When you buy a home, a home inspection is critical to ensure that your home purchase—most likely the largest single purchase you will ever make—won’t come with any unpleasant surprises. A home inspector will give you a report on the condition of the house and all of its systems. This gives you a chance to renegotiate with the home seller to have things repaired or take some money off of the purchase price so you can afford to make repairs yourself.
You have a week to 17 days after your purchase offer has been accepted to have the home inspected. At that point, you can still back out of the purchase if the inspector finds serious problems that cause you to change your mind.
Getting the inspection
It is your responsibility to be an informed buyer. You hire a professional to complete the inspection for you. A home inspection isn’t an appraisal. A home inspection evaluates the structural and mechanical soundness of the property, while an appraisal determine the property’s fair market value.
Choosing the best home inspector
To find your own inspector, you could start with the American Society of Home Inspectors at www.homeinspector.org. Ask some questions to evaluate anyone you might want to hire:
- What are your credentials and experience as a home inspector? Find out how long they’ve been in business, and whether they have specialized in residential properties. Ask how long they’ve worked in your local area, and whether they actively belong to any trade organizations. Also find out if they complete certifications and trainings to stay up to date with the latest standards in home inspection.
- What will the inspection entail? Find out how much the inspection will cost (expect $300-$500), how long it will take, and what kinds of things the inspection will cover. They will likely have some printed material to give you to outline all of the things they’ll be looking at.
- What will the inspection report look like? Ask how long will it take to get your written report, and what will be included. It’s not unreasonable to expect the report within 24 hours of completion.
- Ask if you can attend the inspection. This is really important. If you’re able to be present during the inspection, you’ll have a much better idea what kinds of things the inspector is flagging and how serious those issues might be. You’ll also learn a lot about what to look for in a home, which will serve you well as a property buyer for the rest of your life.
What to look out for in a home inspection
The home inspection report can be quite long, and could include dozens or even hundreds of items. Not all of these items will be important; the inspection will be thorough, and the inspector will point out many things that can be easily fixed. There are certain things that will be especially expensive to deal with if there are problems, so those are the items to look out for:
- Damaged mechanicals–home systems like your heating or air conditioning are major expenses, and something like a cracked heater exchange or bad AC compressor will be important for your inspector to point out to you.
- Moisture or mold in the basement or drywall—besides the obvious health hazard that mold presents, the presence of mold or evidence of moisture where it shouldn’t be is a sign that some other problem is present. You might not readily see a leaky roof or plumbing failure behind the drywall, but your inspector can point out evidence of water damage that will help you make an informed decision.
- Defective roofing, gutters, water runoff, etc.—odds are you won’t be able to do the inspection during rainy weather, so you need the expertise of the inspector to tell you if the house will stand up to the elements. You want to know if the grade around the house will direct water properly away from the foundation, and if the roof and gutters will do their job.
- Insect/rodent infestations—this kind of problem involves extra time, money and potentially professional help. Your inspector will point out any evidence of an infestation you need to be concerned about.
- Cracks in the home foundation—small cracks may be common in typical concrete foundations, but an inspector will let you know if the cracks represent serious structural damage. You want to know if the house is shifting, and if new cracks are likely to appear.
- House movement–if the house is still settling, it will damage the foundation and more. You might see damaged floors inside the house, uneven gaps in doorways, cracked plaster walls, damaged plumbing, and more. All of this can add up to serious repair bills down the road, so you want to find out about this problem as soon as possible.
- Cracked brickwork/chimney—one result of house movement is cracked brickwork. If the house has a chimney, the inspector will look to see if the chimney is separating from the house, and if all of the grout work is in good repair. You’ll also find out if the chimney is in need of maintenance or cleaning, but that’s not as serious as real damage.
- Blocked sewage pipes—if the neighborhood has a lot of trees, it’s really important to make sure the sewer pipes are not obstructed. It’s common for tree roots to infiltrate the sewer and cause plumbing backups. In the worst-case scenario, a sewer pipe may have collapsed, which will be very expensive to repair.
- Potential hazards—some issues that might come up in the inspection are genuine health hazards and should cause you act with caution:
- Radon Gas
- Lead Paint
- Electrical problems (aluminum wiring, insufficient electrical system)
Some issues might be better inspected by separate professionals. A home inspector might recommend someone with specialized equipment to check out a sewer pipe, test for radon gas, or check for insect infestations. A structural engineer might be needed to examine foundation problems, or a landscape inspector might check for problems with irrigation, soil stability, or diseased/dangerous trees.
Once you have your inspection report, you can back out or amend your offer to buy. A serious enough problem might cause you to cancel the purchase altogether, or ask the seller to drastically reduce the selling price.
You’ll submit your request to cancel or amend the sale in writing, along with a copy of the inspection report so the seller can address any problem found.
Bear in mind the inspector’s job isn’t to recommend that you buy or not buy a house, nor is it to help you save money on a home purchase. They should simply report to you any issues they find so you can make an informed decision. Your real estate agent might help you decide if you want to ask for certain repairs or an adjustment to the sale price based on what your inspector finds.
First-time home buyer education will help anyone be ready for the home inspection and every other step of the buying process. Buying a house is a big step, so take every precaution and use every resource you can to make sure things go smoothly. For more information on this subject please see HUD’s Ten Important Questions to Ask Your Home Inspector and For Your Protection: Get a Home Inspection.