If there is a fence on the property that you are inspecting, you should check its overall condition. The problems encountered with fences are normally not major and are usually not costly to correct. However, you might find a fence that has deteriorated to a point where it needs complete rehabilitation or replacement.

Wood fences should be inspected for cracked, broken, loose, and missing sections. In addition, they should be checked for deterioration from rot and termite infestation. (Termites and rot are discussed in chapter 8.) The gates for the fence should also be checked for cracked, loose, or broken sections and ease of operation. Wooden gates often sag as they age and require periodic maintenance.

Metal fences should be inspected for rusting, loose, and deteriorated sections. Rusting sections should be scraped, primed, and painted. Chain link fences are generally constructed of galvanized steel. Galvanizing (zinc coating) protects the steel against rusting and is usually applied by hot dipping or electroplating. The hot-dipped process produces a heavy zinc coating that is very effective, in contrast to the thin coating ❍ Can you locate the outlet for these and any produced by electroplating. Chain link fences other drainage pipes? that have been galvanized by electroplating have a tendency to rust and require periodic maintenance. Some chain link fences have a vinyl coating that protects against rust. The vinyl coating is quite effective and lasts for many years.

If there is an in-ground swimming pool on the property, there should be a fence around the pool area. Most communities have an ordinance requiring a fence of a specific height as a protective barrier. If you do not see a fence around a pool area, you should check the requirements with the municipal building department; otherwise, you might find after buying the house that you are legally obliged to install one.

Checkpoint summary


  • When approaching the house, take note of the overall topography.
  • Is it level or inclined?
  • Are there gently or steeply sloped areas?
  • Is the house located near or at the bottom of an inclined street?
  • Note whether there is a storm drain (catch basin) nearby.
  • Are there nearby streams or brooks?
  • Are you able to determine if the house is located in a flood plain or flood-prone area?
  • Is the ground immediately adjacent to the house graded so that it slopes away on all sides of the structure?
  • Are there natural drainageways to direct surface water away from the house?
  • Are there low or level areas that are vulnerable to water ponding?
  • Are there areas of ponded water on the lot?
  • Are you able to determine whether the house has footing drains?

Timber, railroad tie, dry stone wall, gabion

  • Inspect for missing, loose, and crumbling sections of stone.
  • Check timber and railroad-tie walls for cracked, loose, rotting, and heaved sections.
  • Are the wood-constructed walls properly anchored (tiebacks)?

Concrete, concrete block, wet stone wall

  • Inspect for cracked and heaved sections.
  • Check for loose, deteriorated, and missing mortar joints.
  • Is the wall vertical, or does it lean?
  • Are portions of the wall heavily covered with vines?
  • Did you inspect these areas for cracked and heaved sections?
  • Try to determine whether the area behind the retaining wall is adequately drained.
  • Are there weep holes at the base of the wall?
  • Are they blocked?
  • Are the weep holes adequately sized and spaced?



  • Inspect for holes, sunken sections, bald spots, and eroding areas.
  • Estimate areas that will require recultivation.
  • Note soft sections or ridges (possibly due to moles).
  • Inspect terrace steps for cracked, loose, rotting, or missing sections. Check steps for handrails, uneven treads, and variations in riser heights.


  • Inspect shrubbery for overcrowding, dying sections, blocked walkways, steps.
  • Note areas in need of pruning, transplanting, or removal.
  • Note areas of the house that are covered with vines.


  • Check for dead trees and limbs, especially those close to the house.
  • Note tree limbs that are overhanging or resting on the roof.
  • Note for future professional evaluation any trees that show evidence of rot, split sections, or insect infestation.


  • Check and inspect the various deck components for safety rather than for appearance.
  • Check concrete or brick piers for cracked, loose, and deteriorated sections.
  • Inspect wood columns for rot and termite activity.
  • Inspect metal columns for rust deterioration.
  • Are columns supported on concrete pads, or are they in contact with the ground?
  • Note any loose columns.
  • Check for open and weakened joints between the deck and the house.
  • Is the deck attached to the house with nails or lag bolts? (Lag bolts are preferred.)
  • If the deck was not built at the time the house was constructed, does it have a certificate of occupancy (CO)?
  • Inspect deck-joist supports at the portion of the deck attached to the house.
  • Are deck joists supported by metal brackets (preferred), or are they toenailed into a header beam with a ledger board below the joist?
  • Where the joists have been toenailed, check for missing ledger boards.
  • Does deck contain diagonal bracings?
  • Inspect the underside of deck (girders, joists, floor planks) for missing, cracked, and rotting members.
  • Inspect wood step treads, stringers, and handrails for cracked, loose, missing, and rotting sections.
  • Are the stringers supported on a concrete pad, or are they in contact with the ground?
  • Check top portion of deck for cracked, loose, missing, and rotting sections of deck planks, railings, and railing posts.


  • Inspect wood fences for cracked, broken, loose, and missing sections.
  • Check for areas of rot and insect damage.
  • Inspect metal fencing for loose, missing, and rusting sections.
  • Check gates (metal and wood) for sag, missing hardware, and cracked, loose, broken, and missing sections.
  • If property contains an in-ground pool, is the area around the pool adequately fenced off? (It might be a legal requirement.)
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