inspection: When is the Builder on the Hook?

Home inspection

New construction homes sound like a pretty safe bet. No other family has lived there. All of the finishes, fixtures, and appliances are new, down to the scratch-free wood floors and shiny bathtubs.

The reality is that even a new house or condo might have defects. In fact, all of them probably do. New construction problems are often minor and easily remedied. Once in a while, though, the builder might be on the hook for correcting the defect before you sign a contract.

Here are a few that your home inspector might discover.

High Planters and Mulch Beds Around the Foundation

Landscaping sure looks beautiful, especially in the spring and summer. A new home might have tidy mulch beds or planters across the front or all the way around, which is a definite curb appeal plus. If they were installed over a properly graded yard, the house might be in trouble.

Full Circle Inspections says a foundation needs between 6 and 8 inches of clearance between the top of a mulch bed or planter and the bottom of the siding or brick. The soil might be correct. However, if landscapers dressed up the property afterward, the soil and mulch level might be too high, giving moisture and insects easy access to the home.

Repair outlook: usually simple and inexpensive.

Structural Notches for Plumbing, Electrical, and Ductwork

If something doesn’t fit, surely a small access cut won’t cause any harm. At least that’s what some contractors think. You might be amazed by the number of new-construction homes that are found with damage introduced by plumbers, electricians and HVAC technicians who wanted a path through—not around—a joist, stud or another component.

In some cases, it’s possible to cut through a perfectly good structural element such as an I-beam without damaging the integrity of the house. In many cases, cuts and notches make the house weaker. In either case, an impatient installer shouldn’t override the precise calculations of a structural engineer.

Repair outlook: possibly quite expensive for the contractor.

Major Structural Defects

Occasionally, a house wasn’t built for longevity in the first place. Major structural defects are a major warning sign. Trouble might not happen overnight, but it will probably happen soon.

Defects might include a supporting beam in the basement that’s misaligned, wood shims where concrete should be, and Full Circle says your inspector might even find a whole support beam resting on nothing but a 2 X 4.

Repair outlook: serious and costly.

Home inspection

Unfinished work isn’t a warning sign; most builders know and plan to finish up.

Unfinished Work

Not every material defect is a disaster lying in wait. If the contractor hasn’t finished up before the closing date, your inspector will spot and log the missing work. You should have a walk-through with the building before the closing date when unfinished jobs are entered into a punch list. That list guides the crew through everything left undone.

There is a caveat. If neither you nor the builder noticed unfinished work and it wasn’t added to the punch list, the builder might be off the hook. That’s a sticky wicket and you might need an attorney.

Repair outlook: usually expedient and inexpensive.

According to Nolo, buyers may have protection through the builder’s warranty, by the state, or both. Some states offer explicit protection for buyers. And most reputable builders offer a 1-year limited warranty that covers their work.

Defects don’t just exist in the realm of the fixer upper or older homes. New construction usually has at least a few defects, many of which are minor. If the home you want to buy has serious defects, your inspector will find them and arm you with the knowledge to make that call to the builder.

If you’re searching for someone who has your back, Hire an Inspector is a great place to start. Put us to work. We’ll find a home inspector near you.