The Operating Systems, Lower Level, Interior and Exterior Inspection sections are EXTREMELY condensed versions of those found in our home inspection book: Home Inspection Business From A to Z
Real Estate Appraisers are not required to be home inspectors. However, I will include these sections anyway to give you some basic details about home inspections.
Basement and Lower Level
Some houses are built on a concrete slab and therefore there's no lower level to inspect. When you're inspecting the lower level of a house move in a clockwise or counter clockwise direction so you make sure you don't miss anything. Some lower level areas will be finished with rugs on the floors and sheetrock on the walls and ceilings and you can't view behind these finished coverings. Finished lower level areas add more value in price to a home but they make inspections more difficult for home inspectors and appraisers. Some lower level areas will be inaccessible due to personal items of the seller put there for storage. Just tell the client that you don't have X-ray vision and you'll try to evaluate as much as possible. Any inaccessible areas can't be evaluated so just do the best you can.
Check the lower level steps and any entrances to make sure they're in good condition and safe. All stairs need to have handrails and evenly spaced steps for safety. This will help prevent any tripping hazards.
Check the construction materials used for the foundation walls. The foundation will be made of poured concrete in new construction. Concrete block foundation walls are also common to find. Brick and stone constructed walls are usually found in older houses. Due to the cost of construction today, you probably won't find brick or stone foundation walls in newer houses.
The floor of the lower level should have a concrete covering. The vast majority of the time it will have a concrete covering. If there is a dirt floor, you should recommend that a concrete covering be installed. This will help prevent water, termite and radon entry in the house. Covering a dirt floor with concrete can be expensive, so tell the client to obtain an estimate before closing on the house.
Check for any large cracks in the walls and floors. You'll always find some minor settlement cracks in the walls and floors. These minor cracks are caused by the settling of the house and the expansion and contraction of the construction materials. As long as the settlement cracks are less the 1/4 inch wide, then it's a normal condition. Just tell the client to have the cracks caulked and sealed to prevent water entry and to monitor these cracks for future or further movement.
All construction materials will expand and contract with the weather and temperature changes during the year. This can also create these minor cracks that you'll find. However, the cracks that you're looking for are long horizontal cracks or cracks over 1/4 inch in width. These cracks are much more serious, and if you find any, tell the client to have a licensed contractor evaluate them and give estimates for any repairs needed. Cracks over 1/4 inch wide indicate excessive differential settlement of the house and aren't normal. You'll find large cracks from time to time, so just remember to be careful and not to rush the inspection where you'll overlook them.
Long horizontal cracks are another indication of potentially serious problems with the foundation. You won't find these cracks as often, but if you do you better recommend that a licensed contractor evaluate the foundation for the client. Long horizontal cracks can indicate that the foundation wall is being pushed inward by the soil. The wall will collapse if this movement continues. Obviously, you can't see any cracks behind finished areas or personal items in the lower level. That's why you have to notify the client of the limits of the inspection due to inaccessible areas.
See if there are any areas of the foundation that have been altered from the time of the original construction of the house. If you notice any alterations, then recommend that the client check with town hall to make sure all valid permits and approvals have been obtained for the work performed. The last thing you need is to have someone buy a house and find out that the do-it-yourself work done to the original foundation doesn't pass the local building codes and is unsafe.
Check the main girder beams, all support posts, the floor joists, and the sub flooring where visible and accessible. Probe all wood members for rot or wood destroying insect damage. Sometimes in some newer construction you'll find a steel "I " beam as the main girder of the house. This is superior construction because the steel "I" beams have tremendous structural support. Check any steel beams for rust that will require painting or repairs.
Probe some wood floor joists for rot or wood destroying insect damage. Often you'll find damage from rot due to water leaks over the years in a bathroom or kitchen above. Check for any sagging sections of the floor joists that will suggest unusual settlement and sloping floors in the rooms above.