In the Bay Area it is typical for the seller to get a pre-inspection report along with a termite & pest report for inclusion in the disclosures packet prior to listing a property for sale. The rationale behind this is to increase transparency with prospective buyers, to make it easier for buyers to make a full assessment of the property without having to commission their own inspection and ultimately to speed up the decision making process, enabling a competitive bidding process.

In the case that a property you’re looking at does come with a pre-inspection, this will have been paid for by the seller. Although inspectors are third parties who adhere to a code of practice, the fact the report is paid for by the seller who is also looking for the highest price possible creates an inherent conflict of interest. Having read many inspection reports, they vary in quality and thoroughness and in many cases, important details can be buried in less consequential findings. All of this is to say that as a buyer, do read the inspections - some may be excellent, but take them with a pinch of salt and aim to verify them yourself at a high level and especially if you feel there are particular concerns.

While issues identified in the inspection report and your own inspection may be cause for concern, they need not completely deter you from bidding on the property. Depending on your willingness and financial ability to rectify them (if they need be rectified at all), they should help you decide on whether the property if a fit for what you’re looking for and help you determine the price that you are willing to pay.

Having inspected several properties in the East Bay and worked on our own home, below is a non-exhaustive but systematic list of things I would recommend inspecting.


Clearly it is important to assess the structural integrity of the property, because structural issues can lead to catastrophic failure, especially in the case of an earthquake and are often expensive to fix. There are many types of construction, but here I’ll focus on the type of construction that is most common in the East Bay for older houses - perimeter foundation with wooden frame construction.


The foundation sits along the perimeter of the property and may also consist of piers inside of the perimeter that holds up the house that sits on top of it. Its job is to serve as a durable barrier that is unmovable, level, and provides sound support to the wooden framing above. Foundations are typically made of concrete but in older houses pre-1900s, they can be made of brick.

Foundation standards have changed over the years as has the science behind concrete. Today foundations are made with concrete that is made to specification (designed to withstand high compression forces) and is reinforced with rebar (metal rods) that provide the concrete structure significantly more strength. While many older concrete foundations have aged very well, they can be prone to issues that are worth looking for:

Crumbling: Weak concrete compositions and concrete that has consistently been exposed to water can be prone to crumbling. If your concrete foundation is crumbling away clearly it will be compromised in its ability to hold up the house in the future. A good test for crumbling is to go around the perimeter of the foundation with a screw driver and try poking it. If large parts of concrete start falling away that’s generally a bad sign and sections if not all of the foundation might need to be replaced for future security.

Cracks: One rule of concrete is that it will eventually crack. This is why concrete pathways have relief joints so cracking can be predictably encouraged. A few cracks in a concrete foundation can probably be forgiven but many cracks especially with large gaps are a sign that the foundation may be differentially settling - that is, sinking in some places greater than others. This can create stress on the framing of the house above and cause uneven floors.

Leveling: As a result of foundation settling or inadequate support in areas of the foundation, you may notice that floors in the house above are not level. This can often be easily noticed by walking around in the house or observing how doors and windows close (if the house has shifted it will often distort the frames leading to wonky doors and windows). Another easy method to check this is to load a spirit level app on your smartphone (or better yet bring a spirit level) and place it on the floor in multiple points in the house. If there is a local issue it might be easy to correct but if the whole house is wonky it might require a significant amount of work if you’re not able to live with it.

Seismic retrofit: Earthquakes are a regular occurrence in California and we are long overdue a “big one”. The current building standards account for this and modern plans are engineered to withstand moderate earthquakes. Of course this was not the case back in the late 1800s and early 1900s when a lot of the older houses were built. Even newer houses often fail to meet current seismic standards. If you’re inspecting an older home, the first thing to figure out is whether the home has had any seismic work done at all, which is rarely the case.

The first thing to look for is anchor bolts that hold the mudsill (the piece of wood that sits on top of the concrete foundation) to the concrete foundation - this can usually be checked from the crawlspace. If these are 58” bolts with hefty looking 3” square washers they may well be up to current standards, but anything less may be helpful but may still need to be upgraded if you want to bring it up to modern standards. You can also check the spacing of these anchors - most designs require at 4ft or less between anchors. The next thing you can look for is cripple wall bracing. The cripple wall is the wall that sits between the foundation and the first floor of your house and is the wall you’ll see in a crawlspace - this wall has a tendency to collapse in earthquakes so plywood boards are often installed to brace the wall from turning forces.

If no seismic work has been done or perhaps it’s a job that doesn’t meet modern standards, you can expect to pay around $10-20k for a 1500sqft house with an accessible crawlspace.


Starting from the bottom you want to first of all inspect the framing that sits on top of the concrete foundation for signs of termite damage or rot. You can look for signs of termite tubes running up the foundation on to the wood and you can use the screwdriver poking technique to identify soft spots where wood damage may have occurred. Foliage and trees that sit very close to the house and soil levels that go up to the wooden framing make it easier for termites and other bugs to attack the wooden framing.

Moving up, you can inspect the rest of the framing lumber that is exposed. If you’re in the crawlspace you can also look at the joists and subfloor, particularly in areas that might be exposed to water/leaks such as around toilets and sinks - these can be prone to rot if there’s been a chronic leak.

In the house you can inspect the walls, doors and windows to see if they’re straight. If they’re not, there’s probably not much you can do and it probably doesn’t bear much significance other than it could bug you and cause opening/closing issues with existing doors and windows. If you can gain access to the attic, you can also inspect the framing, looking for signs of leaks and rot.


The plumbing is the lifeblood of the house and consists of the cold water supply, the water heater which then feeds the hot water supply and all of the drains.

On the water pipes, the first thing to determine is what they’re made of by inspecting the pipes running in the crawlspace or coming out of the walls behind toilets, kitchen cabinets, etc. Copper pipes, although more expensive, are very durable and can last for decades. Galvanized steel pipes are cheaper but are prone to rust, restricting internal flow of water and eventually causing leaks. PEX (plastic) pipes are a relatively new plumbing material and are durable and flexible and a good sign that the plumbing was updated recently. Many houses have a combination of copper and galvanized steel pipes. The next thing is to look for leaks - this is best done by running your hand around low spots on the piping and by inspecting joints. Dripping taps and fixtures are usually quick and cheap fixes. If you do have galvanized steel pipes, expect to have to replace them at some point in the future if you own the house for 10 years or so.

Next, check out the water heater. There are two main types commonly found in homes in California - tank water heaters and tankless heaters. They tend to be gas powered but electric ones are getting better. Tank water heaters keep a volume of water heated at all times. This has some benefits in that hot water is instantly available, but they do tend to use more energy as they are always on and they also tend to corrode quicker as they hold a large volume of water. Tankless heaters, although common in Europe for many decades are a relatively new trend here in the US. They heat water on demand, reducing energy consumption but taking a few seconds to warm up and requiring a higher volume gas line. Look for signs of leaks and try to establish the age of the appliances, the average length of life for a tank water heater is reported to be around 8 years.

For drains, again look for signs of leaks around any of the piping and under sinks. These can be easy fixes. Check toilets flush and sinks drain adequately - although again, these can be easy fixes.

In the disclosures there should be information on whether the sewer lateral has been replaced. This is the sewage pipe that runs between the street and the house. Most cities now have requirements that the sewer lateral is brought to current standards when a house is sold - in which case it can either be completed by the seller ahead of time or it can be taken on by the buyer, who has to put up a deposit which is then refunded when the work is completed within a given amount of time (normally 6 months). Given that most old sewer lines are cracked clay pipes that are full of gunk and roots it is a pretty good idea to have them replaced and more often than not, the work can be done without having to dig trenches, essentially by bursting a new plastic pipe through the old pipe tract. This work tends to cost around $4-6k.


When many of the older houses were constructed, electricity was just making its way in to homes. That’s why some older homes may still have remnants of gas lines used to supply gas powered lighting. At the turn of the century, wiring and fuse technology was much more rudimentary and they didn’t have the modern rubber insulators that we have today. A common wiring system of the time was knob and tube (K&T), named for the porcelain knobs that wires were wound around to make turns and tubes that insulated wires passing through wooden framing. With K&T there are live and neutral wires that run separately with no ground, and they are insulated with cloth or in later versions, a fragile rubber. The electrical panels for such systems use fuses as opposed to modern breakers.

These K&T systems while still servicable, are an increased fire risk due to the now poor insulation of the conductors and it would not be advisable to run high current loads on such circuits. K&T also don’t include a ground which is a modern standard for wiring safety. You can identify K&T wiring by looking under the crawlspace and looking at the electrical panel - hopefully you’ll see modern day Romex cable. Some houses will have a combination of K&T (often for areas where is difficult to replace cable (eg. behind antique wainscoting) and Romex, which can be acceptable. Replacing K&T wiring can be expensive as new cables will have to be run to each and every room and fished behind walls. Opening up walls will almost always be required which can mean a lot of repair work after too.

Assuming you have what looks to be a newer electrical system you’ll want to check all of the outlets in the house to make sure they’re grounded. You can do this with a simple socket checking tool. If they’re not, they may be wired with older Romex that doesn’t include a ground wire, which is not up to modern day standards. You’ll also want to take a look at your breaker box and see if the circuits are evenly distributed and if high current appliances have their own dedicated breakers and circuits - especially if the home has an electric stove or range, electric washing machine and/or electric dryer. If you’re planning to add things like an EV charger you may also want to check that the breaker box has space for additional breakers, otherwise you may need to upgrade it.



Water intrusion

In East Bay the water table is quite high in many places. Where we live, you can dig down 5ft in the garden and find a pool of water at the bottom of your hole, even in summer. As such, the potential for water intrusion in to basements or crawlspaces is quite high. I’ve seen many houses marketed with a furnished but unfinished basement - I shudder to think how many of these will flood under heavy rains, which we do see in winter. Sump pumps that have a basin below the floor level, collecting water and pumping it out to the street and french drains that collect water in the ground around the house and divert it to the street or storm drains can help, but they can be expensive and involve a lot of digging to install. Look for signs of water intrusion such as damp and effloresence on concrete walls.


Hazardous Materials



Many people forget to think about the practicalities of a house that will have a big impact on their lives after they move in. Here are a few examples: * Check your car can make it down the driveway or to wherever you would intend to park it * Consider furniture and whether the size of bed you’d like to have will actually fit in the room, staging beds are often on the small side * Try out the commute - walk to BART, drive to the shops to get a real-life feel for how convenient it is

Termite and Pests


Neighbors are an important

Permits and History

Code Compliance

Improvement Potential