Reuben's Home Inspection Blog


Inspect The Common Areas On Townhomes? Yes.

Townhouses should be inspected the same way that single family homes are.  I always quote the same price to inspect a townhouse as a single family home, because I inspect townhouses the same way; the roof, siding, windows... everything on the outside.  Some people feel that these items don't need to be looked at because they're covered by the association, but these are well worth having inspected, regardless of whether they're covered or not.


The most obvious and logical reason for a buyer to have the common areas at a townhouse inspected is to know what they're buying.  Buyers frequently think the common areas, such as the roof, don't need inspection on a townhouse because it's not their responsibility.  What happens if the roof starts leaking and causes a big stain on the ceiling?  The association will likely be responsible for repairing or replacing the roof, but who takes care of the water damage in the unit?  Even if the owner doesn't end up spending a dime on the repairs, just the amount of time that could be spent dealing with these types of repairs would make it well worth their while to have the common areas on a townhouse inspected.


Another great reason to have the common areas inspected is that the association may not be aware of problems, and may not have repairs planned in their budget.  If an association is budgeting to replace the roofs 10 years from now, but there's only two years left on the roofs, who pays for it?  The owners, of course.  These are what assessments are all about!  I was once a member of an association where we had several assessments in one year, the largest of which was a $1200.00 assessment to replace the failing driveways.  The extra money paid to have these items inspected is a wise investment. 


If one of my customers specifically doesn't want the common areas inspected, I'll skip them and typically charge about 25% less for the inspection, but I strongly advise against this.  In the long run, this fee is a drop in the bucket compared to the repair costs that just one failed component could cost.  Below are some photos of a few costly repairs I've identified at townhouses just within the last year.  As you look through these photos, just ask yourself if the association is aware of these issues, and has a budget to repair or replace these items.  The answer is usually no.


Old Driveway Poorly pitched patio 

rotted sidingrotted windows cracked roof truss water damaged ceiling

rotted wood roof defective shingles defective window settled stairway loose shingles

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Minneapolis Home Inspector

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections


Comment balloon 7 commentsReuben Saltzman • February 27 2009 06:36AM


You raise some valid points and I agree with common area inspection.  Not seen it done yet.  I have been involved in management of a HOA and buyers call me after they close wanting to know what they are paying for in the HOA fee.  Wow.....wrong time to do due diligence after you close. 

Posted by Mark Watterson, Utah Real Estate over 11 years ago

This is a difficult situation and one that usually results in a special assessment to the seller and/or other members of the homeowners association.  I think the bigger issue is to ensure that the HOA has adequate reserves in the event that there are necessary repairs to be made.  In my experience, it is useless to go to the Trustees or Board of Directors with a gun to their heads to make repairs "or else" because it is holding up the sale of your unit.  The homeowner has no control over what the association does and when they do it.

I had a luxury condominium that needed a new roof and repairs to the deck.  All my lawyers could do was to ensure that I had notified the HOA of the needed repairs, but we WOULD NOT accept any contingencies on an offer to purchase because these things could not be cured by me.  I have heard stories, however, where over eager home sellers do the repairs themselves and then get fined by the HOA or are held liable for subsequent damages caused by the other laborers.  Moral of story - don't do it!

If an inspector wants to point these  things out - that is up to his professional standards whether it is required or not.  However, the inspector is not in a position to recommend to a client that repairs or maintenance to the common areas be cured prior to purchase (I know, you never do this...right!)


Posted by Martin Kalisker, Professional Standards & Legal Assistant (Greater Boston Association of REALTORS) over 11 years ago

Reuben----good post----I do the same thing----just like a normal house.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 11 years ago

Reuben, I have been thinking of taking this same approach with my clients. I am happy to see that you already do so. Have you ever been approached by someone of authority when you are on a roof for example and they ask what your doing?  I have been, by the builder who was completing the unit next door. I explained to him that the buyer hired me for a private inspection. He flew off the handle and claimed that the town home had already passed a building inspection. I kindly explained, "That may be true however the buyer hired me". He went on about his business. I am sure he was surprised when he found out just how unsafe the balcony he installed was. A week later I heard from the realtor who was working with that builder. He dropped the project and the builder had to find someone else to represent him.

Posted by Tad Petersen / Home Inspector, Mpls (Safeguard Home Inspections, Inc.) over 11 years ago

Tad - no, I've never been questioned while inspecting the common areas at a townhome.  Not once.  I even walk around the outside of the building with my clients so we can find the bank of electric meters if the main electric disconnect isn't located in their unit, but I've never had anyone ask me what I'm doing. 

Your story about the angry builder made me chuckle.  The best builders are proud of their work and even encourage their clients to get home inspections.   I always expect to find problems when a builder or seller gets whipped up about having an inspection.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 11 years ago

Martin (Weicher Realtors) - I'll assume your last comment was not sarcastic ("However, the inspector is not in a position to recommend to a client that repairs or maintenance to the common areas be cured prior to purchase (I know, you never do this...right!)"). 

You're right, I try not to do this.  I wouldn't say never, but rarely.  The purpose of a home inspection is to give the buyers information, not point fingers and say who should fix what.  You can read more about my opinion on this matter here - Negotiations After The Inspection.

Thanks for reading!

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 11 years ago

Oh Wow, its great that townhouses are even get inspected now, but are they going well or not?

Posted by Torrance Home Inspector Service almost 10 years ago