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Hiring a home inspection is standard practice nowadays, even for new construction.

Most homebuyers do not realize they should be hiring professionals to inspect their outdoor living spaces too. This is especially important for larger and older properties.

Most villages and municipalities have checks and balances that assure compliance with codes and regulations. Building permits trigger a series of inspections. However, once the final inspection is made and the house is sold to a new buyer, what happens outdoors goes largely unnoticed.

Occasionally, a complaining neighbor may trigger an inspection by the municipality, but those occurrences are few. What tends to happen is that an unsuspecting buyer discovers a host of problems that need to be remedied, and some can prove to be quite costly.

Here are ten property areas or features that should be inspected to avoid costly surprises.

#1. Easement Violations

In most neighborhood subdivisions there is an easement for buried utilities. The property owner owns this space, but they are limited to how it can be used. The reason for this is the utility companies must have ready access at any future date.

For example, it may be acceptable to install a large children’s play set over the easement if it can be moved should the utility company need access to its lines.

Whereas a patio that requires a concrete foundation would not be permitted because it restricts access. These violations may go unnoticed for years. When they are discovered the burden of the remedy falls with the current owner.

#2. Hardscape Foundations

Our Minnesota winters require concrete-reinforced footings for structures such as masonry walls. Because the evidence for this support is below ground, inferior construction methods often go undiscovered.

A hardscape professional will know how to quickly know for sure. He or she may notice hairline cracks in the mortar or other evidence of heaving due to winter freeze and thaw conditions.

Related structures such as outdoor fireplaces or pizza ovens may or may not require these foundations. Some structures are designed to float, that is, to move slightly within a range of ½” or so.

In those situations, the structure will be installed on a pad that is placed on a compacted aggregate bed that minimizes water accumulations that may later freeze and expand.

#3. Ongoing Maintenance

Ornamental landscapes have their maintenance requirements. One of the highest maintenance requirements is a lawn, but that’s not a problem because homeowners know how to do the work or hire a service.

It is not so evident how to take care of rosebushes, Koi pond, and extensive perennial gardens. The winter maintenance of pumps for ponds and water features is essential, especially when one considers the cost of some toms can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

These maintenance requirements and others like them, such as irrigation system maintenance, are generally excepted by homeowners that are in the know. A professional inspector can help you be sure. In addition, he or she will foresee most foreseen repairs.

#4. Drainage Issues

When buying a new or used home a homeowner should insist on having a copy of the plat or survey. In most cases, it will show how the property was designed to drain. They should be compared with how the property is currently draining.

When patios and other hardscapes and structures are installed the topography can be modified. If these modifications are cosmetic the drainage is effectively per the original site plan.

Problems arise when there are dramatic elevation changes. This can lead to water collecting in certain areas such as the home’s foundation.

If your inspection of the property reveals unusual or complicated drainage measures, it’s likely the property has a history of drainage problems that need to be resolved.

#5. Necessary Repairs

Some repairs to properties may seem to be minor until you realize that heavy equipment is required. This may require removing and then replacing sections of a fence to get access

It would also likely require repairing damaged turfgrass. You could expect these repair costs to be into the thousands of dollars

For this reason, it’s always best to hire an inspector. Even if you have to share costs with the current owner as part of the deal, you will have a clean settlement.

#6. Water and Power Requirements

Water conservation is becoming a hot topic across the country. Municipalities are getting involved to conserve water resources potentially putting some landscapes in jeopardy.

Even here in Minnesota, it’s likely the time will come when the cost of watering landscapes is a design consideration.

The same may be true for lighting, waterfalls, and outdoor entertainment centers. This prediction is not intended to be alarming, but rather, a consideration to keep in mind.

#7. Large Hazard Trees

The cost of removing a large tree will be a few hundred dollars at a minimum and well into the thousands if special equipment must be used to prevent damaging the home or utility lines.

Add to that the cost of removing the debris offsite and repairing any damage when the tree is filled and it becomes significant.

A certified arborist can determine the health of a tree from several signals such as tip growth, dying limbs, and hazardous branching structure. An arborist can sometimes remedy the hazardous condition with pruning or cabling.

When it comes to trees, what most homeowners think are problems often are not. One example is shedding leaves during a dry spell, something a tree does naturally to conserve water.

Better to consult with a professional.

#8. Neighborhood Guidelines

Neighborhood association guidelines can be just as restrictive as community regulations. Often there is a community that must approve changes or additions. These can include the following areas.

  • Paint color guidelines
  • Fencing restrictions, such as type, height, and location
  • Allowable flags or signage
  • The proximity of structures to neighbors, such as playsets
  • Obstructing line of sight views of motorists on corner lots
  • Pet restraining methods
  • Size and depth of water features

Exceptions to these restrictions are rarely made, regardless of the cost involved. So be sure your new home is in full compliance.

#9. Community Codes and Regulations

Community codes and regulations often pertain to safety. If the installation is not in compliance with them a host of unfortunate legal liabilities could surface.

Some of the most common safety violations involve stairs and steps, landscaping walls, and water features, especially swimming pools.

In addition to ensuring that your property complies, you will want to be sure that all permits are in place with the municipality. If they are not this could lead to problems down the road when you are renewing your property insurance.

10. Stormwater Management

One of the more complicated property concerns in Minnesota is stormwater management. This usually applies to properties with abundant hard surfaces.

Most important is learning if your property is within a water conservation or watershed district. If it is, you will want to learn what is involved to keep your property within acceptable standards.

Our team at Architectural Landscape Design has experienced many of these circumstances during our decades in the industry. We’ll be happy to discuss and make suggestions to help you confidently proceed with your outdoor living projects.