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.
While you're in the lower level you want to check for any signs of water problems in the house. This is something you don't want to forget. It certainly isn't life threatening to the occupant of the house to overlook water problems during an inspection. However, you will get phone calls from angry clients who have discovered that they get water in the lower level of their new home. Fortunately, I never got any angry phone calls but I know some inspectors who have. People get very upset if they get water in their basement. So watch out for this problem.
If you're inspecting the house during the rainy season, then the groundwater table will be higher than normal. You should always tell your client to visit the house after it rains, before the closing. This way they will be able to see for themselves if there is a potential problem with water penetration. Signs of water penetration can be white mineral salts on the concrete walls and floors. This is called efflorescence and it's caused by water seeping through the concrete and then drying on the exterior portion. After the water dries, it leaves the white, mineral salt from the concrete as a residue. Most lower level areas will get some minor efflorescence on the lower portion of the walls and floors. This is from the normal humidity in the lower level because these rooms are located underground. Recommend that the client use a dehumidifier to help prevent moisture.
In the corners you may see indications of water stains. Often the cause of these stains is due to the lack of gutters and downspouts on the house. Another cause is that the downspouts are draining right next to the foundation walls on the exterior. All downspouts should be piped away from the house by at least five feet so the rainwater won't drain next to the foundation and enter the lower level. Sometimes the downspouts drain into underground drain lines. These lines can become clogged due to leaves or small animals becoming stuck in them. Underground drain lines need to be checked periodically for proper operation.
The grading of the soil next to the exterior of the house can also cause minor water stains on the lower level walls and floors. All soil next to the foundation should slope away from the side of the house to help prevent rainwater from entering the lower level. We'll talk more about gutters, downspouts, and soil grading on the site in the exterior section of the book.
Another way to check for water problems is to probe the wood members that are in contact with the floor, such as, workbench posts, storage items, wood shelves, etc. Check under the corner of any carpeting or floor coverings in the lower level. If there's a water problem, then these areas will have signs of it. You're looking for excessive or abnormal signs of water problems, not just normal humidity and condensation stains. Be wary of recently painted lower level walls and floors. Sometimes the homeowner will paint just before selling a house. This can hide any indications of water problems.
Check for the existence of any sump pumps. Sump pumps re pumps that help carry water away from the house. Sump pumps are located in small pits dug into the lower level floor and have a drainage pipe to carry water to a more desirable location. When sump pumps are installed, it usually indicates that the lower level has a water penetration problem. Sometimes, you'll find a sump pump in a lower level that doesn't have any water problems. One reason for this is that some builders and homeowners install these pumps as a precautionary measure, even if they haven't had water penetration.
Check with the local building department to find out if the subject property is located in a designated flood hazard zone. A flood hazard zone is a designated area by the government. These areas have a certain potential of becoming flooded from time to time. Flood maps are located in every town hall and are available to the public to view for free. If a house is located in a flood hazard zone, the homeowner should obtain flood hazard insurance on top of the regular homeowner and title insurance for safety.