It was a nice little home, recently painted with a new roof. When I drove up to the curb, my first impression was the same as the buyer's, but then I noticed the planters.
It seems like such a simple thing, and the flowers always make a home look more appealing, but planters, flower boxes, and large ceramic or clay pots are a discovery that alerts a good home inspector to look closely.
Many planters on the outside of a home are built above grade. The critical issue with this type of planter is whether there has been waterproofing between the back of the planter and the house siding material. If not, (which is missing nearly half of the time) the moisture from watering the plants can damage the siding -- and even enter the house.
When I see planters like that I take special care to examine the baseboard and the flooring on the inside of the outer wall against which the planter is located. I have discovered rotted baseboards and even wall framing where the cavities are filled with mold -- even on cute little homes with new paint and roofing like the one described above.
Planters that are flush with the grade can also cause interior damage if there is a sunken living room inside. Back in the 1960's and 70's sunken rooms in slab-on-grade construction were popular, and very often they show signs of moisture migrating from the sprinklers in the planters outside. Of particular note are those old conversation pits of that era which have moisture entry in about 20 percent of those homes.
Almost any window box planter constructed of wood rots away within 10 years or less. So if the home I am inspecting has one, I focus on it. Rotted wood window boxes are a minor issue, but if the moisture has migrated inside through the siding, it is another. So I also look closely at the siding and the wall finish and baseboard inside the house, below the window sill.
You wouldn't think that free standing ceramic and clay pots used for planters could be an issue, but sometimes I find that the wood deck below the pots is rotted from moisture leaching through the bottom of the pot. If they sit long enough in one place, these planter pots will even deteriorate stone and concrete patio finishes.
Inside the house, large planter pots can also ruin floor finishes -- even marble, stone, and ceramic. Although they are typically too large to move in order to investigate under them, a competent home inspector will make note of their presence, and alert the buyer to the potential for concealed damage.
It's almost a shame really -- but every time a home inspector sees a home with beautiful flowers in front, the antenna goes up to alert him/her to investigate and look for rotted building materials.